At a tournament I was participating in last weekend, there was an interesting situation that happened and the TD did not know how to handle the situation.

White said something along the lines of "I think you should resign," but thought White had said "I think I'll resign". Black put his hand out and White shook Black's hand. Neither player said anything after this, but packed away the set and only when they went to write their result did they realize that they misunderstood each other.

What should happen here? Is the game drawn because they shook hands?


The correct decision here is to send the players back to finish their game. There's a very good rule of thumb that TD's use in situations like this - if the two players don't agree on the result of the game (there's no "meeting of the minds" between the players), they should go back to the board and continue the game.

It's up to the TD to set the clock times as reasonably as possible. For example, if it's an hour into the round of a G/60 tournament and a spectator saw that white was up 10 minutes on the clock, it might be appropriate to set the clocks to 25 minutes for black and 35 minutes for white. Nothing is going to be perfect, but so long as both players have at least a few minutes, allowing the players to determine the outcome on the board is going to be far better than the TD adjudicating the game.

As a rule, the absolute last resort for TD's should be to adjudicate the result of a game. Everything possible should be done to allow the result to be determined by the players via play.

Finally, the TD does have some discretion in cases like this. If the next round is about to start, and there's no time to allow the players to finish the game, the TD can have the players adjourn their game and pair the next round using his or her best guess as to the result. One trick with adjournments is that the TD can pair the players as if one of them has won the game and the other has drawn the game. This has the benefit of making sure that neither player gets unduly easy pairings in the next round before the result of the game is actually determined.

  • What if the players do not have score sheets to resume their game? Should they start a brand new game or would this affect the outcome?
    – E4Bandit
    Jan 29 '16 at 22:43
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    If it's a rated game, they should have scoresheets. If some moves are missing, they'll have to go back to the last agreed upon position unless there's a third party that remembers the position. If it's something like a scholastic tournament and nobody has legible scoresheets, then it's up to the TD. If it's the end of the round, the TD will have to make a judgement call in order to keep the tournament moving, otherwise the players can go back and play again.
    – Andrew
    Jan 30 '16 at 0:17
  • This is what I was thinking. I consulted the USCF 6th edition rulebook, but could not find anything definitive. There is plenty about handshakes not being decisive and misreporting results, but not about a disagreement like that. Sadly, this happened between two players who did not take notation. This was a G/30 tournament with about 10 minutes left in the round. The TD ended up deciding that the players would have to take a draw due to the fast paced nature of the tournament.
    – E4Bandit
    Jan 30 '16 at 23:03
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    I don't doubt the rule is as you say. I think it's a lousy rule. A player in a serious game has no right to engage his opponent in coffee house banter, and no right, ever, to advise his opponent to resign. If I made the rules, a player who utters the word "draw" has offered a draw, and a player who utters the word "resign" has resigned, and the game in question ended when White resigned.
    – bof
    Jan 31 '16 at 4:13

If I were a TD at this tournament, here is how I would rule in this situation after speaking with both opponents separately and getting their account of what happened (assuming what both said lines up with what's given in the question), and why I would rule that way:

Telling an opponent during a rated game that they should resign is at best rude, and at worst could be construed as a violation of rule 20G - "It is forbidden to distract or annoy the opponent in any manner whatsoever". I would give the benefit of the doubt to White that they were not intentionally trying to violate that rule.

With that in mind, even if the communication was not completely understood, I would rule that anything that White said to Black, in which both players agree that they said/heard the word "resign", stopped the clock and put away the set, would be reasonably interpreted by Black as a resignation by White, and would adjudicate the game in favor of Black. 0-1.

Disclaimer - I am a certified USCF TD, but only Club level, so I could easily be wrong here. This wasn't on the exam! :-)

[EDIT: After the later follow-on discussion, I understand now that this isn't the correct ruling, and that a better ruling would involve having the players resume the game. I appreciate the patience of those with more experience than me in explaining what they'd do, and why.]

  • 1
    Is there some reason they should not attempt to resume the game?
    – Jeff Y
    Jan 29 '16 at 19:41
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    Admittedly, my proposed ruling here is based at least in part on the idea that White should not have been trying to prod Black to resign in the first place.
    – patbarron
    Jan 29 '16 at 19:55
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    This isn't the correct ruling, and would likely be overruled if appealed. The correct resolution is to send both players back and have them continue the game where they left off. The clocks should be set as best they can, reflecting elapsed time. If the TD thinks it's appropriate then 2 minutes can be added to the "victim's" time.
    – Andrew
    Jan 29 '16 at 20:09
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    @patbarron see the answer I just posted for more detail, but long story short, it is always better for the players to determine the result than for the TD to step in and adjudicate the result. As a TD, I actually try to avoid looking at the position when I'm making a ruling (I'm usually stronger than the players, so I don't want to give them information about the evaluation by saying something about the position).
    – Andrew
    Jan 29 '16 at 20:20
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    Also, if you're ever unsure what to do, you can actually call a special referee and ask for help. There's a list of contacts on the USCF TD/affiliate website (login required) secure2.uschess.org/TD_Affil/special_referees.php
    – Andrew
    Jan 29 '16 at 20:21

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