Can you Take Notes in a Chess Tournament? (Yes or No?)

According to Fide article 12.3 and 12.4, writing any kind of a note is forbidden during a tournament chess game and would cause a forfeit once proven.

Notes are one of the most efficient ways to transcript information which we can use on demand. This means that instructional knowledge can be embedded in these materials to aid a player in their chess match.

I’ve wondered whether this was allowed in a tournament, so I’ve done the research and wrote this article. I find this incredibly interesting since there are different types of notes and I am curious if they are all allowed/forbidden.

There’s a lot of debate whether this kind of penalty is even reasonable for such an offense (or if it was an offense in the first place). I will shed light to the details of this case for you, let’s get started.

Is there a Fide article addressing the action of taking notes?

Fide articles are one of the most reliable ways to conclude something as a legal or not (since it is the international body). If it was in the Fide handbook, you can count it as being official for the chess community (in general).

Fide article 12.3 and 12.4 forbids the use of any notes, source of information, etc. which makes writing notes (during a chess match) eligible for penalties.

If you want the entirety of that section I’ve done the google search for you, here’s that piece regulation:

Fide article12.3.a: During play the players are forbidden to make use of any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyze on another chessboard […]

Fide article12.4: The scoresheet shall be used only for recording the moves, the times of the clocks, the offers of a draw, and matters relating to a claim and other relevant data.

It is clearly stated that notes written during the game are condemned and would be controlled. The only exception would be the legal writings in the score sheet with chess notations, draws, or resigns.

Take note that it is stated here to not make use of any note during the game. This means that you would not be able to look at notes that are pre-written (even before the game) since it is still considered as “usage of a note”.

Basically you’re not allowed to use any notes that have been written during the game nor the one that has been transcribed before it. The notes also include reading chess books (and other writings) which is still unlawful because those are still considered as notes.

Tournaments after all are played with desired prizes, organizers have to be strict on the implementation of rules. Otherwise the order would be chaotic and participants may not take the event seriously.

Are there occasions where you are allowed to write notes (in a tournament)?

Writing notes in general isn’t permitted, there are however legal actions which serve as an exception. I want to clarify every legal note-taking out there so we can understand this better.

Writing notes on the scoresheet for the purpose of recording chess notations, exclamation of resignation or a draw, as well as writing after the game are all allowed by the Fide rules.

They are after all things that regularly come with playing chess and there are no reasons to ban them. The only permitted action for writing notes in tournaments are on the scoresheet (chess notations/draw/resign) and nothing else.

If you write anything on the scoresheet that is not included within those circles then it is illegal. Though you can write notes before and after the game but are just not allowed to use them during the match.

It is encouraged to write notes before the game as a kind of reviewer, but not to actually use them during the game. You don’t use the reviewers on the time of examination don’t you?

You can only write notes before and after the match has been completed, not while it is in play.

What prints are considered writing and using notes (in chess tournaments)?

Any form of writing during a tournament game is illegal, it even includes scribbles, word of motivation, and things not related to the game which is written in anywhere a player can see.

Pre-written notes can include scribbles in your hand, bag, notebook, or anywhere where it can be visibly seen. It doesn’t have to be on a piece of paper to qualify as something that is a “note”.

As long that it is something that is within a player’s belonging and they can see, then it counts

Even writings that don’t have words (secret codes) are still considered a note and therefore would face the same consequences. After all, players can write notes in a way that only they could understand.

Though there should be intent on the existence of the note for it to be considered unlawful. Otherwise claims of penalties can be unreasonable if any stint of writing is found.

Taking notes is fine on non-tournament games (informal/online), though is still somewhat weird. I mean people usually play at this platform in faster time controls, they don’t take the moves as seriously.

But if you swing that way then whatever, no one can penalize you if you are playing virtually.

What is the penalty for writing notes during a tournament game?

The transcription of notes is a forbidden action (in tournaments) that is usually met with an instant forfeit.

Take note that I said the most common (since other federations might have other punishments). But Fide-wise, the only right action would be depriving the player of the game.

Most federations and every other tournament setting based their rules mostly similar to Fide. So don’t test your luck by attempting something like this.

There are no exceptions, even words of encouragement can be subject to penalties (as discussed before). This might sound unnecessary to you which it might, but it is the case

The severity of this rule can be demonstrated by the case of Wesley So.

Wesley So has written notes of encouragement that he needs to remind himself. His opponent (Akobian) saw this and informed the arbiter leading to an instant forfeit.

There are occasions where the arbiter will give you a warning first (before imposing a penalty). The arbiters actually warned him before but did it anyway.

Here are Wesley’s sentiment on the case:

The penalty seems really severe for the amount of disobedience that has been committed, and in fact it can be. An instant forfeit for writing motivational words that only serves to cheer someone does not bring a good picture.

Due to this, there are a couple of famous players who are against this regulation which is pretty understandable. It is doubtful after all how justifiable the forfeit is (Garry Kasparov did not approve of this).

Garry Kasparov on Wesley So incident : “This Rule Was Invented by a Bunch of Idiots at FIDE”.

Professionals take their games very seriously, it is the difference from continuing their career and having to find a job. This “one game” from most people’s eyes are very precious for someone who’s trying to win the tournament, so it matters.

Why are taking notes banned in chess tournaments?

In the end we always have to ask ourselves, what is the point of this rule? we shouldn’t accept everything that has been imposed on us just because of tradition (there has to be a reason).

Usage of notes in tournaments are forbidden since it might aid a player’s calculation by writing extensive variations, as well as a form of distraction for the opponent.

After all one could write everything in their mind (branches of a line) instead of doing it with their own mental ability. There is no reason for someone to write the notations before actually playing it, it only becomes a guide that is unfair to those who calculate manually.

Imagine taking months to prepare for a tournament, investing a lot of time in preparing a creative line, and someone figuring it after writing a novel-like length of variations.

If this is actually lifted, the game could change in a huge way. People would annotate all positions they can think off rather than calculating it on their own.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the participants don’t have the opportunity to write down moves that they can think of, which is not the case. Chess tournaments are played in very long time controls where players can take all the time that they want.

One could make an entire list of possibilities that could be taken into consideration in such a long game. Calculating on top of your head after all has a limitation due to the burden it puts on the memory.

If we could just write down every move we can think of it would bypass this limitation altogether.

Players can even record the piece value on the notes in a variation instead of calculating the normal way. Although the helpfulness of this might be doubtful in professional chess (since they can pretty much calculate piece value) regular players would take advantage of this.

This allows participants to skip memorization all together and just write down the moves, which could turn chess into a whole different game. It would pretty much look like a writing contest than a test of chess abilities.

You see, writing notes can be used as a form of double check that would avoid blunders which would make it unfair. It’s much easier to calculate when you can visually see the moves (chess notations) rather than thinking of the abstract (mental calculation).

That is the first part, the second is the potential distraction it can cause to participating players. If one would write down the moves and allowed the opponent to take a peek, it might be used as a sort of a feint.

Taking into consideration a particular reply only to play another (faking) is an unnecessary mind game that needs to be eliminated.

Speaking of distraction, the presence of notations themselves can trigger an opponent’s analytical tendencies. Grandmasters after all are attracted to chess analysis, it may be used as a form of mind game (scrutiny).

Professionals will subconsciously correct incoherent moves that are written in a note, throwing them off. It’s an annoying pretext that would lead to an advantage for the side that utilizes it.

Would you write down notes in tournament chess?

A simple act writing down notes may seem innocent, but can change the game in dramatic ways. One would need to be completely aware of this rule to avoid the harsh penalty (forfeit).

I mean Wesley So himself (a professional) has fallen for this so it’s not hard to imagine that some beginner will. It might be tempting after all to try this if you have never played in a tournament before.

Hopefully this article have provided everything you need to get an idea of this rule. I hope so, sleep well and play chess.