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I played a FIDE tournament recently and was surprised to see that some players had earphones on and were listening to music (or that's what it seemed like they were doing) while playing their games. One of my own opponents did this.

Is this allowed as per FIDE rules?

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    Recently I noticed that one of my team mates were openly listening to a football match using headphones while playing his game. I thought it rather rude! – firtydank Apr 2 '14 at 16:32
  • Was that in the US? Somehow I have the impression that headphones during a chess game is a purely American phenomenon, but I might be wrong. – RemcoGerlich Apr 2 '14 at 16:50
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    No, it was in a county league match in the UK. But it is the only time I've seen it. – firtydank Apr 2 '14 at 18:49
  • USCF rules do.. – Seth Apr 3 '14 at 2:45
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    @Salvador - If he is not in for a serious game, he should be playing friendlies at the clubhouse, not a graded game. I don't care if this is better for me - I am interested in playing a competitive game, not in mucking about with someone who has better things to do. – firtydank Apr 4 '14 at 7:05
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The closest thing which I could find in the FIDE Laws of Chess is

12.3 a. During play the players are forbidden to make use of any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse on another chessboard

12.3 b. Without the permission of the arbiter a player is forbidden to have a mobile phone or other electronic means of communication in the playing venue, unless they are completely switched off. If any such device produces a sound, the player shall lose the game. The opponent shall win. However, if the opponent cannot win the game by any series of legal moves, his score shall be a draw.

However, I'm not sure if music from earphones would be considered as "source of information" or an "electronic means of communication". The competition rules may specify that any kind of electronic equipment is disallowed, and the arbiters have the right to arbitrate things like these as long as their decisions are not unfair or contradictory to the laws of chess.

But the arbiter cannot know whether it is music or someone reciting a chess book, so I understand if some people strongly object to arbiters allowing players to have earphones. At least I've never been to a tournament where using earphones was allowed.

Note that if other players can hear the sound from the headphones, it violates this rule:

12.6 It is forbidden to distract or annoy the opponent in any manner whatsoever. This includes unreasonable claims, unreasonable offers of a draw or the introduction of a source of noise into the playing area.

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    I agree. The same question was asked to International Arbiter Geurt Gijssen in his January 2014 column (chesscafe.com/text/geurt187.pdf), and he responded it was forbidden due to article 12.6. I have also never been to a tournament where this has been allowed, I have seen people try/ask about this many times and it has always been disallowed by the arbiter (and by myself when I have been the arbiter). – GrizzlyRawrz Apr 2 '14 at 17:27
  • Also, any electronic device can conceal a receiver. Being electronics purpose almost "invisible" to any human being, must be forbidden. – djnavas May 31 '18 at 9:30
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When this question was asked in April 2014 the question to be answered in deciding whether or not to allow this would have been "Can other people also hear the music?" If "Yes" then it is disturbing and not allowed. If "No" then no problem.

However, events, technology and the rules have moved on.

The FIDE Arbiters Commission publishes the FIDE Arbiters' Magazine twice a year. In the August 2016 edition it related the story of a visually handicapped player who used an earphone to relay moves. It reported:

The cheating method was simply an electronic earpiece that was actually a Bluetooth device. This was not noticed until the player had posted consecutive tournament results that were astronomically better than before. He scored only 50% at novice level, but then within a year, while still unrated he won a rated section 8/9, and then again scored 8/9 with a performance rating near FM-level.

These 18 games were fully analyzed, and he was caught with continuously high correlations to chess engines, especially Rybka. Therefore, he was asked to take chess testing. At first, he accepted, “naked if necessary”, but then he eventually declined, saying that he has stopped studying, and that his abilities have thus dropped off dramatically. All of these games have since been adjudged lost.

Now the FIDE Laws of Chess say this:

11.3.2.1 During a game, a player is forbidden to have any electronic device not specifically approved by the arbiter in the playing venue.

However, the regulations of an event may allow such devices to be stored in a player’s bag, provided the device is completely switched off. This bag must be placed as agreed with the arbiter. Both players are forbidden to use this bag without permission of the arbiter.

As arbiters we are warned to look out for these devices. Smart watches are usually banned. Old fashioned digital watches are still mostly OK. Earpieces are not. Of course all of these things may be permitted in certain lower level competitions with the arbiter's permission. But if you wear an earpiece because you have hearing problems you should first get permission from the arbiter or remove it during the game.

Wearing an earpiece to listen to music is definitely not allowed.

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I think it's covered by 12.3b as it does make a sound, even though it may only be audible to the person using it.

12.3 b. Without the permission of the arbiter a player is forbidden to have a mobile phone or other electronic means of communication in the playing venue, unless they are completely switched off. If any such device produces a sound, the player shall lose the game. The opponent shall win. However, if the opponent cannot win the game by any series of legal moves, his score shall be a draw.

  • On the one hand; If it cannot be heard by the opponent, how can it be distracting? How is it different from just wearing ear muffs to cut out noise? On the other hand; there could be codes. William Tell Overture = attack on the K-side. – Philip Roe May 28 '18 at 1:19

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