Planning a chess tournament can be an extremely rewarding endeavor, but it’s not for the faint of heart. For anything but the smallest and most informal events, the process can pose some significant challenges. But if you’ve ever wondered how to plan a chess tournament, you’re in the right place. The specifics of your event will require you to make adjustments to the general information here, but this guide will help you get started on the right foot.

Defining the purpose and scope of your event

The first step in planning a chess tournament lies in understanding what you aim to achieve. Is it a local community gathering, a regional competition, or perhaps something more? Knowing the purpose will guide all your subsequent decisions.

If this is your first event, it is best to start small. A tournament that brings together students in your school, fellow employees, or a few small chess clubs is a manageable event, especially if it’s just for fun.

For larger or more formal tournaments the US Chess Federation publishes guidelines tournament organizers should follow. You’ll want to stick to these guidelines and have the help of an experienced tournament director if you’re going to run a rated event. If you need help finding a tournament director, reach out to local chess clubs and venues. (Or take the optional step described at the end of the post to become a tournament director yourself!)

Selecting a venue


Picking the perfect venue is obviously an important part of the process. Consider accessibility, space, comfort, and cost.

Chess tournaments usually pack a lot of people into a relatively small but open space, so sound and temperature control are important to consider. Don’t forget to include an estimated spectator count in your planning. In addition to the play space, be sure to provide adequate room for players and spectators to congregate away from active games. Likewise, as many games happen outside of regular matches as they do during them, so having tables or other places to setup chess boards away from the formal play area ensures an energetic and lively event. Tournaments can be all day affairs, so you’ll want access to amenities like restrooms and at least snacks, if not more substantial food.

Some specific considerations

Some examples of good chess tournament venues are listed below. When considering size requirements for the play area, consider that a 4-foot table will accommodate 2 chessboards and room for clocks and taking notation. However, the more room the better.

Venue type

Hotels: Many hotels have large conference rooms that can be rented. While hosting a tournament in a hotel can be a nice, comfortable experience for the players, it can also be expensive.

Community centers and libraries: Community centers and libraries often have large rooms that can be reserved, sometimes for free.

Schools: Most schools have a gymnasium, auditorium, or cafeteria that can be a good location for a chess tournament. Therefore, this is likely the best option for a school chess club or intra-school tournament.

Churches: Churches often have large fellowship halls that can be used for free or a small rental fee.


The date you select will be determined by the venue availability, the planning time required, and many other factors. Most in-person chess tournaments are scheduled on a weekend to allow for a full day of matches and award presentations. Additionally, it is important to select a date that doesn’t collide with other local events in your area.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that you have plenty of time for setup, play, and teardown when you reserve your venue. The length of your tournament will be a function of the size and type of tournament.

If you’re interested in running a completely virtual tournament, check out our list of virtual tournament options.

Developing a budget

A chess tournament can include a lot of potential expenses, from chess sets and prizes to promotional materials. Actual costs will be very dependent on the size of your tournament and where it is held, but we’ve provided a detailed example chess tournament budget you can use to help you think through your specific costs and plan.

Deciding on the tournament format

Rated or unrated? Swiss, Round Robin, or elimination? Standard timing or Blitz? The tournament format you choose will affect many other aspects of the event. Understanding your audience and aligning the format with their expectations is paramount.

Popular tournament designs are:

Swiss system: This is the most common format for amateur events and is also common at the professional level. Players are paired based on their scores.

Round-robin: In this format, each player plays against every other player in the tournament.

Elimination: In this format, players are eliminated after losing a game until only one player remains.

For match pairing and tracking you may find it helpful to use a chess management software like or


The most common chess timing controls for tournaments are standard and blitz.


Blitz chess gives each player a short fixed time for the entire game. Common time controls include Bullet (1-2 minutes per side), Blitz (typically 5 minutes or less), Rapid (10-60 minutes, often 25 minutes). The shorter length increases the chance of a loss due to expired time.


In standard time controls, players have a predetermined time to make a certain number of moves. If they make the required moves within the time, their clock is reset. 40 moves in two hours is a popular control.

For simple, informal, unrated events, a basic understanding of the formats will likely be enough. However, for rated or larger, more formal events, you’ll need the help of a certified tournament director.

Recruiting volunteers and officials

Every chess tournament needs volunteers (and possibly officials). Their collective efforts are vital in conducting the tournament seamlessly. Reaching out to parents or other members of the local chess community prior to the event will help locate individuals who are interested in helping.

Promoting the tournament

Unless your event is restricted to a small club of players you frequently interact with, to plan a chess tournament includes promoting the event. In general, the options range from traditional methods like designing and distributing posters and flyers and engaging with local chess communities, to utilizing social media and influencers to generate buzz.

In addition to social media and posting flyers, there are many sites where you can promote your tournament for free or via paid listings, for example USCF’s list of upcoming tournaments. The best way to promote your event will depend highly on your target participants, the size of event you’re organizing, and other details.

Securing equipment and refreshments

Preparing the venue with all the necessary equipment, including refreshments, is one of the most important pieces of planning a chess tournament. Running a successful event requires various supplies to ensure smooth operation.

Below is a list of essential supplies a chess tournament organizer needs. For informal events, it may be feasible to ask the players to supply the boards and clocks, but if you take that approach you want to make sure the players know bringing their own supplies is expected and you should have extras on hand just incase. For larger or more formal events, it’s best that the tournament provide the supplies. The Smart Moves store sells most of these products individually or as a tournament director bundle.

Tournament supplies

  1. Chess Sets and Boards
    • Standardized, tournament-size chess boards.
    • Matching sets of chess pieces with extra queens.
  2. Clocks
    • Ensure the clocks are calibrated and in working order, prior to the event.
    • Backup batteries or chargers.
  3. Score Sheets and Writing Instruments
    • Official tournament score sheets for players to record moves.
    • Pens or pencils.
  4. Pairing and Standings Software (optional, but recommended)
    • Software for creating pairings, recording results, and updating standings.
  5. Venue Supplies
    • Tables and chairs arranged for comfortable play.
    • Name tags or table numbers to guide players to their boards.
    • Stanchions or ropes to delineate playing and spectator areas.
  6. Display Boards or Screens (optional)
    • For showcasing top board games or important matches.
    • Projectors or screens for displaying pairings and standings.
  7. Sound Equipment
    • Microphone and speaker system for announcements.
  8. Registration Materials
    • Signup sheets or digital registration platforms.
    • Cash box or digital payment system for entry fees.
  9. Informational Signage
    • Rules, schedule, venue map, and other key information.
  10. Refreshments
    • Water, snacks, or a designated area for food vendors.

Conducting the tournament

Registering participants

On tournament day, or the day before for larger events, the first step will be registration. Providing an easy and clear registration process keeps players engaged and informed.

These days there is very little reason not to use software to help with the registration and management process. Tournament software like Chessmii and Chess Manger mentioned above will make registration and match pairing much easier and are highly recommended.

Match play

Ensuring a smooth progression and adherence to the rules is vital in planning a chess tournament that’s fair and enjoyable. For informal events, it will likely suffice to identify a group of volunteer judges to help monitor and adjudicate play. While some tournament organizers recruit volunteers on the morning of the event from parents or other spectators in attendance, identifying them prior to the event launch will help decrease your tournament day stress.

For rated or larger events, you’ll need the help of a certified tournament director.

Awarding and celebrating

Especially for children’s events, awarding trophies and celebrating participants is a critical piece of a successful tournament. What you award is certainly up to you, but the top three to five places by rough age groupings (e.g., elementary, middle, high school, adult) is common. If your event is only for a single age group, then you may want to group by rated/non-rated players. You may also choose to give team trophies, if your tournament plan includes team play.

Trophies and ribbons are common awards and can be obtained from a local trophy shop or purchased from an online source. Preparation may take a while so make sure you start this process early.

Evaluating and thanking

Reflecting on what went well and expressing gratitude to those who contributed or helped you plan the chess tournament is an essential part of the journey. Since you will likely have collected emails during registration, consider sending a feedback survey using Microsoft Forms or Google Forms to ask participants what worked and what didn’t, and what they would like to see more or less of in your next event. (Be mindful of any opt-out preferences they indicated when registering, of course.) You can also use this as an opportunity to identify potential volunteers for future events.

‘Thank you’ certificates or memorabilia for your volunteers are a nice ways to show your appreciation and provide volunteers with something to remember the event.

Documenting and sharing

Capturing and sharing moments from your tournament helps participants and spectators remember and appreciate it. It also helps build interest for your next event. Especially for events involving children, be mindful of relevant laws and parental preferences around collecting and sharing images. With that said, here are some traditional and some more creative ideas for sharing and documenting your event.

  • High-resolution photography: If possible, find a volunteer who is a skilled amateur photographer (or hire a professional) to take high quality images. Capture intense player emotions, fun and spontaneous interactions, and pivotal moments that convey the atmosphere of the event.
  • Videography: Showcase highlights and use time-lapses for event progression.
  • Post-game interviews: Talk with players to get insights, perspectives, and quotes that can form the basis for articles and social media posts.
  • Live streaming: Use platforms like Twitch for real-time audience engagement.
  • DGT boards: An electronic board that makes it simple to broadcast games live for interactive viewing.
  • Social media updates: Post regular updates with behind-the-scenes content and key events.

Finally, don’t forget to make your own notes about what worked and what didn’t. Although it may feel like the next event is far in the future, it will be here before you know it. Learn from mistakes and successes this time to make it that much easier next time around.

Bonus: Becoming a Tournament Director

If you find you like to plan chess tournaments and expect to do it often, you might consider becoming a certified tournament director. In addition to increasing your knowledge and confidence, certified tournament directors can organize sanctioned rated events. The US Chess Federation provides extensive information on becoming a tournament director. And there’s an interesting related forum about becoming a tournament director on the forums.

Now that you know the basics of how to plan a chess tournament, go forth!

Planning a chess tournament is very rewarding, but it can be a daunting undertaking. From understanding the initial goals to celebrating and documenting your success, each step is crucial. If you’ve read through this overview and are ready for another level of detail, this is a great post with even more detailed advice on running a chess tournament.

Hopefully, this guide has provided you with a comprehensive overview of how to plan a chess tournament that is engaging, successful, and rewarding for everyone involved and given you the confidence to take the next step.

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