Malta Chess Federation

Participating in Tournaments

This article is meant for those players who intend to take part in a chess tournament for the first time.


There are many chess enthusiasts who would love to participate in official tournaments but are never ready to make the first step due to not knowing of what to expect. This article will hopefully ease some of the apprehension.

So what should one do and know to participate in a tournament? Basically, just turn up, know how to play chess and know how to write the moves (so take a pen too). On the chess table where you will play your opponent, there will be a chessboard with pieces, a chess clock that keeps the time spent thinking by each player and a scoresheet to write the moves. The arbiter (referee) of the tournament will usually explain how the clock works for beginners. But it’s good to have a head-start by familiarizing yourself with it.

The clock has 2 displays (nowadays they are digital). It will contain the total time each player has for the whole game. So if the total time is 90 minutes, you’ll have 1:30 (90 mins) displayed on both sides of the clock. Once the game starts, the time of the player who is thinking starts and shows the time left. Once you play your move, you press the clock so your time stops and your opponent’s time starts. This process goes on throughout the whole game. It is also common that an increment is given for each move (e.g. 30 seconds every move). This means that after each move you make, the clock gives you an extra 30 seconds of thinking time. This seems insignificant at the beginning but as the time goes down to a few minutes, those 30 seconds become very significant.

Some players are put off by having to write down the moves of the game. This process is very simple. The chessboard is made up of coordinates a1 to h8 to cover the 64 squares. Writing the move involves writing the initial of the piece you intend to play (knight: N, bishop: B, rook: R, queen: Q and King: K) and writing the square on which you put it on. The pawn’s initial is not written – just the destination square is written down. Here is a good article explaining this:


The tournament is most probably played in what is called Swiss format. This format is especially used in Open tournaments and is great for a tournament that has very strong, intermediate and beginners playing. In the first round, you will play a strong player and then you shall play players with the same number of points as you have. So as the tournament progresses you shall play players of the same strength as yourself. It is NOT a knock out. If the tournament is 7 rounds, you play all 7 rounds except if there are an odd number of players, in which case, one player gets a bye. A bye means you get a free point without playing.

By the way, the usual scoring system in chess is 0 points for a loss, half a point for a draw and 1 point for a win.


You shall also notice that most players who are not playing for the first time has a rating. It is actually an International rating recognized by FIDE (the International body of Chess). A rating of a player corresponds to the player’s playing strength. You will achieve a rating after playing against at least 5 rated players and achieve at least one draw against all of them. The more you play, the more accurate your rating is. Beginners usually have a rating of 1000-1300. Those with 1300-1500 are intermediate players. Those with 1600-1800 are good and experienced players who have studied the game. 1800-2000 are Candidate level players while those greater than 2000 are Malta’s top players. The World Champion’s rating is over 2850!


The Preliminaries tournament which is the first phase of the National Championship is one of the best tournaments to take part in for beginners or first-timers. This tournament is open for those rated for less than 1800.


We hope that this article will encourage players to take part in chess tournaments. If you have any other queries or want to visit a tournament, drop us an email on and we’ll be glad to help.