In Round 9 in the US Chess Championship 2015 Men, Wesley So (2794) was forfeited by the arbiter in his game against Akobian (2622) since So took notes that were not chess-related but contained "general encouragement and advice to himself".

The game be seen here.

I think that is absurd. I think a chess player can write whatever they want as long as it does not offend anyone.

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    "i think a chess player can take whatever they want as long as it does not offend anyone" Do you mean that players should also be allowed to write down thinks like "remember that Ne4 would allow Bxf2+" and similar?
    – JiK
    Apr 11, 2015 at 12:57
  • @JiK any issue if they write 'oh I forgot. take out laundry tomorrow' ?
    – BCLC
    Jan 20, 2021 at 14:11
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    @JiK wait is "remember that Ne4 would allow Bxf2+" BEFORE? or DURING the game? if before, then surely cheating. if during then i don't get it what's the issue?
    – BCLC
    Jan 20, 2021 at 14:12
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    @BCLC During the game. Obviously there will be differences of opinion of what makes a good game, and there's no objective truth. A game where note-taking is allowed would be different, and it's also an interesting game (see e.g. various rules for correspondence chess on different organizations and websites), but that's not how top-level over-the-board chess is played or has been played. In most of its history, top-level over-the-board chess has been a mental game, where you need to organize your thoughts in your head without the help of pen and paper.
    – JiK
    Jan 20, 2021 at 22:31
  • @JiK thanks. recently watched a video by anand, and then i drew my own inference that the rule of writing notes is to avoid signaling. so ok now i get it. in this regard during the game is kind of worse than before the game...unless you do it at the very start of during the game. idk. i don't necessarily agree with other reasons, but i now agree with the rule at least for this reason
    – BCLC
    Jan 21, 2021 at 4:15

4 Answers 4


I can't claim to know for sure what was going through the minds of the authors of the FIDE Laws of Chess, but I think the intent is to ensure that the players use only their unaided intellect to play the game. Players aren't allowed to make/use written notes during the game. At all. About anything (chess-related or not). If they're allowed to make notes about things other than chess, or the game in progress, you then put an arbiter in the position of having to determine if such notes are chess-related or not. It would certainly be possible for a player determined to cheat to come up with a system in advance to disguise the nature of what they're writing.

It's worth pointing out that So wasn't forfeited for making the notes - he was forfeited because of rule 11.7 - "Persistent refusal by a player to comply with the Laws of Chess shall be penalised by loss of the game". He had been warned twice before during the tournament that he wasn't permitted to make written notes, and the second time was warned that a third infraction would result in a forfeit.

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    @BCLC Actually, yes, that is cheating. It may or may not be a matter of much significance to your opponents, or to the arbiters of some tournaments, but it is absolutely not allowed and for good reason. The limitations of one's intrinsic memory and visualization capacities are supposed to bear on how well you play. Jan 20, 2021 at 15:57
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    @BCLC Put another way - what would you think if, in the middle of a game, your opponent brought out an alternative board, set out the position, and started brainstorming variations? You would presumably feel it was unfair he didn't have to hold them in his head. Jan 20, 2021 at 15:58
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    @BCLC Yeah I'd agree, I guess we could say he broke the rules here, I read elsewhere they warned him twice not to make written notes at all before penalizing him the game, so there's that. What counts as cheating could be subjective I suppose, but to me, writing encouragement notes with no chess content is obviously morally fine... it's just hard to draw lines between that and brainstorming variations. Believe me, if you could do that it would make a huge difference for top GMs Jan 20, 2021 at 17:40
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    @BCLC I'm not filipino haha, but a huge fan of Wesley anyway. I really want the Wesley-Magnus rematch in 960 but I think Wesley is probably the strongest 960 player of all-time, which says a lot about core chess skill Jan 20, 2021 at 17:42
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    @BCLC I didn't know about that and they should have been clear with him about communication. Also I saw your other post about Magnus' score-sheet in a game. No answers there as to why that was OK. (However, to be clear, the rules don't let you make notes anywhere, neither on the scoresheet nor elsewhere nor even on your hand.) Jan 20, 2021 at 17:51

The FIDE Laws of Chess, in section 11.3.a, say, "During play the players are forbidden to use any notes".

As for why they forbid notes entirely, as opposed to, say, allowing motivational statements while disallowing the writing down of variations, we can only guess, but I can see two reasons not to allow some notes but disallow others:

  1. There's always going to be some point in the middle of the spectrum where it's ambiguous whether it should be okay or not; and

  2. If your opponent is writing things down, you'd have to either take his word that everything he was writing was legal, or summon an arbiter and demand to see it. Neither alternative is that appetizing.

By the way, So's notes were arguably chess-related in that they addressed things like time usage.

  • Recording time spent per move is actually specifically allowed by the rules. 8.1(b): "The scoresheet shall be used only for recording the moves, the times of the clocks, offers of a draw, matters relating to a claim and other relevant data."
    – kahen
    Apr 11, 2015 at 20:19
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    Yes. By "things like time usage" I meant that they were reminders to himself to use time wisely, not records of time spent.
    – dfan
    Apr 11, 2015 at 21:01
  • dfan and @kahen 1 - What's going on: 'Players aren't allowed to make/use written notes during the game. At all. About anything (chess-related or not).' yet 'Recording time spent per move is actually specifically allowed by the rules' ? 2 - what exactly is the issue of making notes DURING the game? If I write down notes before the game and then bring them with me, then surely this is cheating. But DURING? So it's against the rules if I write, like, the alphabet at the back of the scoresheet as fidgeting while waiting for opponent? or like 'oh I forgot. take out laundry tomorrow.'
    – BCLC
    Jan 20, 2021 at 14:06
  • Maybe I'm misunderstanding something. I've written notes at the back of scoresheet in chess tournaments... (of course during the game) These were specifically writing down calculations for the game like 1 - Bxd4 - doesn't work. 2 - Nxd5 - check again. 3 - Qe5 - maybe. Was I cheating?
    – BCLC
    Jan 20, 2021 at 14:07
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    @BCLC That behavior is indeed not allowed. Part of the skill of playing tournament chess is remembering in your head things like the fact that Bxd4 doesn't work. One reason to not allow any sort of writing (except for explicit exceptions) is to ensure that people don't write notes in some sort of code.
    – dfan
    Jan 20, 2021 at 18:25

Another reason why all notes are prohibited is that it's easy to sneak forbidden content into text by encrypting it. Something like this stuff, where the word shark encodes the square f4.

In a sufficiently long text, you can easily encrypt secret information, for instance a long opening line.


According to comments I made here 3 years ago I 'recently watched a video by anand, and then i drew my own inference that the rule of writing notes is to avoid signaling.'

I can't find the video anymore, but I think it's

  1. something about avoiding pre-arranging draws (eg re rules like 'no draw offer before move X' or something) or assisting other players from making moves or something.

  2. related to why you can't write your move before making it anymore.

Personally, I think also

  1. this is to avoid distractions (even if the writing is technically done on your own time...unlike writing your move which you can do on your opponent's turn after you punch your clock) like how Magnus cheated Alireza in 2019 blitz WCC.

Finally, I'm unconvinced by other reasons presented. In particular, this kind of reasoning to me also is my justification why scratch boards aren't allowed in OTB games.

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