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GM Joel on Checkmate Etiquette Print E-mail
By GM Joel Benjamin   
July 15, 2008
Dear Joel,
You might remember me.  I actually helped you win the 1998 South Dakota Governor's Cup in Sioux Falls, when I defeated one of your competitors.  My question concerns tournament etiquette regarding when you are allowed to speak to your opponent's during a game.  For example, you are allowed to offer a draw, say check, or say checkmate, or if you have a dispute with your opponent, you would be able to stop the clocks and get the TD.
My problem is out of mutual respect for the opponents that I compete against, I don't believe in saying "checkmate" to them.  I don't want to embarrass them, and I just simply say "nice game", as I was checkmated in a tournament game back in the 1980's, and my youthful opponent said to me "nice game".  I played speed chess against a guy name Roy, and after I checkmated him in the first game, I said "nice game", and he went ballistic on me saying that I should say "checkmate".  So in our 2nd speed game, I checkmated him again, and yelled at the top of my lungs "checkmate Roy, you lose!"
I know I exhibited the extremes in both of these cases, and I guess my question is, what is the rule or correct etiquette about saying "checkmate"? 
Thanks for your reply.
David A. Cole,  Life Member

It’s a good question really; a very practical issue that you don’t see discussed in print very much, if at all.

I think the basic rule of thumb is this:  Say checkmate if you think your opponent might need to be told.  If you are playing at the expert or master level, your opponent will surely know when he has been checkmated.  He might think you are rubbing it in by announcing it.

In lower rating sections, it might be a good idea to say checkmate to avoid any confusion.  I think checkmate is announced more often by lower rated players and is thus less likely to offend anyone.

In a scholastic tournament, it is probably better to say checkmate.  Results are often not finalized until validated by a TD, so it might be a good idea to be more formal.  Besides, your opponent might sit there mutely if you don’t say anything.

But David, I think the question of when to say “nice game” might be more interesting.  If you have just brutalized your opponent, “nice game” might annoy your opponent more than “checkmate.”  So the basic rule is this:  Say “nice game” when you mean it.  In those cases, it is a “nice” thing to do.  [I’m more likely to say that when I’m resigning; if I win, I probably say “tough game.”]  If my opponent genuinely didn’t play well (and of course, it’s all relative to their level), I feel I would be insulting them to suggest that the game represents the best they can do.

In scholastic chess, “nice game,” or the somewhat more common “good game,” is a bit more of a routine expression of sportsmanship.  I see players say it even when they have wiped out their opponent, and I’ve never seen anyone offended.  But young players might be forewarned when beating adults; grown-ups may be more sensitive to that comment after they have played a bad game.