Playing your first chess tournament

Posted by Bold Commerce Collaborator on

By Shelby Lohrman

So after taking chess class you have decided to join your first chess tournament!  Congratulations!  You’re one of the best players in your school.  You just went from a big fish in a small pond to a regular sized fish in an ocean.  This is the first step in a long journey.  Remember you are there to have fun and experience something new.  The wins will come over time.

Let me just make this clear.  You will not win every game.  In fact, if you end up with a positive score you are doing great.  You are going to experience a lot of new things at your 1st tournament and you will have to handle them correctly.

Before you even get to the tournament there are many things you will need to do:

  • 1) Pre-register for the tournament.  Make sure your parents sign you up for the tournament early.  There is nothing more annoying than waiting in line to sign up before the tournament.
  • 2) Get a good night’s sleep!  It is hard to concentrate if you are tired.  You brain works better with a bunch of sleep the night before.
  • 3) Eat a good breakfast.  Tournaments can last over 5 hours.  Without a good breakfast you will start to run out of energy as the day goes on.
  • 4) Check out the rules of the tournament as soon as you decide you want to play in it.  See if they make you write down your moves or use a chess clock.  The earlier you know about these rules, the more you can practice them at home.  Having to write down the moves or use a clock for the first time at a tournament will mess with your game.  If you have to write down the moves practice with your parents of siblings at home.  If you need to use clocks borrow one from your coach or friends to work with at home.  The first couple of times using a chess clock you will start to move too fast.  You should try to take around a minute a moves until you have to speed up.

When you get to the tournament figure out an area you can stake out for you and your family.  You want to be far away from the commotion of the sales and food areas.  Try to introduce yourself to the tournament directors.  They will be the ones making decisions in your games if there is a problem.  If they know you they will probably be nicer to you if they have to make a decision.  Make sure to figure out where the pairing will be posted.  That is where you find out who you are paired with and what board you should go to.  Chill out till the round start time is announced.

Once they announce the pairing are up go to the correct pairings board to see how you have to play and what board you are supposed to be on.  Remember that if anything that does not feel right happens during a game raise your hand and get a tournament director over there.  It is there job to make sure everyone is acting correctly.  The Tournament Director (TD) will start the round.  When this happens reach across the board and shake your opponents hand and wish them “Good Luck!”  Now the game really starts.  Make sure not to get too excited.  You will notice that most players are moving really fast.  Remember to give your brain time to think.  If you start to get worried look at the top player and see what they are doing.  They must be doing something right!  You’ll notice that many of their games are the last to finish.  You will also notice that most all of them are writing down their games and moving slower than everyone else.  I always ask the 5 questions to keep me from going too fast and missing the obvious mistakes. They are:

  • 1) How safe is my king?  The king is your most important piece and you need to keep him safe.
  • 2) How safe is my queen?  She is the most powerful attacking piece on the board and I don’t want anyone to be able to capture her.
  • 3) Do I have any HANGING pieces?  A hanging piece is one that can be taken by your opponent without being captured back.
  • 4) Do I have any LOOSE pieces?  A loose piece is attacked the same amount of times as they are defended
  • 5) How is my pawn structure?  This is Isolated Pawns, Doubled/tripled pawns, or backward pawns.


You are supposed to ask the 5 questions about your pieces and then your opponents pieces.  Asking these questions give your brain extra time to think. 


Remember that it takes time to be great at something!  Surround yourself with people that challenge you.  Make friends with the higher rated kids at the tournament.  Ask them how they got so good and what they think you need to do to get better at chess.  They are usually VERY helpful and friendly.  They want to be around people who love the game as much as they do.  See if the tournament offers game analysis.  Getting to see what went right and wrong in a game is crucial.  Think of writing down a game the same way a math teacher tells you to show all your work on a problem.  If you did something wrong, you will be able to correct it.

The main thing is to have fun and learn something.   Winning games will come naturally over time as long as you put the work in. 

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