Chess arbiters and the three-fold draw

11/29/2021 – "The difference between not the best arbiter and a good one," IA Tomasz Delega writes, in the October issue of the ECU E-magazine, "is that the first one knows the rules and the second one understands also, what these rules are for." He explains the situation using the example of the three-fold draw claim: how must this be correctly handled?

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The difference between a good arbiter and not the best one

By IA Tomasz Delega, Chairman of the ECU Arbiters’ Council

I hope no one minds if we speak about tournament cases. Sometimes they are easy to identify and makes one or more arbiters "spotlighted". As all of us, we learn from the mistakes of others and our own, so it shouldn't be a shame. The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything.

Imagine a simple situation, where the player makes a claim of three times occurrence of the same position.

Usually in such case, the arbiter focuses on resolving the claim, which is somewhat right. So the arbiter stops a chess clock (if it is not done by the player), asks the claimant about the scoresheet and starts checking. Sometimes it is very easy, but sometimes it can be very complicated, as the same position may occur, for example, every ten moves. So the arbiter, not being sure, replays the game from the beginning. It takes some time, depending on the number of the moves done, and finally if the claim is correct the arbiter announces a draw.

I would say the arbiter can be happy announcing the draw, otherwise the situation becomes more complicated. You may wonder why, as there is nothing more to do as to add two minutes to the opponent of the claimant and ask the players to continue the game.

Let me explain. Imagine that the arbiter has been checking the claim for five minutes, while both players were sitting at the chessboard. It means the arbiter gave five minutes extra thinking time for the players and this may be decisive in some positions. And that's not the way it should be. The Laws of Chess says

  • 11.11 Both players must assist the arbiter in any situation requiring reconstruction of the game, including draw claims and
  • 11.12 Checking three times occurrence of the position or 50 moves claim is a duty of the players, under supervision of the arbiter.

The idea behind these rules is to prevent players from sitting at the chessboard and thinking while the arbiter checks the claims! So why do arbiters keep making the same mistakes when checking a player's claims on their own? The simplest answer would be they don't know the rules, as these rules are quite new (2018). But I think most of them know the rules, but probably do not understand what they are for.

It is not difficult to guess what the correct procedure should look like when checking such claims. After stopping the clock, the arbiter should invite both players to a separate chessboard and ask them to reconstruct the game and show him repeated positions. Not because he is lazy, or he is not able to do it, but to limit the possibility of the players to think about positions and future moves. Additionally, doing it that way, the whole process is easier, faster and also safer, as it eliminates possible mistakes.

The difference between not the best arbiter and a good one is that the first one knows the rules and the second one understands also, what these rules are for.


The ECU E-Magazine October 2021 can be read online together with interactive links and videos on the following link, or it can be downloaded from the ECU Website.

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Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 12/1/2021 11:19
In a rapid tournament two years ago, my opponent wanted to claim a draw because of threefold repetition (yes, that is possible). I said I would agree if he could convince me in a reconstruction, as I wasn't sure. The arbiter refused to support this, in view of the other participants waiting for the next round. The game continued and I won (and later found out it wasn't a repetition). I think it was a good decision by the arbiter, and not just because of the result.
Michael Farmer Michael Farmer 12/1/2021 08:44
Good points, well made.
Excellent article
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 11/30/2021 08:59
I don't know (could be an earlier version), but the next surely is:
adbennet adbennet 11/30/2021 08:28
Of all my claims, only one time did my opponent disagree. I did everything by the book: announced the repeating move without making it, claimed the draw, stopped the clocks, summoned the arbiter. The arbiter glanced at my scoresheet and declared there was no three-fold repetition. So *I* had to get my opponent and the arbiter to accompany me to another room, secure a second board and pieces, and demonstrate the repetition -- the first occurrence was a pawn move, the second and third ones were rook moves. The moral of the story is the player must know the rules, at a minimum for self-protection against the opponent ... and against the arbiter!
tip4success tip4success 11/30/2021 11:29
Good article. Is this the correct link to the updated rulebook? (
Phillidor Phillidor 11/30/2021 07:06
In Reykyavik open 2019 I claimed a not-so-obvious threefold repetition. I stopped the clock and called the arbiter. He invited both players to a seperate room, where we altogether reconstructed the game. After some checkinh we all came to the same conclusion it was indeed a threefold repetition. I remember it quite clearly, as the arbiter's handling of the situation was quite impressive for me back than.