What happens if you are late for a chess tournament?

Chess tournaments are desired events that every aspirant indulge to test their skills. Most of us take these competitions seriously, but there are just times where the circumstances are against our will.

Maybe it’s waking up late, the bus didn’t arrive early, whatever is getting in the way. What exactly happens when a participant of the tourney fails to meet the time schedule?

The tournament will proceed as usual even if one of the players didn’t arrive on time. The late participant’s clock will be started until the arrival of the player, and they will play with the remaining time (so if 7 minutes is left on the clock, they will play with 7 minutes).

Of course, there are many sophisticated details that go about this which I need to clarify. I want you to be able to understand the procedure if this ever comes up.

Note though that the rules of chess change all the time, a couple of years later and this may not be applicable. But we are focused on the now, I doubt that the proceedings will change a lot over the passage of time.

So let’s get started.

Is being late in chess tournaments an automatic loss?

No, failure to arrive at the designated time will not result in an automatic loss, although this used to be the case.

This specific regulation has seen a dramatic change over the decade. The original rule states that being late is worthy of a default loss indefinitely.

Here this is that rule, although the handbook has been updated and you can no longer see this anymore.

Rule 6.6a states: Any player who arrives at the chessboard after the start of the session shall lose the game. Thus the default time is 0 minutes. The rules of a competition may specify otherwise. 

It used to be that there is zero-tolerance for late arrivals, despite the reason and whatever the agreement between the participating players. The international body is pretty strict about this where they are looking to toast tardiness away from the scene.

This serves the interest of the organizers since they can’t afford to have the match delayed and wait for players who are late. It is just easier to implement a surefire way that makes the participants take the time seriously.

It used to be that players would lose the game (if late) as soon as the clock starts, even if they have arrived just minutes away. As you can see, this caused a whole lot of dilemmas especially if there is a valid reason for the participant’s absence.

This was a decade ago and after a lot of petitions from players, the regulators are pressured to make some amends. This shift of rule allows more leeway for unexpected occurrences that cause the so-called “tardiness”.

What should you do if your opponent is late to the game?

Your opponent is late, you sat on the board and wonder what you need to do to make things right. Rules in tournaments can be complicated and we need to be knowledgeable to meet our interests in a legitimate way.

When your opponent is late to the game you should start the clock as the round starts, letting it tick until the player arrives where they can play with the remaining time.

It is not your responsibility how the opponent will play the rest of their time. The important thing is the round already started while you “defaultly” treated them as being there.

In order to make things fair for your part, you should be granted the excess time it took for being early. If not your opponent can protest later on (if they have a good reason) where the arbiter can then decide to give each of you equal time (which is unlawful).

This is why it’s important to start the clock as soon as the round starts. Do not worry about doing this, it is a general practice for this situation.

It shows that you value your time and would want to be compensated for your early efforts (although the arbiter would probably still give you some extra time anyway). If you are a beginner and don’t know how to set the clock, you can ask the arbiters for help.

I know the feeling of entering your first tournament and getting trouble with that thing, plus the arbiter can oversee the absence of your opponent.

If you are playing white make a move first before starting the clock, otherwise it will be an illegal move. If you are black, start their clock and wait for them to arrive (since technically they haven’t played a move yet and you’re just waiting).

The tournament shall proceed even if the participants are not complete, the players should show respect to the time effort of other participants not just themselves. Everything will go to plan despite some unwanted absences.

Though if the player did arrive eventually, he/she should play with the remaining time left. The extra tolerance (even if there is a punishment) gives comfort to the player when making their schedule.

Plus the opponent of the “late” player will have a time advantage which is enough for disciplinary action.

When can you declare a win by default for your opponent being late?

So yes, you can let the time go as much as it should until the opponent arrives. But there’s actually another option which is protesting for a time-default (when certain criteria are met).

The arbiter will set a threshold amount of time before a win by default can be declared, the player can then choose to play on or use such privilege.

If such cases happen you should ask the arbiter when they think a time default can occur. There will always be this line where you can legitimately win by default.

The win on time-default is primarily adjusted by the time control where if the format is faster, the win by default is naturally shorter. Some time formats (blitz) exist where waiting is impractical since the games are over really fast.

Usually, the margin for a default loss is at least half of the time control although it could be longer. Although be absolutely mindful that there is “a line” where you can state the win which you should clarify to the arbiter early on.

If you’ve decided to win by default, just tell the arbiter your desire and it should be followed. Otherwise, the organizers will treat your unwillingness as eagerness to still play on.

If it is not within your intent then it could cause some disputes later on which may not go your way.

Take note though that even if a player lost on default, they can still play the next rounds. They are not disqualified from the tournament indefinitely, the subject in question is only to be affected by the game where they are late.

Who will decide the punishment of a tournament latecomer?

For the most part, the arbiter will be tasked to provide the penalty for the one who arrives late, although his/her opponent can decide the default win if enough time has passed.

The arbiters, as the sort of “guardian” that keeps everything in order, has a special power to choose what is to be done. So if they set in place a special condition that is not included here then it is actually ok (there are rare exceptions).

One of these exceptions I’ve found from a forum is a case where the arbiter gives the latecomer and him equal time. This is against the rules and he knows it himself (since he has seen it before).

And he tried to express his concerns only to have his opinions ignored. This is unacceptable and a practice that should not be standardized in any tournament.

The player whose game has been affected also plays a role in how the punishment will go. Go to the arbiter and complain to him or her that the procedure should be letting the clock run until arrival (or at least demand some sort of explanation if this occurs).

The late arrival’s opponent will have a say whether to continue the game or not (if the game can legally already be considered a loss by default). Watch out for malpractice from less-experienced arbiters.

Although personally I will let the game go on just so I could have some fun. Most people enter a tournament for some challenge, it is disappointing if there is no opponent to play.

I want to make full use of my presence by playing all the games to my contentment.

But of course you could still lose the game even if they are low on time, this way some people don’t prefer it (because of the risk).

Yet, it is just good ethics to still let the opponent play and letting the board decide who is the real winner.

Do different chess federations impose different rules (for latecomers)?

The protocol on how to deal with latecomers can differ between federations and tournaments.

The Fide(international body) and USCF (United States) are similar in this regard, but other federations may differ. You can easily find which federation you belong to by the country you reside in.

I should note that the organizers of the event usually present participants with snippets of the etiquettes, you should read if there is any related stuff in there. Sometimes there are special regulations that are not found in the official handbook specifically for that event.

So this is another factor that will bring a variety to how such cases are handled, although most of the time they just follow the standard procedure (the one that is presented here).

If there are no such writings then you can infer that this is the practice when dealing with this scenario (on that tournament).

Do you usually come late to chess tournaments?

I’m sure nobody wants to be late in a limited time event like that of a chess tournament. Most people invest a lot of time and effort preparing for this and they don’t want to lose on default (or even have the reduced time).

But there are just those instances that we cannot prevent although we desire to do so. Not only to us but also that of our opponents, so it is important to understand the proper steps of how things should go.

Knowledge is power they say which is true, when you learn concepts you are more likely to receive fair conditions. That is the point of this article, Sleep well and play chess.

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