The new Laws of Chess: what has changed?
As of today, July 1st, 2009 our beloved game of chess has a new edition of its official rules: the Laws of Chess. The best known, and most-feared change is the so-called "zero-tolerance" rule: a player who arrives just a few seconds late at his board, loses the game. We asked top arbiter and chairman of the FIDE Rules and Tournament Regulations Committee, Geurt Gijssen: what has changed, and why?
Every four years the official Laws of Chess may be revised and improved by the General Assembly of FIDE after a proposal of the FIDE Rules and Tournament Regulations Committee. The current version took effect July 1st, 2005 and this means that as of today, July 1st, 2009 there's a new version (although at the moment of writing the old text is still on the FIDE website).
Geurt Gijssen, chairman of the FIDE Rules and Tournament Regulations Committee, explained to us that the four-year process always starts with many suggestions from different directions: "I always receive many proposals for rule changes, from arbiters, organizers... this time I think 122 in total. Of all that I receive, I make one big document. Yes, quite often I also include suggestions from my column at Chesscafe."
"I ask which members of the Committee want to look at this preliminary document, and this time six members voted about all collected suggestions, by filling out a form. Please note that I don't vote myself; I only act as, let's say, a secretary. All suggestions for changes that are agreed upon 5-1 or 6-0 were included, and I threw away all suggestions that were rejected 0-6 or 1-5.
All suggestions that were answered with different proportions were put together in a new document and taken to the Rules Committee which came together at the Olympiad in Dresden this time. There, many arbiters interested in the subject were present, and they were allowed to join the meeting - a total of about 85.
I let everyone vote, and the results I treated as a first poll of opinions. In cases where some proposals were met with big majorities agreeing with the changes, I included them for the next draft; only in cases where there where big differences of opinion I let the Rules Committee vote and decide. Sometimes I started with the Rules Committee and then the whole meeting to vote.
The results of such a meeting at an Olympiad, which often include new suggestions, is taken to Executive Board, who discuss everything but usually don't propose new changes. The final draft version is taken to the General Assembly, who give their final vote. This time it went a bit differently as the General Assembly couldn't come to an agreement about rule 6 [the "zero-tolerance" rule - PD] and let the Presidential Board decide during its meeting in Istanbul, March 2009.‚Äù
New Laws of Chess - what has changed?
We'll start by discussing the infamous change of arriving late at the board, the so-called "zero-tolerance" rule: a player who arrives just a few seconds late at his board, loses the game.
Arriving (late) at the board
6.6 If neither player is present initially, the player who has the white pieces shall lose all the time that elapses until he arrives; unless the rules of the competition specify or the arbiter decides otherwise.
6.7 Any player who arrives at the chessboard more than one hour after the scheduled start of the session shall lose the game unless the rules of the competition specify or the arbiter decides otherwise.
6.6 a. Any player who arrives at the chessboard after the start of the session shall lose the game. Thus the default time is 0 minutes. The rules of a competition may specify otherwise.
b. If the rules of a competition specify a different default time, the following shall apply. If neither player is present initially, the player who has the white pieces shall lose all the time that elapses until he arrives, unless the rules of the competition specify or the arbiter decides otherwise.
This rule was already tested at the Olympiad in Dresden, November 2008, where the one-hour margin was changed to zero, which was possible because the October 2005 Laws of Chess already state that it's possible to arrive late one hour unless the rules of the competition specify or the arbiter decides otherwise.
The "zero-tolerance" rule was widely criticized after it became clear that the arbiters were applying it a bit over-enthousiastically. For example, a player who had already been at his board, but was away looking for a pen, was forfeited. Something similar happened at the recent Chinese Championship, where Hou Yifan was forfeited despite the fact that she was in the playing hall.
According to Gijssen, the rule in fact didn't change that much. "Tournament organizers are still allowed to change the rule. Whether the basic text says one hour or zero time, in both cases an organizer can decide to make it, let's say, fifteen minutes."
The critical part of the "zero-tolerance" rule, "Any player who arrives at the chessboard after the start of the session shall lose the game", might still lead to debate since it's not clear whether a player should actually sit behind his board until the round has officially started. According to journalist IM Stefan L??ffler, "for the German chess federation presence in the tournament area is enough, which includes toilets, catering or refreshment areas." Organizers are recommended to include some clarification about this in their tournament rules.
Gijssen continues: "I'd like to point out that the most important change, in my opinion, is that in the new Laws of Chess the part is deleted where it says ...or the arbiter decides otherwise. This means that an arbiter cannot decide anymore that it was a case of force majeure, in an exceptional situation, which would allow someone to play even after arriving late for more than an hour."
"By the way, the mentioned ‚Äòor the arbiter decides otherwise‚Äô is applicable in case both players arrive too late. Example: the rules of the tournament stipulate that a player shall lose his game if he arrives 15 minutes after the start of the round. Suppose both players arrive after 10 minutes. In this case the arbiter can deduct 5 minutes of both players‚Äô time instead of only 10 minutes of White‚Äôs time."
It may be expected that many organizers of tournaments or even competitions won't bother checking all details of the Laws of Chess, and will simply hold an event in which "FIDE Laws of Chess apply". In a worst-case scenario, a club player will travel for several hours to play a team match somewhere far away, arrives two minutes late, gets a zero and can take the next train back home.
Gijssen: "True, but one shouldn't blame the Laws of Chess, one should blame the organizer for not thinking for himself and the arbiter of the event, who did not point out that there is from July 1 a new situation. In general I think organizers will have to think more about how to apply the rules from now on. Take rule 9, for instance, which means for the first time the Laws of Chess officially allow the so-called Sofia Rule. A tournament organizer has to decide for himself whether he wants to apply the Sofia Rule."
Optional: no short draws
In the July 1, 2009 version of the Laws of Chess, Article 9, which is about the drawn game, starts with a new, extra rule:
9.1 a. The rules of a competition may specify that players cannot agree to a draw, whether in less than a specified number of moves or at all, without the consent of the arbiter.
This means that the Sofia Rule hasn't become part of the Laws of Chess (yet) but at least it has now been specified that organizers are allowed to include measures to prevent short draws.
Besides, the rule about incorrectly claiming a draw is now a bit simpler:
9.5 If a player claims a draw as in Article 9.2 or 9.3, he shall immediately stop both clocks. He is not allowed to withdraw his claim.
1. If the claim is found to be correct the game is immediately drawn.
2. If the claim is found to be incorrect, the arbiter shall add three minutes to the opponent`s remaining time. Additionally, if the claimant has more than two minutes on his clock the arbiter shall deduct half of the claimant`s remaining time up to a maximum of three minutes. If the claimant has more than one minute, but less than two minutes, his remaining time shall be one minute. If the claimant has less than one minute, the arbiter shall make no adjustment to the claimant`s clock. Then the game shall continue and the intended move must be made.
9.5 b. If the claim is found to be incorrect, the arbiter shall add three minutes to the opponent‚Äôs remaining thinking time. Then the game shall continue. If the claim was based on an intended move, this move must be made as according to Article 4.
Gijssen: "Many found this rule too complicated and they might be right. Now in case of an incorrect claim, only the opponent receives three minutes extra. In my opinion someone who comes with an incorrect claim should be punished himself as well, like in the old rules, but OK, this is how it will be."
The most famous story about a player losing his chess game because his phone rings is still that of Ruslan Ponomariov. His phone sounded during a match between Ukraine and Sweden at the European Team Championships, Plovdiv 2003.
The article about mobile phones needed a change as well, since the 2005 version of the Laws of Chess did not sufficiently deal with fact that phones sometimes make a sound even if they're switched off, which happened to no-one less than Nigel Short at the 2008 European Union Championship.
12.2 b. It is strictly forbidden to bring mobile phones or other electronic means of communication, not authorised by the arbiter, into the playing venue. If a player`s mobile phone rings in the playing venue during play, that player shall lose the game. The score of the opponent shall be determined by the arbiter.
12.3 b. Without the permission of the arbiter a player is forbidden to have a mobile phone or other electronic means of communication in the playing venue, unless they are completely switched off. If any such device produces a sound, the player shall lose the game. The opponent shall win. However, if the opponent cannot win the game by any series of legal moves, his score shall be a draw.
Blitz and rapidplay
The Laws of Chess also include Appendices, in which special subjects are treated, like rapidplay, blitz, algebraic notation, quickly finishes when no arbiter is present and rules for play with blind and visually handicapped players.
In general one could say that rapid, but especially blitz competitions, need special rules because almost always there are not enough arbiters around. At blitz tournaments with many boards, many small incidents happend during every round which aren't even considered incidents, like an illegal move, or a flag that falls.
In classical chess an arbiter should be called in such a situation, but this would be impossible in a blitz tournament, and that's why an illegal move instantly loses at blitz, for example, to prevent the need of many more arbiters.
However, Gijssen and many others of the Rules Committee agreed that for example a (Blitz) World Championship shouldn't be decided by something trivial like an illegal move played by accident. In general, they asked themselves, why can't a (Blitz) World Championship be played according to the normal rules? What if we just assign one arbiter per board?
Therefore, the following changes have been made.
B2. Play shall be governed by the FIDE Laws of Chess, except where they are overridden by the following Laws of Rapidplay.
A.3 Where there is adequate supervision of play, (for example one arbiter for at most three games) the Competition Rules shall apply.
C2. Play shall be governed by the Rapidplay Laws as in Appendix B except where they are overridden by the following Laws of Blitz. The Articles 10.2 and B6 do not apply.
B.2 Where there is adequate supervision of play, (one arbiter for one game) the Competition Rules and Appendix A.2 shall apply.
Another change is the section on Adjourned Games. These days there's probably not a single tournament left where games are adjourned, but an organizer might want to. Besides, there are situations in which a game simply cannot be continued, and has to be resumed at a later stage. For this, guidelines for adjourned games have been included in the Appendices.
Introduced for the first time in the Laws of Chess are the rules for Chess960, also called Fischerrandom. We quote the articles in full:
F. Chess960 Rules
F.1 Before a Chess960 game a starting position is randomly set up, subject to certain rules. After this, the game is played in the same way as standard chess. In particular, pieces and pawns have their normal moves, and each player's objective is to checkmate the opponent's king.
F.2 Starting position requirements
The starting position for Chess960 must meet certain rules. White pawns are placed on the second rank as in regular chess. All remaining white pieces are placed randomly on the first rank, but with the following restrictions:
a. the king is placed somewhere between the two rooks, and
b. the bishops are placed on opposite-colored squares, and
c. the black pieces are placed equal-and-opposite to the white pieces.
The starting position can be generated before the game either by a computer program or using dice, coin, cards, etc.
F.3 Chess960 Castling Rules
a. Chess960 allows each player to castle once per game, a move by potentially both the king and rook in a single move. However, a few interpretations of standard chess games rules are needed for castling, because the standard rules presume initial locations of the rook and king that are often not applicable in Chess960.
b. How to castle
In Chess960, depending on the pre-castling position on the castling king and rook, the castling manoeuvre is performed by one of these four methods:
1. double-move castling: by on one turn making a move with the king and a move with the rook, or
2. transposition castling: by transposing the position of the king and the rook, or
3. king-move-only castling: by making only a move with the king, or
4. rook-move-only castling: by making only a move with the rook.
1. When castling on a physical board with a human player, it is recommended that the king be moved outside the playing surface next to his final position, the rook then be moved from its starting to ending position, and then the king be placed on his final square.
2. After castling, the rook and king's final positions are exactly the same positions as they would be in standard chess.
Thus, after c-side castling (notated as O-O-O and known as queen-side castling in orthodox chess), the King is on the c-square (c1 for White and c8 for Black) and the Rook is on the d-square (d1 for White and d8 for Black). After g-side castling (notated as O-O and known as king-side castling in orthodox chess), the King is on the g-square (g1 for White and g8 for Black) and the Rook is on the f-square (f1 for White and f8 for Black).
1. To avoid any misunderstanding, it may be useful to state "I am about to castle" before castling.
2. In some starting positions, the king or rook (but not both) do not move during castling.
3. In some starting positions, castling can take place as early as the first move.
4. ll the squares between the king's initial and final squares (including the final square), and all of the squares between the rook's initial and final squares (including the final square), must be vacant except for the king and castling rook.
5. In some starting positions, some squares can stay filled during castling that would have to be vacant in standard chess. For example, after c-side castling (O-O-O), it's possible for to have a, b, and/or e still filled, and after g-side castling (O-O), it's possible to have e and/or h filled.
With this article we hope to have provided our readers a basic idea of the changes in the official Laws of Chess that come to effect as of today. In general we'd like to say that it's highly recommended to take some time and study the Laws thoroughly, at least once in your life! From experience we know that it can save you from losing half or even full points, and from many heated debates in the playing hall...
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