Scholastic Chess Tournament FAQ

Who can play?

Any student in grades K-12 is eligible. You do not have to have played in a chess tournament before. Many of our tournaments have as a many as a 1/3 of the players participating in their first chess tournament. We often give medals to those playing in their first tournament as well.

How many games will I play?

All scholastic tournaments in Eastern Iowa are four or five rounds. Everyone plays in all rounds (unless there is an odd number in which case players take turns sitting out). Nobody is eliminated. We strongly encourage players to compete all of the way through the tournament rather than withdraw (quit) from the tournament.

Who will I play?

Many tournaments are divided up into sections with players only playing in their own section. A tournament without sections is called an “open.” There are two common ways of dividing a tournament into sections. One is by grade-level and the other by player strength. The tournament announcement will contain this information. A player’s strength is estimated using a national rating system and based solely on performance against other players in past tournaments.

Most chess tournaments are known as "Swiss-System" events. This means that players are paired against others with similar scores. In short, 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 are 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. Nobody is eliminated in a Swiss System tournament.

How do I register?

A tournament announcement will identify the name and address of the person with whom you may register to play. We are posting online registration for many of our tournaments at You may do this in advance of the tournament or you may register at the tournament site on that day. However, on-site registration usually ends at least a half hour prior to scheduled start of the first round (so you have to arrive earlier). Once registered and paid, you do not need to arrive until the announced start time of the first game. If registered but not paid, then you should check in prior to the start of the first game so that the Tournament Director (TD) does not pair anyone against an opponent who did not show. 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.

Who is the Tournament Director?

The Tournament Director (TD) runs the tournament. The TD’s duties include making the pairings each round and settling any sort of rule dispute that arises during a game. 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. The TD also submits the results of the tournament to the United States Chess Federation (USCF) should the tournament be advertised as a USCF rated event.


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” or "See TD" 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. In a rated tournament, a player competing in his or her first tournament will not receive a bye, except in very unusual circumstances. This is because a player will not earn a publishable rating until he or she has played four games, and we want players to earn ratings as fast as possible.

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. They are most often taken in the first round, when a player cannot get to the tournament by the time it begins.

Ratings and the United States Chess Federation (US Chess)

Many of the chess tournaments we sponsor, and most tournaments elsewhere, are sanctioned by the U.S. Chess Federation (US Chess). Most of our scholastic tournaments require a US Chess membership in order to participate. A tournament announced as “UNRATED” usually means that US Chess membership is NOT required for playing. We will hold unrated tournaments from time-to-time (about twice per year), often at the beginning of the school year. This allows fist time tournament goers a chance to play with less anxiety and financial commitment. Annual membership dues for players vary by age but range from $17 to $27, which is good for one year varying based on age and whether you want to receive a print or on-line scholastic chess magazine. Chess in Iowa has also purchased a limited number of US Chess memberships in bulk for a reduced fee of $11 for all K-12 player (a good deal), but this rate does not include a magazine. The fee for the US Chess membership does not include the fee for entering the tournament which is $10 or $15. Those tournament registration fees include things such as the cost of trophies, custodial fees, and rating the tournament with the US Chess Federation. The US Chess 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 US Chess may be purchased at any time when registering or online at the US Chess website,

US Chess 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.

How do I find out about upcoming tournaments?

The Iowa scholastic chess tournament schedule is posted on the Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) Website at You may also email me and I will include you on my email distributions for announcements of tournaments in our area. Tournaments that I am directing will be posted on the homepage of this Google internet site.

What if I have other questions?

I am happy to help answer any questions about scholastic chess. I direct many tournaments in the area. Other volunteers also direct tournaments and are available for questions. You may contact me at:

Name: James Hodina (Jim)


Address: 3411 Blue Pt. Ct. SW

Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52404

Phone: 319-432-1459