Understanding the Laws

The Laws of Chess changed in 2014. That means that if you haven’t reviewed the changes you may succumb to technical mistakes, that are alas not so disastrous as a player, but can confuse you as an arbiter. I became an arbiter in 2013 and one year afterwards I had to re-learn what is valid.

One of the most annoying changes that ever occurred in the laws was that it is not allowed to write the move on your score-sheet before playing it. It is a habit difficult to break, especially if you had been taught as a player to first write your move, think about it carefully, and then play it. For new players, this should not be a problem, and for older players it’s just a matter of creating a new habit.

What if the laws of chess change again? Well they can change only every 4 years so, this is not so dangerous. There were many other big and small changes but now it is relevant to define and interpret the current laws.

The Fide Laws of Chess include 12 articles, the introduction, the preface, the appendixes and a glossary. Articles 1-5 constitute the “Basic Rules of Play” while  articles 6-12 constitute the “Competition Rules”. You can view the Laws here on the official Fide website.

The Preface is considered to be the most important part of the Laws, for it encourages the arbiter to use common sense and judge situations objectively and according to special factors.

Article 1, 2 and 3 explain what chess is, the moves etc.

Article 4 is the first important article, for it deals with how to perform the moves. This includes how to perform castling, promotion, and what is valid if a player touches a different piece and moves another.

Article 5 defines the end of the game. It talks about checkmate, resignation, stalemate, dead position and draw.

Article 6 is the “Clock Article” and one you may read and study far too many times.

Article 7 deals with irregularities and illegal moves. It also defines the penalties of these.

Article 8 defines the rules regarding writing the game and the score-sheets.

Article 9 is a very important article, for it discusses the cases of the Drawn Game.

Article 10 just defines the points of the game.

Article 11 is about the behavior of the players. It defines things from where they can have a break, how they can appeal to an arbiters decision, to anti-cheating and anti-bullying regulations.

Article 12 lists the penalties available to the arbiter and discusses the role of the arbiter.

Generally, you will find 3 kinds of attitudes among arbiters:

  • The ones who follow the rules to the letter, without interpreting the spirit of the laws and occasionally use sophistry to prove their point
  • The ones who excuse far too many violations and don’t like to take action.
  • The ones who are wise to choose the “Middle Path”.

There will always be the people who will protest against the “middle path” and the kinder approach. But they are forgetting that the Preface of the Laws states:

“Too detailed a rule might deprive the arbiter of his freedom of judgement and thus prevent him from finding a solution to a problem dictated by fairness, logic and special factors. FIDE appeals to all chess players and federations to accept this view.”

This, in my opinion, is helpful to the arbiter who does not want to immediately use the harshest penalties available. Apart from specific violations, the majority of them do not have fixed penalties. This is good for the good arbiter and bad for the vengeful arbiter.