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Response to Move Theory Print E-mail
By David Kuhns   
September 27, 2008
Photo Betsy Dynako
As Chair of the Rules Committee, I offer CLO readers the following response to Tom Braunlich's Move Theory. Braunlich does bring up some interesting questions, and since there appears to be a great deal of differences of opinion on the issue (and I was not interviewed for the original piece), clarification is in order.

Well, sure I say the Rules are clear (to me), but obviously not to everyone.  Even (apparently) some very experienced directors are not clear.  So, let me quote the rules involved.

Tom noted the rules on whose turn it is, but did not discuss the rules on sudden death time controls.  

To answer the basic questions:

·    Can you start your move before the opponent has pressed his clock?
No, rules 6B, 9A, 9G (see below)
Perhaps this should be changed because of the “common practice” of the overlap of the moves which was the purpose of this article to begin with.  But as the Rules now read, the answer is NO.

·    What exactly is the proper way to move, anyway?
W: move a piece to a vacant square, press the clock.  B: move a piece, press the clock.  W: move a piece…

OR one of the following:
B: complete a capture, press the clock
W: complete a castle, press the clock.
B: move a pawn, complete a promotion, press the clock.
W: move a piece, offer a draw, press the clock.
B: move a piece, make a claim, stop or press the clock.
W: move a piece, stop the clock, make a claim.
B: stop the clock, make a claim.
Yes, the order is important.

·    What should I do to "defend myself" in modern mega time scrambles?
Follow the rules and use your own delay capable clock (5F and 42D), even if you are White and Black does not have a delay capable clock (or does not know how to set it.)

·    What can organizers and TDs do to mitigate time pressure madness?
Follow the rules and enforce the sudden death rules that require time delay and use the standard 5 second delay, or publish and use a longer delay if you really feel the necessity.

·    What do the top tournament directors think about this?
I can not speak for all TDs, but what does the Rules Committee think about this?  (I am the chair, and have 37 years of directing experience, and the committee is made up primarily of NTDs and FIDE arbiters.)  Follow the rules and enforce the sudden death rules that require time delay and use the standard delay.  If such a claim is made, let the circumstances dictate the necessary minimal action needed to resolve the issue (director’s discretion).

“The New Time Scrambles”
does not exist (if you follow the Rules)
Tom’s biggest issue is in time scrambles.  He devotes an entire section to this issue.  He points out several times that sudden death time controls promote time scrambles in any game played without a delay or add-on on the clock.

In the Rules Committee “Suggestion” section he feels the problem can be mitigated by:

“Instead, perhaps the rules should acknowledge this and attempt to attack the problem from another direction. Overlapping move turns only become an issue in time scrambles. Therefore, mitigating time scrambles will make the move issue moot. I thus propose the rule committees should make a requirement for all major tournaments (and playoffs) the use of a digital clock with a sufficiently long delay or add-on function per move.”

I agree! (And so do the Rules)

If the Rules are followed, in sudden death time controls, a time delay WILL be used by anyone who has access to a delay capable clock.  If you do not want to be penalized by not having such a clock, BUY ONE.  5 second delay is standard.  Most players now own delay capable clocks.  In the few cases where neither of the players have such a clock, well, that’s their problem.  Such clocks cost less than the average entry fee, and some cost less than a typical analog clock.  (By the way, why does USCF Sales still sell such outdated and non-standard equipment?)

I will never run a sudden death time control event without a delay.  That would be against the Rules.

What does Blitz have to so with this?


As “evidence” he points to the video during the Women’s playoff.  This is a bad example.

That game was Blitz.  Blitz is a chess variant and has its own rules.  Blitz does not use delay.  A Blitz game is lost if an illegal move is made, completed, and claimed.

In fact, we (the Rules Committee) have just reviewed the Blitz rules and have modified them to cover the situation as described here.  The Blitz rules are published, and are on the Web page.  From the Home page, click <New to Chess> <Blitz Rules> or go to this link (pdf): 
The change we have approved is to article 15 which now reads:  “A legal move is completed when a players hand is removed from the piece.”  (This applies only to a legal move.  Article 14 still covers an illegal move.)
In our opinion, Blitz should NEVER be used as a playoff vehicle.  Much better would be a 5 minute (or “Armageddon”) Quick Chess game (played under normal sudden death rules, which INCLUDES a delay).  Perhaps rules should be established to standardize playoffs and the relatively new “Armageddon” factor, but that is a completely different subject.

Let's get back to sudden death time controls and the Rules that govern them.

The Rules

5F.  Standard timer for sudden death.
(paragraph two)
A delay clock (a clock with time delay or add-back capabilities) is the standard timer for sudden death time controls.
(paragraph 3)
The delay clock may be set to allow each player a small amount of reaction time, called a delay, for each move before starting to count down a player’s remaining time (…).  The standard delay is 5 seconds per move.

42D.  Delay clock preferable in sudden death.  A properly set clock with time delay capability is preferable to any other clock in a game with any sudden death time control.  Therefore, if White has such a clock available and Black does not, White’s clock should be used. …

By these rules, delay is the rule to be used in any game with a sudden death time control.


6A. The first move.  White makes the first move.  The players then alternate moves until the game is over.
6B. A player on move.  A player is said to be on the move or to have the move when the opponent’s move has been completed.

These two sentences define the right to move.
A player does not have the RIGHT TO MOVE unless he is “on move.”  How can this be “more explicit”?  This defines “turn sequence.” 
The section is entitled “THE RIGHT TO MOVE” and these are the only two sentences in the entire section (other than references). 

This is further emphasized by:

9A  ... and completed when the player presses the clock.
9B  … and completed when the player presses the clock.
9C  … and completed when the player presses the clock
9D  … and completed when the player presses the clock
Notice a pattern?
9E is an exception (checkmate or stalemate)
    9F addresses a non-sudden death time control.

9G further defines the completion of the move, and in fact, states what may be done in the interval between determination and completion.

9G  Determined moves and completed moves.  ... there is a period between the release of a piece and the press of the clock during which the move is determined but not complete. ...

This rule then goes on to describe the rights of the player still on the move (making claims and offers) and responsibilities (may still lose on time).

9H  Stopping the clock ... the determined move is not yet completed and the player is still on the move for claims.

Thus, a player who has determined a move but not completed it is still in control of the move and is still responsible for its outcome.  He should not be interfered with nor prevented from continuing or completing the move.  The next action of the player may not be to press the clock, but to perform one of the functions stated in 9G or 9H.


10A. Adjustment.  A player on move may...
10B. Touch-move rule.  Except for 10A, a player on move who deliberately touches...
10C. Touching pieces of both colors.  Except for 10A a player on the move who deliberately...

The words “on move” are repeatedly used.  You must be “on move” to (legally) touch a piece.

A player may not legally move (begin, touch a piece, be in process of, determine or complete) a move when not “on move”.

Actual practice: 

Yes I have witnessed the described situation given by Tom Braunlich.  I have witnessed time scramble where a player does indeed overlap the move of his opponent.  I do not interfere unless a player complains or makes a claim during the game.
Almost all of those situations have disappeared since the 5th edition of the rulebook has been published, and with the 5 second delay that has become standard.

Occasional scrambles do occur when a delay capable clock is not used.  The Rules specifically state that the delay capable clock is the standard clock and must be used if available.  As far as I’m concerned, my response has always been, “gee, that’s tough, but it was YOUR choice.  Get a clock with delay!”. 

OK, What If?

This is where the rules are unclear.  What if the opponent starts the move before the clock is pressed?
As it stands right now, if a claim is made and verified (by admission or witness) I will call such an action illegal.  On first offense I would probably issue a warning stating “you have five seconds, wait until it is your turn.”  I may award two minutes to the claimant on a subsequent violation.  Such a claim would need to be very evident, such as the piece in the opponent’s hand with the claimant’s clock running.  I would watch for a while to catch the subsequent violation and a react if a new claim is made.

In my 37 years of directing, I have never had to rule on such a claim.  Now that the possibility has been  publicized, I may have to.

Another thing that is not clear is the actual consequence of the intended move. 
There is a drawback to starting your move before you opponent has pressed the clock.  For example, he may have been thinking of offering you a draw, but now that you have picked up the (wrong) piece, he may change his mind.  Remember, all the rights to claims and offers belong to the player who is on the move, until the move is completed.

We are considering a TD tip that reads something like this:

TD Tip:
  If, after a move is determined but before it has been completed, an opponent begins a move by touching either one of his own pieces or one of his opponent’s, that is still considered a “touch” in accordance with 10B for the next move and the opponent is committed to the action initiated.  Even if the piece is released on a square, the next move is considered as determined.
The player on the move continues to have the rights as granted by 9G and H (making claims and offers), with the knowledge of which piece the opponent is intending to move or capture, or actually has moved, until such time as he completes his own move by pressing the clock.  If an offer of a draw is made it may be accepted by the opponent even if that offer occurred after the actual touch of the piece.

Decision of the Rules Committee

We have discussed the issues and the consequences.  The Rules Committee has determined that no additional rules are needed, and that all that is needed is enforcement of the Rules as published.  A claim of a violation should be handled on the spot using the director’s discretionary powers to enforce the Rules and penalize, as the director is then aware of the effect the violation may have had on the game in progress or on the composure of the players.

This article has been endorsed by the Rules Committee.