While anyone can answer this, I do have official FIDE arbiters in mind.

I am following a discussion on chess.com about the worst way you have lost a game. Someone related this story:

This didn't happen to me, but it's the worst way to lose a chess game that I ever witnessed:

I was playing in a tournament in Saint John, NB. It was raining outside, and there were a few spectators circulating around the playing hall... very likely, they just came in to get out of the rain.

A player (let's call him "White pieces") at the table next to mine had just played his King from g1 to h1, to get out of an awkward pin on the c5-g1 diagonal. His opponent made his reply, and it was White's move again.

A spectator wearing a heavy raincoat turned away from the game, and the corner of his coat clipped the White King (sitting on h1) and knocked it off the table. White pieces reached down to pick the King up and set it back on the board.

His opponent said "Touch move".

The tournament director upheld his claim. White pieces was forced to move his King, and the only available square was right back to g1... back into the pin on the diagonal.

White lost the game a few moves later; as much because the "touch move" incident had left him completely demoralized as because of the two wasted moves K(from g1)-h1 and then back to g1.

I replied that I could not believe any reasonable TD/Arbiter would enforce that, but someone replied that that is what the rule says. I believe that intent to move it matters, so I am still skeptical. What would the rules say that apply and how would you rule?

As a note, another similar post regarded someone accidentally knocking over his king, and the opponent saying that it amounted to resignation.

I also would not mind a USCF interpretation if anyone has one.

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    Rules - yes technically. Logic, fairness -- no. Why does the player not just say adjust or j'adoube to avoid the problem?
    – foo yuk
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 19:48
  • 16
    I hope black feels bad about this win to this day. More likely, they still feel smug, and they are not a very good player. Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 10:17
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    Also, such an arbiter needs to be sacked (and possibly investigated for having a connection with or accepting bribes from the black player)
    – vsz
    Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 14:38
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    If I was victimized in this way I might find out when the arbiter is playing their next game and be an observer and "accidentally" knock over an inopportune piece of theirs at a critical point. I can't imagine ever perpetrating such a thing!
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 16:55
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    I'm not sure whether it's the FIDE or USCF rule book, but one of them has a page in the front stating something along the lines to use common sense while arbitrating since not all situations can/should be caught in rules.
    – Mast
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 17:48

3 Answers 3


I am not an arbiter, but here's what the rules say:

Rule 4.3 (emphasis added)

if the player having the move touches on the chessboard, with the intention of moving or capturing

I think it should be clear to any reasonable person that picking up a piece that was knocked down by a spectator does not imply intent to move.

Perhaps the arbiter went with an overly narrow interpretation of "accident", though, from 4.2.2:

Any other physical contact with a piece, except for clearly accidental contact, shall be considered to be intent.

I would still argue that picking up a piece that was knocked down is an accident according to the spirit of the rules. Obviously the piece must be "adjusted" since it's not just a matter of centering it a little bit on its square, but of picking it up from the floor. Therefore the intent to "adjust" is implied.

The USCF rules are similar in that they refer to intent to move, but additionally, there is a rule that might have helped in this case: 10H says "there is no penalty for touching a piece that is off the board". The main idea given the rest of the paragraph concerns promotion, but I think it would also apply here. (And I just noticed that the FIDE wording on the rule also says "on the chessboard". I don't know how I missed that the first time!)

  • 2
    Well, technically the piece was touched "on the chessboard" unless white dropped it the last quarter of an inch or so. (Not that this justifies the ruling, in my opinion, or the bad sportsmanship of black.) Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 10:13

When did this happen? Because there is no reasonable interpretation of the current rules by which a TD should have upheld the touch-move claim.

I went back and looked at the 3rd Edition rulebook, and it doesn't say that a piece has to be "on the chessboard" to count for touch-move. So in 1987, a TD who was being a "strict constructionist" about the rules might have upheld a touch-move claim in this situation, though I do not think it would have been reasonable to do so. Even then, it was understood that the rule book can't cover all possible situations, and the TD had leeway to make reasonable interpretations of the rules. I definitely would not have upheld a touch-move claim in this situation.

If this was recent, the TD's ruling was clearly incorrect, and the player should have appealed the ruling. Even in 1987, they probably should have appealed.

[EDIT: I'm not a FIDE Arbiter, but I am a USCF TD, so my response is from a USCF-centric viewpoint and refers to the USCF rulebook...]

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    Very important to emphasize the role of the TD. If the rules were complete and simple we didn't need any. It's situations like this where the TD becomes important, and unfortunately they failed, in my opinion. Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 10:16

I am not an arbiter, but I find existing answers lacking in detail.

This particular rule became stricter on July 1, 2017. Until then, the relevant rules read:

Provided that he first expresses his intention (for example by saying “j’adoube” or “I adjust”), only the player having the move may adjust one or more pieces on their squares.

Except as provided in Article 4.2, if the player having the move touches on the chessboard, with the intention of moving or capturing: [...]

In those times, player's intention was theoretically the sole basis of making the arbiter's decision about a touch-move claim. The rule even guaranteed the right to adjusting the pieces, conditioned on expressing the intention to adjust the pieces somehow prior to touching them. That didn't mean that a player's claim about their intention would have been automatically accepted by the arbiter; the player would have to explain how they expressed their intention, and even if they actually said "j'adoube", there could have been a dispute over whether this was said first, i.e., before actually touching the piece or right after.

In case of a piece lying on the floor, under those rules, the intention to adjust would be considered unambiguously expressed by diving under the table and picking the piece up there; note also that the rule doesn't extend to pieces lying off the chessboard.

Arbiters tended to enforce touch-move, but some players got away with high profile situations widely believed to be violations of touch-move because it is difficult to rule about "intention" with certainty.

On July 1, 2017, the following stricter wording was adopted.

4.2.1 Only the player having the move may adjust one or more pieces on their squares, provided that he first expresses his intention (for example by saying “j’adoube” or “I adjust”).

4.2.2 Any other physical contact with a piece, except for clearly accidental contact, shall be considered to be intent."

4.3 Except as provided in Article 4.2, if the player having the move touches on the chessboard, with the intention of moving or capturing:

4.3.1 one or more of his own pieces, he must move the first piece touched that can be moved


It may appear to us laymen that little changed. However, this update of rules was commonly understood by arbiters at that time as a directive to decide any gray cases toward assuming intention to move on the part of the player who has touched a movable piece on the chessboard. If the prior rules generated some false negatives (getting away with very fast violations of touch-move), then the new rules might be expected to generate some false positives (punishing someone for failing to say the equivalent of "j'adoube" in a situation where they should ideally have been trained to say it automatically). I believe that extremely strict enforcement is more likely to happen in top tournaments and less likely in fun events or young players' tournaments, but in the end it is still up to the arbiter who doesn't always have a video recording of the situation available.

From my perspective, this particular question most likely does not concern a case of touching a piece on the chessboard. Most likely, the piece was just held while it was being repositioned; it might also have been dropped from a height to the chessboard, or dropped and then touched again, or held, let loose and then touched again. So the touch-move rule might or might have be available for consideration, and the arbiter may not have seen the exact minute movements of the hand which could have made the dispute just another gray area case in their mind, so perhaps they automatically went with assuming the intention to move as dictated by rule 4.2.2.

BTW, it would be a mistake to claim "clearly accidental contact" if challenged like this. That phrase is never referring to any accidental contact between pieces and spectators; "clearly accidental contact" refers to cases like the player toppling down one piece by their elbow while clearly reaching for another one with their hand. Claims of "intention to adjust" and "clearly accidental contact" are logically incompatible with each other.

An active player playing by the new rules should ideally say "j'adoube" or the equivalent between picking up the piece from the floor and repositioning it onto the chessboard. This should become an automatic instinct these days, a more important one (rating wise) than being able to mate with a bishop and a knight under time pressure. Another important instinct is staying calm and factual and trying to claim one's own transparency of intention in case of any dispute about the intention. Of course, it would be poor sportsmanship on the part of the opponent to claim lack of expression of intention to adjust if there was no doubt whatsoever about the intention to adjust itself; and an arbiter still has some freedom about what to consider "expression of intention to adjust" in a given situation. They will normally have to rely on claims and counterclaims as to the facts of the case as made by the players themselves.

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    And if the spectator had knocked down all the pieces, should the player say "j'adoube" up to thirty-two times while picking them up? (The limiting case being if no captures had been made and the player on the move picked up all pieces from both colors).
    – itub
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 22:35
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    @itub - If you read this post in full, you'll realize that the rules actually suggest saying "j'adoube" first, no more than once, and then adjusting positions of one or more pieces. More to the point, "j'adoube" is an optional signal used just for legalizing trivial self-help while your clock is running. You actually aren't obligated to suffer chessboard reconstruction in your own time. Stop the clock, call an arbiter and complain of distracting playing conditions. Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 21:12
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    Good point about the "one of more".
    – itub
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 23:07
  • @JirkaHanika (re your comment) The rules are actually unclear about whether to say “j’adoube” just once, before each adjustment (where each piece might be adjusted multiple times), or before each piece. But the main point is that, of course, you should not pick up 32 pieces on your own time! Another point: it’s extremely unlikely (not sure if it’s possible at all) that all 32 pieces would be available for move or capture; if they are not, then “j’adoube” is unnecessary. Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 14:30
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    I believe the correct interpretation of 4.3 is that this entire clause does not apply to pieces that are not on the chessboard. USCF TD and National Arbiter. Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 3:06

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