Some people just love playing chess. They love the concept, the strategies, the game's long history and even the artistry that goes into crafting unique chess pieces.

For others, chess is a calling. The game is as much a part of them as their eating and personal fitness habits; indeed, such people may feel incomplete without chess in their lives.

Doesn't that make you wonder about Abhimanyu Mishra, the world's youngest chess grandmaster? He claimed that title on July 1st, snatching it from Sergey Karjakin, who earned his grandmaster title at 12 years and 7 months old.

Let's leave aside, for now, the obvious questions: what motivates such youngsters to embrace chess to the point that their entire young lives are consumed by the pursuit of chess excellence, and what their future holds after having achieved the ultimate in chess recognition at such a young age.

Superprof is concerned with you and the steps to take so you can compete in your first chess tournament.

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Before Entering a Chess Tournament

In this article's introduction, we alluded to the different types of chess players: those that love the game - whose sole desire is to improve their chess skills, and those who wish to pursue chess titles through competition. Distinguishing which chess player you are is your first step in considering chess tournament play.

"I want to keep my amateur status so I can compete in the waitressing Olympics" - Rachel, from Friends

You have to register before you can play in a chess tournament
Before you can play in any chess tournament, you have to register. Photo credit: Ian Sane on Visualhunt

Tournaments, by definition, are competitions. Chess tournaments pit players of similar ability and skill against one another to determine which of the two is the stronger player. Even if you have no grandmaster aspirations - you want to maintain your amateur chess player status, as it were, you can and should still compete in chess tournaments.

Besides the obvious reasons for playing in chess tournaments - gauging your skill as a player and boosting your Elo rating, competing in tournaments exposes you to many different players. They likely all will have different strengths than you, different playing styles and different preferences.

Some may open aggressively while others prefer the middlegame and yet others would deploy their winning strategies in the endgame.

You can learn a lot from playing opponents you've never before encountered so, even if you've no aspirations of becoming a chess grandmaster or National Chess Champion, playing Open tournaments could still benefit you.

Admittedly, most chess players compete in tournaments as an avocation. They would like to improve their standing in the chess rankings but aren't necessarily interested in pursuing any titles or even making a career out of playing chess. Most such players are active in their local chess club; some may even have a hand in organising their clubs' tournaments.

If you don't yet belong to a chess club, it would be a good idea for you to join one. Membership in a chess club will make it easier for you to find tournaments to play in.

Next, you have to decide which tournaments are best suited to your situation.

Some tournaments last for days while others may play out over several weekends. If you're new to competitive chess, you might consider a tournament that lasts only a few hours; a day, at most. It might also be a good idea to look for Open tournaments; they allow players with no Elo rating to compete.

Note that you will likely have to pay dues when you join your local chess club and pay entry fees to participate in chess tournaments, so you probably should find out in advance how much it costs to enter a chess tournament before putting your name on the list of players.

Registering for Your Tournament

Whether you play Blitz Chess, Rapid Chess or Classic Chess, registering for the tournament is the first step to participation.

If your chess club is the one putting on the tournament, registering may be as simple as signing up and paying your entry fee. However, if you're enthused about another chess club's tournament announcement, how you register depends on how they have things set up.

These days, lots of chess clubs host tournaments both in their facilities and online. If the proposed tournament will be held online, that is where you will register. Conversely, if the tournament allows for online registration even though it will be an over-the-board - in-person event, you may enjoy a discount if you pre-register.

Tournament organisers need to know how many people will participate
Registering for tournaments helps organisers plan how many places they should set up for. Photo credit: Rrrodrigo on Visualhunt

Otherwise, you may register at the door on the day of the event and pay your entry fee then. Beware, though, that on-site registration might not be an option if the tournament has all the players it can handle.

Typically, tournament registration forms will include questions regarding your chess rating. That's so the tournament organisers can arrange all of the participants according to their skill level. Could you imagine facing off against a chess player who has an Elo rating much higher than yours?

If you're (as yet) unrated, you will be slated to play in a section with other unrated players. However, if you do have an Elo rating, you will find your place among players who are currently also below a certain Elo rating threshold. That's a nifty way to keep the playing field level, isn't it?

There's much more to preparing for your first chess tournament; we've covered all the steps to take in a separate article. For now, let the tournament begin!

What Happens During a Chess Tournament

Whether your tournament takes place online or in a physical location, your first step is to make sure your registration has been properly recorded. If you're registering when you arrive, that should not be a problem but if you pre-registered, something may have gotten misread or misunderstood, so it's always a good idea to check.

Note that you won't start playing as soon as you arrive. Especially if the tournament organisers offered both online and day-of registration, it may take them a while to arrange the pairings - who will play against whom.

Once the pairings go up, you'll find your name next to your opponent's, and your board number. That's the table number you're to play on. The pairing listing will also show whether you're playing White or Black.

As soon as you know which side of the board is yours and which table you're to play at, you may take your place but you must wait for the tournament official to signal you to start your clock as there might be a last-minute change or announcement to make.

As soon as you're given the go-ahead, shake your opponent's hand and then, Black hits the clock and off you go!

You must record your results on the pairing sheet after each game so the tournament organisers can pair the next round. Remember that their aim is to match players with opponents of roughly the same skill levels so, even if you played poorly in that round, don't be shy about recording it. Doing so ensures you'll face nothing but worthy opponents.

There's no need to throw in the towel if you did show poorly during your first round. You won't be eliminated for losing a game; tournaments are structured so that every player gets to play as many games as they wish. Besides, you may win a prize just for competing, so it's best to stay until the event's end.

If you do need to leave - maybe there's been some emergency, courtesy dictates that you notify the tournament officials of your withdrawal so they can take your name out of the pairings. However, if you only need to step out for about an hour, simply tell them that you need to be excused for that round so you can continue playing once you get back.

The good news is, if you miss only one round, you'll likely be granted a bye - a half-point, even though you didn't play that round.

Most chess tournaments in the UK follow these basic tournament guidelines.

Stay until the tournament's end because you could win a prize
Stick around after you're finished playing because you may still win a prize. Photo credit: karpidis on Visualhunt.com

What to do After the Tournament Ends

Throughout the tournament, you reported your results after every round; the final round is no different and, of course, you'll want to stick around if there's any chance you might walk away with one of the prizes.

There's no need to fret over prizes or diminish your performance in any way - "Me? A prize?"

This may be your first tournament; that doesn't mean that there's nothing tangible to return home with. Plenty of tournaments offer prizes to their top unrated player, to their top player under a certain rating level and so on. You won't have to have won every round or even most rounds to qualify for a tournament prize.

You may consider your first tournament experience complete once the prize winners have been announced.

Even if your name isn't among those, consider yourself as having achieved a prize: successful completion of your first-ever chess tournament! You'll be able to relive that glory when you receive your results in a couple of weeks... or maybe the next day, depending on how fast your chess club posts them.

It's time to get curious: what are the major chess tournaments?

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.