This question is prompted by an incident in today's World Blitz championship in Moscow as described and shown in this tweet.

What happened was that Nakamura made a move, pressed the clock, on the way back from pressing the clock his hand caught his rook and knocked it off the board about 10 cm. He immediately picked up the rook and replaced it. This maybe took half a second.

His opponent, Sergei Zhigalko, thought for about 12 seconds before having a long look around, presumably to see if an arbiter was watching the game. Then after another 2 or 3 seconds he gestures over to the arbiter to call him to the board and indicates something with his hand. Finally 22 seconds after the incident he reaches out to pause the clocks. There then follows a long discussion between the players and the arbiters which suggests that Zhigalko was trying to claim an illegal move before the game continues with no action taken.

Nakamura acted perfectly correctly here IMHO, but what should he have done differently if instead of displacing the piece a few inches he had knocked it onto the floor requiring several seconds to retrieve and replace the piece?

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    I will not answer since I now avoid answering questions about rules since you, and others, are much more well-versed. That said, what else can Nakamura do? If your opponent does that, hit his clock. – PhishMaster Dec 29 '19 at 13:36
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    For such a minor problem, if we can even call this a problem, I'm surprised Zhigalko decided to make a fuss about it. He lost more time complaining about it then he could've gotten from the arbiter, right? – Mast Dec 30 '19 at 14:27

The relevant section from the rules would be Article 7.4.1:

If a player displaces one or more pieces, he shall re-establish the correct position in his own time.

The rules do not specify a certain procedure, but what I have seen happening in practice is: Player A knocks a piece over on his opponent's time. Player B is now allowed to press the clock to make sure he does not lose time. After the correct position has been reestablished, player A will press the clock again so player B has the move. I certainly don't feel the rules mandate that the arbiter needs to be summoned in this case.

If the displacement caused an unusual disturbance or the affected player is very low on time (<10sec), as an arbiter I would consider applying Article 12.5 regarding external disturbances and add something in the range of 20-30 seconds to the clock of the affected player.

The following objections could be raised, although I feel they are rather academic in nature:

  • It would be in the spirit of the rules if the person displacing the pieces would stop their opponent's clock and start his own again. However, I have never seen this happening and it may well be inadvisable to do that just for practical reasons, depending on the circumstances.
  • If the game is played with increment, the additional two clock presses add time to the players' clocks. Therefore, the clock settings (times and move counter) would be incorrect after such an incident. However, at least in the German-speaking chess community, Article 6.10.2 is generally considered to only apply in cases where there is a non-negligible time difference. As a rule of thumb, it should take an arbiter at most one minute to adjust clock settings. If the time differential to be corrected is smaller, the arbiter should not interfere. Additionally, the move counter of the clock is not a reliable indicator of the number of moves played.

In the comments, Article 7.5.3 has been mentioned:

If the player presses the clock without making a move, it shall be considered and penalized as if an illegal move.

This article has been added fairly recently to make sure a player can be penalized for pressing the clock for no reason. It should not be applied if the player enforces the rules.

Making a move and then expecting to correct the position of a displaced piece defeats the purpose of the rule: The distraction by the missing piece is immediately affecting the other player.

  • What about 7.5.3 though? I would expect the opponent to make and complete his next move and then the piece can be replaced on the knocking players time. Or indeed that the clock would be stopped and the arbiter would be asked for assistance. – Expired Data Dec 30 '19 at 9:08
  • @ExpiredData I added a paragraph to address this. – chaosflaws Jan 2 '20 at 20:10
  • thanks for adding that, although I'm still not sure I'd agree. The intention of the rule in my opinion is to stop loss of time by the non-offending player waiting for the piece to be replaced. If the distraction to the player is not negligible then I'd expect him to stop the clock and ask the arbiter to apply 11.5 (which I would normally reasonably warn/add time depending on severity under 12.9) – Expired Data Jan 3 '20 at 10:02

I do not know what FIDE and their rules are, but for our local games I would just push the clock and tell the other player to put all the pieces on the board properly before any of my time gets used up at all.

Unless it was a FIDE match AND FIDE rules specified a specific action then I would not be waiting around wondering if an arbiter is watching. Too much risk that your flag falls and then straightening it all out will be hard and may not go in your favor.


This is a bit long for a comment.

Playing a 15+0 rapid open, I saw sub16 world champion GM Ibragim Khamrakulov facing this against an IM that was very nervous and pressed the clock before replacing the pieces he had thrown away.

They were both hurry on time, but the IM had less time. All arbiters and all of us where there.

Khamrakulov just raised his hands, but he didn't press the clock.

It depends. Khamrakulov was a piece down but with an attacking position. To press the clock may have give the IM some time to think for a quicker way to win.

I remember well the face of the Spanish IM after losing on time with fired eyes and mumbling "grrrrrr, I was a piece up".

They were playing for the first price and those prices are the salary of professional players.

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