Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation
Illinois' Premier Chess Organization








Guide for Parents

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By Steven Miller

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 Chess Tournament Guide for Parents


Congratulations! Your child knows the rules of chess and is confident enough to enter a tournament. This will be the first tournament for many of the players, and each tournament is a learning experience for everyone. This guide is designed to answer the most common questions and prepare parents for the tournament.


Renaissance Knights organizes many tournaments in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.  Several of our tournaments offer both USCF Rated (USCF membership required) and Non-Rated (No membership required) sections.   Please visit our events page for a list of upcoming tournaments.


As most tournaments are not coordinated by the schools, parents should take an active role and talk with other parents to find out who else from their school will be attended an event.  Also, players can enter these tournaments as an individual!  You don't need to be part of a team to compete and have fun.


For those players attending CPS schools, the CPS Sports Department holds two playoff tournaments (south and north side) with the top individuals and teams moving up to a Championship Tournament.  More information on these tournaments can be found at:


Individual/Team events

Most tournaments are individual matches with team awards.  This means players are paired as in an individual Swiss tournament, but the top players from the same school are added together to determine team trophies. For these tournaments, since the best 3 or 4 players’ scores are used to determine the team awards, the more players from the same school, the better chance of winning a team prize!  Usually, players from the same team are not paired against one another unless it becomes necessary in later rounds. 


What is a Swiss-System tournament?

Most chess tournaments are known as "Swiss-System" events. Nobody is eliminated in a Swiss System tournament. All players are expected to compete all of the way through the tournament. It is bad for the tournament to have players withdraw (quit).


The Swiss System operates by ordering the players by rating, and pairing the top player with the player just under the half-way mark. The second player is paired against the next player under the opponent of the top player, and so forth.


Players earn one point for winning, a half point for drawing. In each round after the first round, the players compete with others who have the same number of points. If there is an odd number of players in a score group, the lowest ranked player in the group is paired against the top available player in the next group down. Players never compete against the same opponent twice in a tournament, and efforts are made to alternate the color of the pieces the player uses each round.



A player with a bye in a particular round does not play that round. There are two types of byes. When a tournament has an odd number of players, the bottom player does not play one round. Instead, that player is awarded a “full-point bye,” meaning that the player receives a point, as if he or she won a game. A player receiving a full-point bye will see “please wait” written across from his name on the pairing sheet. No player receives more than one bye per tournament. Sometimes, the player receiving the bye will be paired against someone else, who either is not enrolled in the tournament or is enrolled in a different section that also has an odd number of players. In a rated tournament the game will count for ratings, but the players both receive a point for the tournament.


Players unable to be at the tournament for a certain round may request a “half-point bye.” This second type of bye awards a player the same score as would a draw. In most tournaments, half-point byes must be requested before the player begins to play in the event and are not available for the final round. They are most often taken in the first round, when a player cannot get to the tournament by the time it begins.



We strongly discourage withdrawing from tournaments. Players who leave because they lose are missing some of the greatest benefits of the game. Learning to come back after a defeat is very important in much more than just chess. However, if an emergency arises and a player must leave, it is crucial to inform the tournament director that the player will not attend the next round. It is unfair to the others in the tournament to leave without telling the director, as it means that at least one other player will not get to play a game.


The Awards Ceremony:

Similarly, we think that all players should remain for the awards ceremony. In most scholastic events every competitor will receive some sort of recognition, regardless of score. Those who win the top prizes, naturally, feel better knowing that their efforts are recognized by others.



In most tournaments, a pre-determined number of top prizes (usually trophies) are awarded at the end. In a four-round tournament (which is most common) there will always be ties. We use the US Chess Federations standard tie break system. We acknowledge that this system, like every other, is not completely “fair,” but we have to break the ties somehow and this is the method used in nearly all chess tournaments.


Ratings and the USCF

Many of the chess tournaments we organize are sanctioned by the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF). Nearly always, membership in the USCF is required in order to participate.


Annual membership dues for players vary by age but range from $23 to $49. The USCF publishes two magazines, Chess Life, a monthly magazine geared towards adult players, and Chess Life for Kids, a magazine for elementary school students. Membership in the USCF may be purchased at any time registration or at the tournament.


The USCF developed, and is constantly modifying, a sophisticated rating system for its members. By playing in tournaments, players earn a rating, which rises each time a player wins, and falls each time a player loses. The rating of the opponent is the major component of the formula. Children place great value in their ratings, a fact we at Renaissance Knights find mildly disturbing. Players sometimes play considerably below their capability when they notice that their opponent's rating is much higher or lower than their own. As a result, we make every effort to reduce the significance of a player's rating.


Contrary to the belief held by some, a chess rating has no relationship to the child's value as a human being. Although the USCF now keeps ratings up to date, ratings for children are notoriously inaccurate as indicators of results and will remain inaccurate until the children's ratings are based primarily on results played with adults.



Some tournaments offer a reduction in price for players who register in advance. It is in the interest both of the organizer and the players to register early, as long lines form of players who have waited until the last minute to sign up. Normally, once a player has paid an entry fee, the player need only show up at the time the first round is scheduled. If the tournament is free, players must come at the registration time to let the organizer know that they intend to play and should be paired with an opponent.


The Tournament Director

The Tournament Director (TD) makes the pairings each round and settles any sort of dispute that arises during a game. TDs rule on claims of time forfeiture and claims of draws. TDs have the authority to punish bad behavior or other rules violations by adding or subtracting time from a player, or by forfeiting a game.



In general, parents and coaches are required to stay out of the room where the children are playing. They can serve several useful functions, however. Tournaments last a long time, and parents can be very helpful by providing food for their children. Although many kids can plan a “power lunch” and choose foods that will allow them to play their best, others need guidance in this area, lest they eat nothing but candy and soda. Parents offer encouragement and consolation between rounds, and some provide help analyzing the games their kids played.. Children are not well served by having parents argue about such things as pairings or rulings of the TD. Such arguments delay the entire tournament, which goes on long enough as it is. A four-round tournament with a G/30 time control will last more than five hours, sometimes as long as 6½ hours, including registration, a lunch break and the awards ceremony. Usually the advertisements for a tournament will give some indication of when the event is expected to end.


Parents should expect to console their children when they lose and encourage good sportsmanship regardless of the results. Children play chess best when they are not surging with adrenaline (or sugar) and when they know that their primary aim is to play their best, not necessarily to win. The ultimate winners of every event are the players who do not get too low after a defeat, or too high after a win.


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Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation l PO Box 1074, Northbrook, IL 60065 l ph. 847.526.9025