Frequently Asked Questions

Tournament competition has several things to recommend it over casual play:

  • It offers the thrill of winning individual trophies. There are plenty of prizes for all levels. Special prizes are awarded in a Grand Prix competition that spans the entire year.
  • It offers all the thrills of a sporting event, with extras. In this sport, everyone gets to play. No one is sitting on the bench. No one has to make the cut. There are no eliminations - you play every round, win or lose. Just show up and play!
  • It fosters camaraderie and team spirit. Any school with two or more players in the same section qualifies as a team. (The points of the top 4 scorers on a team are added to form a team score.) Typically heard at tournaments: "How did you do?" "Good luck next round." "Let's go over your game." "If we win 2 games next round, we'll win a team trophy."
  • It offers a rating system that helps players track their improvement and choose their level of competition.
  • It's a lot of fun. A great way to spend the day, for both parents and kids. Sometimes you don't know how much you are enjoying it until the next day - then you want to do it again!

You are ready to play in a tournament once you've played a game in which you checkmated your opponent. Remember, every tournament player had to start with no tournament experience. NSCF tournaments offer a very supportive environment for new players as well as those with experience, with plenty of encouragement from parents, coaches, and other players. And you will have plenty of chances to face players you can beat.

In NSCF tournaments, we've simplified the awards:

  • Everyone who scores 3 or more points (or finishes in the top 5) wins a trophy.
  • K/1 participants all receive a medal, and the top Kindergartner receives a trophy. (The top Kindergartner may receive both a place trophy and the Top K trophy.)

We also give Class (such as Under 700) or Unrated trophies, which may be given to players who have scored fewer than 3 points. The exact order of finish (whether your trophy says 1st Place or 7th Place) is determined by your score and your "tiebreak points" as calculated by the computer. A player who finishes in the top 5, as determined first by score then by tiebreaks, gets a trophy even if he has scored less than 3 points.

If you are already registered, check the advance registration listing to make sure your name is on it and that you are in the proper section. Then simply wait for the announcement that the pairings have been posted for the first round. Please do not wait in the main playing area.

If you are not preregistered, line up at the registration table and complete registration procedures. Then wait for the announcement of first-round pairings.

Whether preregistered or not, plan to arrive well before the registration deadline posted on the registration forms, to ensure a timely and orderly start to the tournament. We can not guarantee a first-round game to a late arrival who is not preregistered.

Once the pairings are posted, find the pairing sheet for your section. Player's names will be listed in two columns. The left hand column will list the player of the white pieces, and the right hand column will list the player of the black pieces. The number next to your name will denote the board number where you will be playing. Note the board number and your opponent's name. Go to the playing hall and find your assigned board number. If you forget your board number you can check the pairings posted in the tournament room or stand against the wall until the director calls your name. Sit in front of the color that you have been assigned. When your opponent arrives, make sure he or she is the right person.

Parents are not allowed in the playing hall. Our experienced staff members will help everyone get seated. In the Primary Novice and K-1 sections, all players' identities are verified by a floor director before each game begins. The chief tournament director gives detailed instructions to the players regarding the conduct of the game (yes, touch-move is played) and the recording of the results. You can help by instructing your child to follow the staff's directions and listen carefully to the rules of conduct.

Show respect to your opponent at all times. Do not brag if you are winning, do not complain if you are losing. Remember, the main playing area is a quiet area. No talking is allowed while games are in progress. If your opponent is not following these rules, and is distracting or disturbing you, raise your hand and notify the tournament director. If any questions arise during the game, do not engage in conversation with your opponent. Once again, raise your hand and call the tournament director.

You are encouraged to use a chess clock if you are playing in a rated section. Players in the higher sections should own and bring a chess clock with them, preferably one with a delay feature.

The time limit will depend on your section. If one player wishes to use a clock, the other person must agree. If neither player has a clock, you may start without one. However, the tournament director has the right to put a clock on your game while it is in progress, if he finds it necessary to do so.

If you are having to use a clock for the first time, raise your hand and let the tournament director know. He will explain how it works. If it is an electronic clock, it is the owner's responsibility to know how to set it properly.

For more detailed information, see the NSCF clock rules at "What are the NSCF regulations for the use of a chess clock?"

Keeping score is compulsory in the Championship and Reserve sections. It is strongly encouraged in other rated sections. A complete score sheet will be useful in resolving any problems that may arise during the game.

When the game is completed, raise your hand and wait for the tournament director. Do not reset the pieces until the tournament director has verified and marked the result. Shake hands with your opponent and say "Good game!" Then reset the chess pieces, leave the playing hall and join your parents in the waiting area. Do not return to the playing hall until it is time for the next round.

NOTE: WIN, LOSE OR DRAW, MAKE SURE YOUR RESULT IS REPORTED BEFORE LEAVING.

The NSCF configures the sections in its tournaments in a manner that evens the competition for all individuals. Following is a description of our sections and who should play there.

Rated sections

Ths United States Chess Federation is the official governing body of chess in the nation. Sometime after you have played in a tournament, the USCF will publish your new rating. This rating can be compared to that of all other US Chess players. As your rating rises, you may find yourself on the National Top 100 list for your age group! For more information about the USCF, visit USChess.org.

The NSCF rates all sections. To compete in a rated section, you must be a current member of the USCF. A section can not be rated unless all players in the section have memberships. Existing members may update their memberships online. If you have never been a member, you may join by paying a reduced fee to the NSCF. You may include payment when you register for a tournament by mail. If you register online, the fee may be added to your charges.

To understand what the term "USCF rating" means when used below, see "Which USCF rating is used in NSCF tournaments?" Bear in mind that you may not play in a section if your rating fails to meet the minimum or exceeds the ceiling for that section.

Future Masters section

The Future Masters section is for accomplished young chess players, grades 12 or under, who have achieved a USCF rating of 1300 or higher. This is a very competitive section. If you are rated below 1300 and want to play in this section, you must meet one of the criteria listed at "May I play in a higher or lower section than my rating allows?"

If there are not enough players to fill this section (4 or more), players who have registered for this section will be moved into the Championship section to form a combined FM/Champ section.

Championship section

The Championship section is for improving young chess players, grades 12 or under, who have achieved a USCF rating of 950 up to 1349. If you are rated below 950 and want to play in this section, you must meet one of the criteria listed at "May I play in a higher or lower section than my rating allows?"

Once your USCF rating goes above 1350, you must register to play in the Future Masters section.

Reserve section

This USCF rated section is primarily for students in grades 4 and up who have achieved a USCF rating of 500 up to 999. Most of the players in this section will be improving students in grades 4-6, but older and younger players who are in the 500-999 ratings bracket may also compete here.

Once your USCF rating goes above 999, you must play in the Championship section. See the "Which USCF rating is used in NSCF tournaments?" and "May I play in a higher or lower section than my rating allows?"

Booster section

This USCF rated section is intended to provide more reasonable competition for students in grades 4 and up who are unrated or have USCF ratings under 550. Once you acquire a USCF rating above 549, y ou must play in the Reserve section. See the "Which USCF rating is used in NSCF tournaments?" and "May I play in a higher or lower section than my rating allows?"

Primary section

The Primary section is for experienced players in grades 3 or under. There is no ratings ceiling or floor for this section. It is open to all levels, rated or unrated, who are in this grade group. However, if you are unrated or rated under 500, we recommend the Primary Novice section.

Primary Novice section

The Primary Novice section is for players in grades 3 or under who are not rated or have not achieved a USCF rating higher than 500. If you are not currently a USCF member, you can join through the NSCF when you register. A reduced-rate membership is available - see below.

Players in this grade group with ratings above 500 should play in the USCF rated Primary section.

K-1 section (USCF rated)

The USCF rated K-1 section is for all players from pre-K through first grade. If you are not currently a USCF member, you can join through the NSCF when you register. A reduced-rate membership is available - see below.

K-1 beginners should always register for this section - do not be intimidated by seemingly high K-1 ratings, as those ratings were primarily obtained in competition against other K-1 beginners.

USCF Membership

As noted above, if you are registered in a rated section you must have an up-to-date USCF membership. The NSCF offers first-time USCF members a one-year membership at the bargain price of $10.

To see a description of various tiebreak methods, see this Wikipedia article. The tiebreak methods currently used by the NSCF, in order of priority, are Modified Median, Solkoff, Cumulative, Cumulative of Opposition. If two players are tied on the first tiebreak (Median), then the next tiebreak is applied (Solkoff). If still tied, move on to the third, and so on.

Here's a sample section of a tournament result table showing tiebreaks:

SwissSys Standings. Columbus: Championship

# Name ID Rtng Team Grd Rd 1 Rd 2 Rd 3 Rd 4 Tot
TBrk[M] TBrk[S] TBrk[C] TBrk[O]
1 Spitzer,Jacob A
12821038 1567 QUAKE 5 L3 W8 W4 W2 3.0 8 8.5 6 20.5
2 Li,Edward 12924964 1185 ORANGE 6 W4 W6 W5 L1 3.0 7 8.5 9 21
3 Segall,Ethan R 12906644 1191 CIDER 4 W1 D5 D6 W7 3.0 6.5 7.5 7.5 19
4 Ayton,Treva 13032482 1269 IYMS 7 L2 W7 L1 W6 2.0 4.5 8.5 4 22
5 Rosenberg,Kevin 12933557 1419 WARD 3 W8 D3 L2 H-- 2.0 3.5 6.5 5.5 16.5
6 Warren,Justin N 12757651 1497 FARRA 8 W7 L2 D3 L4 1.5 6 9 5 22.5
7 Schwalbenberg,Matthew 12896706 1133 IONAG 7 L6 L4 W8 L3 1.0 4 7 2 16.5
8 Bogaty,Michael 12883771 1117 FOX 3 L5 L1 L7 B-- 1.0 3 6 0 14

The column titles should be self-explanatory. "ID" is the USCF ID; "Rtng" is the USCF rating as it is shown in the most recent official supplement.

Some important notes follow:

  • In calculating the TBrk[M] (Modified Median) tiebreak, opponent's scores are summed counting unplayed games as a half point only, with some scores dropped according to the following rules:
    • For players with positive scores (>2.0), the lowest opponent's score is dropped.
    • For players with negative scores (<2.0), the highest opponent's score is dropped.
    • For players with even scores (2.0), both the highest and lowest scores are dropped.
  • If an opponent has received a full-bye during the tournament (indicated by B--- in the result table) , his score for that round is counted as a half-point when calculating TBrk[M] and TBrk[S]. Thus, in the above result table, player 1 is awarded only .5 points for the score of player 8 when TBrk[S] is calculated. This gives him a TBrk[S] total of 8.5, not 9. (TBrk[S], or Solkoff, is the sum of opponent's scores with no scores dropped.)
  • For TBrk[C] (Cumulative), subtract a point if the player has had a full-point bye in any round.
  • Some people have been confused by the final tiebreak, TBrk[O] (Cumulative of Opposition). To find it, simply add the values in the TBrk[C] column for the opponents you have faced.
  • If two or more players are tied for first on all tiebreaks, the tournament director may arrange a speed playoff. If you are one of those players, and you have left the premises before the playoff can be arranged, you forfeit your right to the first place trophy.
  • When you view the USCF ratings report, please note that it orders players by post tournament rating for similar scores, while the NSCF awards trophies in tiebreak order as indicated in the Individual standings (see the NSCF results page). The USCF rating process does not retain the tiebreaks used to award trophies at the tournament; ratings are based on the player's score and his opponent's ratings, never on tiebreaks.

When a large number of players play four rounds of chess, a single player can only face a small fraction of the field. Tournament pairings are used to match up players in a way that allows a fair and balanced competition. The system used to do this is called the Swiss System. It determines whom you play and what color you get in each round.

In the first round, the field is arranged by ratings, top to bottom, and the top half is paired against the bottom half. If there is an odd number of players in a section, the player at the bottom will be asked to sit out the round, and will be given a full point "bye."

In the next round, winners and losers are put in separate pools and paired top to bottom in each pool.

This continues in the subsequent rounds, with players of like scores paired against each other (sometimes scores may differ slightly). If you lose to a more experienced player in an early round, you should meet someone closer to your playing strength in the later rounds.

When pairing players, the computer program that does the pairings must balance various considerations. For example, equal scores are considered before equalization of colors. For this reason, a player will often find that he has been allocated more of one color than another. This is normal and should balance out over a number of tournaments. Please do not complain to the tournament director about this.

What the computer IS instructed to avoid, however, is three whites or blacks in a row for the same player. You should alert us of this if it happens and we will see if it can be remedied.