If you’ve ever visited a chess tournament then you would have noticed that it’s very quiet in the room with barely a murmur when people are playing and certainly never any raised voices. But is it forbidden to talk during a chess match or are you OK to talk but players just prefer not to or is there some other explanation for the quiet?
Can you talk during a chess game? It is often considered rude to talk during a chess game unless you know your opponent well and they are OK with it. Apart from a few certain conditions within the game that require players to announce something to the opponent, they don’t usually talk during a chess game.
So, let’s take a look at talking in chess and some of the other important rules of etiquette regarding talking that you might not be aware of that can affect the way that you conduct yourself at the board.
Are There Any Rules About Talking During A Chess Game?
Firstly, it is important for us to acknowledge right from the beginning that there is no rule in chess that either encourages or directly forbids you to talk during a game. However, it is fair to say that most tournaments, competitions and associations have a rule that you should not carry out any behavior that your opponent might deem to be distracting.
This is a good way to deal with what otherwise might take up a whole rule book by itself. It allows you to think about your opponent and what they might consider to be a distraction and then to try and avoid doing that.
That means, for example, it’s fine to sip a cup of coffee at the chessboard (it is not reasonable for an opponent to consider the act of quietly drinking “a distraction” unless you’re slurping like a deranged camel) but it would be very rude to bring out a can of cola and then pop the tab (with the resulting rush of noise) while your opponent is deep in thought.
However, it might be perfectly acceptable to wait until it’s your turn to move and ask your opponent if they mind if you open your Coke. This is considerate and eliminates the chance of upsetting each other.
You can apply this to eating too (you might be fine sucking a candy quietly but chewing gum loudly is going to drive somebody else crazy) and yes, even to talking.
So, if you think that your opponent might be open to a chat during a game, you could ask them before the game if that would be OK but it would be terrible form to start talking inconsiderately, particularly during their clock time.
There are some rules that do require you to speak though and one rule that some people think requires you to speak which does not:
- If you wish to adjust a piece so that it sits properly in a square, you should announced “I adjust” to your opponent before picking up the piece otherwise, you may be compelled to move that piece under the “touch a piece, move a piece” rule.
- If you wish to offer your opponent a draw – you should ask them directly, “Do you want to call this a draw?” (or something similar) and then allow them to consider the offer and either accept or reject it. It is customary, once accepted, for you to both note the draw on the score cards and then to shake hands in these circumstances.
The rule which people often get wrong is regarding check:
- You are not required to say “check” when you place your opponent’s king in check. In fact, in a competitive game, it can be a genuine advantage not to do so as the opponent may waste time making moves that do not involve the king that you can then force them to take back. We’ve heard many a player claim that it’s “good manners” to say check. They may believe this, but the rules are silent on the subject and it’s the rules that you follow in chess not people’s beliefs.
What Should You Do If Your Opponent Starts Talking And You Don’t Want Them To?
The arbiter or tournament director is the person that gets to decide if someone is being distracting. It’s not your call to make and this is a good thing as it means that you don’t need to get into any hostilities with your opponent over the issue.
You can politely ask them not to talk but if they don’t pick up on the hint, then the next step is simply to involve the arbiter:
- Stop the clock and get the arbiters attention. Explain that you don’t wish to cause problems, but you need quiet to focus on your game and you feel that your opponent is being distracting by talking too much.
- You must then abide by the arbiter’s decision in this matter. If they agree with you, they will ask your opponent to stop talking and if they don’t you may call the arbiter again. If they agree with your opponent, you may be asked to stop complaining, it’s in your interests to stop at this point.
We’ve found that it almost never comes to this and that if you ask politely for your opponent not to talk they won’t and that in the vast majority of cases, opponents will not even attempt to talk to you unless it is to announce check (they don’t have to but some will), to adjust pawns, to announce “en passant” captures, resignations, etc.
We have seen a fairly heated discussion where one player alleged that his opponent saying “check” was distracting and thus he ought to have been disqualified. We think that in this case, the player is simply disgruntled and ought to examine their own behavior – while your opponent is not required to announce check, they have done you a favor by doing so and complaining about it is not necessary at all.
Be reasonable or you’re likely to end up falling out with the arbiter.
We have also come across the occasional player that sort of talks to themselves by muttering under their breath when they’re thinking things through. We can see how this behavior might be irritating to some people but we tend to feel you ought to let this go if you can.
The Golden Rule If You Must Talk
If you really feel that you must talk to the opponent during the course of the game, unless agreed prior to the match, then the right way to do so is to talk when your clock time is running and not on their time. As this is your thinking time, it’s less likely to be distracting to them.
So, if you need to borrow a pen or excuse yourself to go to the toilet (no, you may not stop the clock for this – and yes, you will need to be escorted to the bathroom to ensure you’re not cheating) the right time to do so in a chess match is on your time. And yes, that means if your opponent spends the next 15 minutes thinking – you need to hold on until they’re done.
Can you talk during a chess game? Yes, you can and yes, we know there are some websites out there that claim you can’t. However, it’s bad form to try and engage your opponent in conversation unless they make it clear that they would welcome such talk (and some will, when the author has played in tournaments – occasionally another player has stated that they wouldn’t mind a chat during the game before it has started).
Chess is a game of good manners, generally speaking, and while there are a few grandmasters with famously bad tempers, even they wouldn’t have tried to talk through the game when it wasn’t welcome. So, please be considerate of your opponent and use the quiet time that you have to better think through your next move rather than instigating some conflict that may escalate beyond the board.