How Do Chess Tournaments Work? Introduction

Playing an informal game of chess is different from playing chess at tournaments. And playing chess online will also not prepare you for what it is like playing chess OTB (Over the Board).

The environment in chess tournaments is a lot more serious than informal chess. There is the pressure, the excitement, and some seriously challenging moves that you will see.
It is quite important to understand how chess tournaments work because they do have a set of rules and formalities they expect you to know and follow.

Find the Chess Tournament near you.

Finding a chess tournament conducted in your area or country should not be a big problem.

You can search on Google for the nearest ones to you. You can either play at local clubs and tournaments, or you can look for when and where tournaments take place through the USCF website. Local tournaments may not appear on national bulletins, but you might be able to find Facebook posts or announcements on their website.

Once you find the tournament you intend to play in, you can get a request for information on how to register and get a membership. Most rated tournaments will ask you for a member ID.

You can get a member ID by registering for your national federation online.
Before you go for a tournament, you will also have to be familiar with the format and time-controls of the chess matches, so you can be prepared ahead.

How Do Chess Tournaments Work?

Keep in mind that there are three formats in which chess tournaments are conducted; Swiss, round-robin, and knockout.

In chess tournaments, the winner is determined after a set number of rounds are completed. A win would mean 1 point. A loss is 0 points, and a draw is half a point.

Most of the rules in tournaments are basic. But how the tournaments are conducted may vary according to the organizers.

Most chess games are rated. But in most federations, your first few games will not be rated and are provisional.

I will explain the type of chess tournament formats in detail.

1. Knockout

The knockout format of chess is not very common in tournaments.

In knockout tournaments, you usually don’t get a second chance when you lose a game. The winners go forward in the match, and a champion is determined.

In an 8 player knockout match, there would be three rounds. Eight people play in the first round. The four winners will play in the next round, and in the finals, there will be two people playing.

Sometimes there will not be a clear winner in a round due to a draw. In this case, there will be a set of matches between pairs, and the one with the highest points will be considered the winner.

Knockouts are not used in rated tournaments because most professional players feel that knockouts are not effective in determining the best chess player. Chess strength is about consistency and not only about performing in a few games.

2. Round Robin

Round Robbin, or RR, is quite a common format used in chess tournaments. In the Round Robbin format, all the players will play against every other player in the section.

In a variant known as Double Round Robbin, each player will play every other player twice. They will play once as white and the other turn as black.

How do Chess Tournaments Work

There is also another variant of the round Robbin known as the quad. In quads, players are put into groups of four based on their strengths. These players will play each other for a set number of rounds, usually about three rounds.

In this format, too, the scoring system is the same. You get one point for a win, 0 for a loss, and half for a draw. These points are added. And the player with the most points, in the end, wins the game.

Unlike in the knockout type, the player with the best overall performance wins the game. You don’t have to walk away because you lose one.

Most important, FIDE games follow the Round Robin format. The World Championships Challenger tournament is a double-round Robbin.

3. Swiss

This is the most common type of format used in chess tournaments around the world.
Here, you don’t play every other player in the section, but you will be paired with someone according to your rating.

After you win a game, you will be paired with someone who won their game in round one. If you lose, then you have a match with someone who lost in round 1. If you have a draw, then it is likely you will be paired with a similar player.

This format is similar to Round Robbin, but you don’t play every other player. In this format, you only play the number of matches set by the organizers. Often, it is about 4 or 5 rounds.

The player with the best round, after the number of rounds is over, wins the tournament. A 5SS on the bulletin would mean a 5-Round Swiss format game.

The FIDE Grand Swiss is one of the most prestigious tournaments in chess. It is an 11-round chess tournament with the most elite chess players around the world. They compete for an exorbitant prize fund and a spot in the Candidates Tournament.

How do Chess Tournaments Work? Conclusion

Chess tournaments follow one of three different formats. The Swiss format is the most common format, and knockout is the least common. All of these formats follow the same scoring system; a win gets 1 point, a loss is 0, and a draw is half a point.

Also read: How to Decide who is white in Chess?

*All pics are taken from


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