Disputes in chess tournaments can occasionally arise. Disputes differ depending on the type of tournament. Junior or beginner chess tournaments have different issues. Advanced tournament long-form games have fewer disputes but more difficult ones. Rapid play or “blitz” tournaments tend to have more disputes, because the time forfeits and other issues.

Junior Tournament Disputes

Some of the issues that a chess referee may be faced with include disputes and issues in junior tournaments or beginner chess:

  • Checkmate? Is it checkmate? Beginners will often need help to be reassured that a position is checkmate. And they will often miss legal moves such as capturing the checking piece or using another piece to block the check.
  • Wrongly Setup Board: it often occurs that a game start with the Kings and Queens mixed up, or the Knights and Bishops mixed up. Really, the entire game should be restarted, but the referee may often allow discretion here, especially in junior games. If the only “wrong board setup” issue is the color of the squares (“white square on the right”), the game can continue without change, as the square colors don’t actually affect the piece moves.
  • Stalemate? Beginners may need help to correctly identify stalemate. For example, it’s not stalemate if the King cannot move but some other piece or pawn can move. There has to be zero legal moves possible for all pieces and pawns.
  • Illegal Moves: beginners may need assistance in situations where they leave their King in check. The move must be undone and another legal move played. The “touch move rule” may apply here too, if there is another legal move playable with the same piece.
  • Touch Move Rule: This is a common point of dispute in beginner chess, and even the occasional problem in grandmaster chess too! A touched piece or pawn must be moved, provided that it can move legally. And a touched enemy piece or pawn must be captured, provided there is a legal capture move. But what if you accidentally brush a piece on the way towards the piece you mean to move? What if your sleeve touches the piece? What if you touch two pieces at once, such as your King and Rook meaning to castle, but it turns out that castling out of check is illegal? The life of a chess referee is not easy.
  • Cheating: There may be disputes as to whether or not a player is cheating in some way, such as by receiving assistance from another player or coach, or by using a phone or device, or by viewing a book or written materials, or other disallowed assistance. Tournament chess is a game that should involve just your brain.
  • Bad sportsmanship: There are various rules about how a player should treat their opponent. They should be courteous and display sportsmanship. You cannot call your opponent names, for example. Generally you are supposed to be quiet and not talk to your opponent, but that rule goes out the window in beginner tournaments! And some apparently official things must be done in the proper way: draw offers, resignations, and other official claims.

Other Less Common Disputes

Some of the less common disputes, such as in adult long-form tournaments include:

  • Draws: There are draws by inadequate material (e.g. “kings only draw”), stalemate, perpetual check, triple repetition, and so on.
  • Draw claims: A player may formally claim a draw for triple repetition, and some other types of draw. Some types of draws are automatic and do not require a claim, in theory, although in practice you probably still have to find an official referee to validate the “automatic” draw.
  • Stopped Clock or Wrongly Setup Clock: There is a lot of discretion in resolving an issue such as this. The referee may decide to give each player a certain amount of time on the clock, or may attempt to reset it to the proper amounts prior to the malfunction, or some other remedy. In rare cases, the game might have to be restarted.
  • Completed Move Rule: This is the rule whereby a player has touched a piece, moved the piece, and then let go of the piece, so they have finished their move. They cannot pick up the piece again and move it to a different square. Disputes are possible as to whether or not the player actually did let go of the piece.
  • Improper Movement of Pieces: You are supposed to use only one hand to move pieces, and the same hand to press the clock. Using one hand to move the pieces and the other hand to click the clock button is not actually allowed in most tournaments. Also, for the castling move, you are actually supposed to use one hand only, moving the King 2 squares first, and then the Rook. Beginners will often castle improperly using either two hands (for King and Rook), or by moving the Rook first. Strictly speaking, these ways of castling should interact with the touch move rule, but this is rarely enforced in beginner tournaments.
  • Time Forfeits: a win on time must be claimed if one player has no time left on their chess clock. One issue here is a “double time forfeit” where both players have expired clocks.

All of these issues and potential disputes are for the players and the official referee. Spectators, coaches or parents are not supposed to be involved in resolving any dispute.