How to become a Chess Arbiter? (Researched!)

A referee of any sport not just in chess has a mediator to provide a fair playing environment where arguments can be disclosed diplomatically.

In chess, the referee is what’s known as a chess arbiter, which has very specific qualifications for those aspiring to be one.

I have been interested in making an article about this for a while now so here it is, if you are interested in this line of work you will need specific things.

After doing the research, here is what I’ve learned:

The prerequisites of being a chess arbiter include participation in chess-related events, solid knowledge regarding laws of chess, use of a Fide accredited language, background with chess clocks, and pairing systems, where specific national and international titles also have additional seminars, examinations, and norm acquisitions.

This article is meant to be the ultimate guide concerning the requirements of being a chess arbiter. The requirements may of course change in the future and I will update the article if any relevant prerequisite has been changed.

With all of that in mind, let’s get started. 

The role of a chess arbiter and its definition

A chess arbiter is responsible for upholding proper regulations in chess tournaments where disputes regularly occur. Chess after all is a very conflicted game prone to emotional accusations that oftentimes are not grounded on very reasonable terms.

The job of a chess arbiter is to correctly indicate regulatory decisions, basically which player should be favored.

Because chess players are angry people, and you should have the proper qualification if you want to be respected. Here are the basic requirements for someone who is interested in becoming one.

Basic requirements that a chess arbiter needs to have

Take note that this only includes qualification for local and small-sized tournaments, a bigger one will require more things.

Such tournaments can be described as those played by lower-rated players, high schoolers, or other non-professionals. It’s composed of the following:

a.) Initial Involvement

This pertains to any involvement relating to an arbiter’s line of work, such includes being advised by an actual arbiter or organizing little tournaments.

Most arbiters are willing to train aspirants and they’re usually very easy to find, states after all usually have three to four arbiters to be called upon on short notice.

Informal competitions like in a high school have a lower standard, making someone be readily easy to enter in one. To be a bigger arbiter you need to participate in these low-hanging fruits first.

b.) Fundamental Knowledge

You can’t regulate any chess game if you don’t even know the rules! That would be hypocritical and can’t even be fair. At these levels, it is not a necessity to know complicated chess terms, just the basics that even players are aware of.

Turns out you can’t participate in anything chess-related before knowing how pieces move.

Even just a simple castling, en passant, pawn promotion, or piece movement should be enough to get someone started. Being someone who can play helps too since these are things that naturally come with some playing experience.

c.) Arbiting background

Next would be any experience related to organizing tournaments, which yes something you can’t have when just starting.

But you can be an assistant to the one who does! Proper guidance led by an official arbiter as the assistant would give you some time on the field.

This background would be then used as a reference for your intentions on being a part of larger tournaments (not international).

d.) Arbiter collaboration

Being able to meet experts in the industry is always a good way to know the best practices, which means meeting other arbiters is always to your best interest.

You will naturally be able to achieve this if you’re active enough in involving with any tournaments, some you can even meet in local chess clubs and through some social groups.

It just gives you a better idea of the actual day-to-day job, and whether you are excited enough to further interest.

Working with other people is also a good indication for organizers to actually hire you as their staff, which is another opportunity to get experience.


Here’s something that would help with background and credentials, but is actually not necessary like a law or something.

But it definitely helps you to build up that portfolio in a short amount of time, which is something you would have spent otherwise jumping from tournament to tournament.

Local / National Federation Training

A local federation is basically a group recognized by Fide that organized tournaments in a state-like territory. A national federation is just like the local federation, except the boundary includes a country, not just a state.

Some federations offer some official regulated training to help people of arbitrating interest. Participating in one gives the following benefits:
● Time- the credibility granted by this training can bring worth that would amount to a significant amount of time acquiring on your own.
● Collaboration- being able to meet other people that can serve as mentors is always a good idea, which is something this training can bring.
● Chess rules- help for furthering knowledge by providing a platform where a person can actually ask questions about chess rulings.
● Connections- The training gives exposure to regular tournament organizers that can have an interest in giving arbitrating duties.

Now, this is not an actual requirement but rather just an option to help someone’s career. You can still very well be successful by just getting engaged in tournaments that would give you sufficient knowledge and experience.

Also, take note that not every federation offer such privileges, and such are only available to some so don’t be surprised if you can’t find something in your area.

Arbiter Titles and its Prerequisites

Everything that we’ve talked about before only applies to being an arbiter in lower quality tournaments, where getting into a higher one requires much higher qualifications.

Specifically, a title is necessary to regulate official Fide rated events which of course has higher standards of play.

There are three titles to qualify being an arbiter in such events (rated), namely the national arbiter, fide arbiter, and the international arbiter.

National arbiter

This is the lowest status among arbiters eligible for organizing rated events among all three titles and is the easiest one to qualify for as well.

These are people eligible to run locally rated events that don’t grant any chess title norms (International Master, Grandmaster, etc.), but are a decent tournament nonetheless.

Basically, they are immersed in smaller tournaments that are bigger than someone who does not have a title, but lesser than the other two (Fide arbiter/ International arbiter).

A national arbiter is an arbiter that most chess players will meet.

Now, it used to be that there is a significant amount of qualification for being a national arbiter, heck they even serve as a precursor (requirement) for being a Fide arbiter.

Those days are gone, and the experiences stated above from participating in high school and kid tournaments should be enough to get a license (which has a license fee).

Fide Arbiter

This is your first projection as a part of international arbiting in the chess world where you would finally be qualified in official international tournaments.

Take note that this title is necessary to achieve the status of being an international arbiter, where the other way around is not possible. Here are the obligated prerequisites of being a Fide arbiter:

a.) One official Fide language

This refers to the language used by a country that is recognized by Fide, which is not limited to English but some native dialects as well.

How do you know if your country is included in this official language? basically if your country run chess tournaments and has a federation, the most popular language is the official one. Being able to speak English can of course help, but is not an obligation.

b.) Three fide events

This refers to participation as an assistant or a chief arbiter in an official Fide-rated event that has either been held locally or internationally.

This is why it’s necessary to have a decent amount of connections with current arbiters since they can give you the opportunity to be included when a job is available.

Take note however that not every tournament is legible for this count, here is a good table that serves as a guideline to exactly how big something is to be recognized:

Tournament typeMinimum no. of players
Round Robin10 players
Double Round Robin6 players
Swiss20 players

For a round-robin there should be at least 10 players, a double round-robin with 6, and 20 players for swiss.

Let’s say you’ve regulated a round Robin tournament that only has 8 players, well that is not recognized as a qualifying tournament since a round-robin has a minimum of 10. So you actually need to follow this.

c.) Fide arbiter’s seminar

So there’s an actual official seminar being held for the Fide arbiter title exclusively for this status, both the non-titled (organizes small tournaments) and the international arbiter (highest title) do not have this qualification.

This seminar is different from the local or national federation training that you can request even as a small arbiter (although that helps too).

The seminar orient aspirants about the responsibilities of being an arbiter, and you must at least attend one of these although there are several of them.

d.) Arbiter examination

Next would be passing an official examination set by the arbiters commission which is used to qualify the appropriate skills an arbiter should possess.

Take note that this only applies to the Fide arbiter title where an international arbiter application for example does not hold such a test.

The subjects in the arbiter’s examination consist of the rules of chess which makes up 60%, pairing systems that have 30%, and arbiting/rating regulations that have 10%.

The aspirant should at least score a percentage of 80% on this exam to be eligible for the title.


Surprisingly, there’s a special rule for individuals who belong to a federation that cannot hold tournaments for titles and ratings (yes, there are tournaments like that). On this rare occasions, an exceptional rule also takes into effect

Such aspirants would only have to qualify on a specialized examination held by the arbiters commission and score at least 80% (ignoring other requirements, lucky for them!).

International Arbiter

After being a Fide arbiter, this is the highest status a chess arbiter can ever achieve throughout the entirety of their career. It’s the people that manage really important and huge events that are usually historically significant.

Although there are many requirements here, this is actually much easier to accomplish than the Fide arbiter.

a.) English language

This is a mandated capability that a chess arbiter is obligated to be in tune with. This only pertains to conversation-level knowledge (being able to talk to someone) rather than a sophisticated one (deep and formal vocabulary).

English after all is the universal language, so it makes sense that international duties around the world would require some degree of English speaking skills. The arbiters should also be aware of fundamental chess terms in the said language.

b.) Personal Computer Knowledge

The job of an arbiter includes working out pairing systems in tournaments along with a formal recording of the results. Such information is processed in a personal computer (P.C.), since well, it is the most efficient way to do anything.

The arbiters therefore are obligated to at least be able to perform basic P.C. functions that would help them navigate their duties.

There are pairing programs promoted by Fide, which include: Word, Excel, and Mail, and are things you should be capable of using.

c.) Four Fide events

Following the same qualifications of being a Fide arbiter, there’s also a threshold to break in terms of rated tournament experiences.

Take note that this is a separate count from the one used in the Fide arbiter requirements, therefore warranting more tournament counts. It’s basically the same regulation as the last one, except there are four now instead of three.

d.) Fide arbiter

I’ve talked about this earlier in the article, the requirement to be a Fide arbiter before becoming an international arbiter!

This is the reason why it is easier for you to qualify as an IA (International Arbiter) since you’ll be likely to have more active experiences at this point.

Every aspirant should follow this trajectory, you cannot skip a step since you are not allowed to do so.

e.) Arbiter Signature

After gathering all the required rated tournament requirements, a report should be requested to the chief arbiter of such events.

Out of all four tournaments, at least two different chief arbiters should sign the report, emphasis, two different chief arbiters!

A report is a reflection of a good performance at such gatherings, and two different people should sign to avoid the element of familiarity since it would make things unfair.

g.) Fide application

After completing the necessary credentials, it’s time to actually apply on Fide through your own federation.

I’m talking about the state/country you reside in that is liable for processing the request, which also determines some of the other requirements (since this is where you get the seminars and exams).

Legitimate individuals then through your federation will be held accountable for reviewing your qualifications, which is of course not a problem if you’re actually qualified.

General requirements for all types of chess arbiters

Now all of the things I’ve talked about so far are requirements specific to a given title, but there are general regulations that apply to all international titles.

Basically these are only qualifications that both a Fide arbiter and an international arbiter share, which are usually fundamental necessities tied to their responsibilities.

a.) 21 years old

Only aspirants who are within or passed the 21-year-old bracket shall be eligible for the application of both international titles, any age under should be deemed incapable.

This makes sense since an international arbiter is required to well, participate in internationally-setted events, which could be a hassle for anyone under 21.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t get involved in arbiter-related activities as an under 21 and in fact you should, but international titles are still out of reach at that point.

b.) Laws of Chess

Unlike someone who is only certified to run small tournaments, an international arbiter is responsible for larger formal events that require more sophisticated obligations.

It is the reason why so many credentials are at play during the application, which is usually targeted to the experiences and knowledge (arbiter exam and seminars) of the aspirant. Specifically, the arbiter has to be competent in the following areas:
● Fide regulations
● Swiss Pairing Systems
● Achievement of title norms
● Fide rating system

These are fields that someone who is very active in this profession should naturally be able to acquire with experience.

c.) Clear record

This refers to the ethics of the aspirant in their past arbiting experience and whether they receive satisfying results.

Reports are required for submission of applications under any international arbiter position (which we’ve talked earlier), which reflects an applicant’s objectivity during their time of service.

The chief arbiter of such tournaments will usually sign the report to indicate proper behavior that makes someone qualified for the position.

d.) Operating Chess Clocks

This is actually an obvious one for any chess tournament staff since they are the people responsible for organizing and presetting clocks.

A lot of chess dispute and rules revolves around the usage of the clock, therefore knowledge of such is necessary for the implementation of regulations.

This is especially true for an international arbiter who is obligated to host large tournaments, there are a lot of clocks in place after all.

Final thoughts

Being a chess arbiter who has varying status levels may seem complicated, but really only revolves around certain things. Experience, Knowledge, and Maturity; these are the only things necessary to become successful in this profession.

As long as you follow a regular trajectory of getting involved in chess-arbiting, then you should be able to reach the highest level which only takes time. Sleep well and play chess.