Back to Basics: Setting up the Board and Clock

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin

Dan Lucas, US Chess Senior Director Of Strategic Communications, frequently posts on social media about how chess boards in films are set up incorrectly. Often, the board is sideways, as the lower right hand corner is not a light square. Before starting a game, it is important to double check that the board is set up correctly. The first round at all  of our tournaments, the boards are set up properly as our directors do it. Sometimes during round 2, there might be some mishaps as we tell the players to reset their pieces after their first game. As long as one makes sure the lower right hand corner is light, white pieces are on ranks 1 and 2 (if the board has letter and numbers), and follows this order in setting up the pieces (which National Mitch Fitzko taught during a Chess in the Schools professional development meeting), one will always set up the board correctly:

  1. Set up the eight white pawns along the 2nd rank and the black pawns on the 7th rank.
  2. Put the rooks in the corners of the 1st and 8th ranks.
  3. Put the knights next to the rooks.
  4. Put the bishops next to the knights.
  5. Put the king and queen in the middle. Make sure the queen has a matching dress; the white queen goes on a white square and the black queen goes on a black square.

These are the most common mistakes I see when beginners set up the board:

  1. Setting up the board sideways; the lower hand color is a dark square.
  2. The white queen is on a dark square and vice versa; i.e they are on the “e” file.
  3. The knights and bishops are switched with the white knights on c1 and f1, black knights on c8 and f8, white bishops on b1 and g1 and black bishops on b8 and g8.

When players set up the board incorrectly, they are playing some variant of chess but not the real game. That is why US Chess rules state that if less than 10 moves are played, and one player realizes that the board was set up in correctly, they need to restart the game from the beginning. A few years ago, I was running a tournaments and a bizarre scenario happened:

A child was one move away from checkmating his opponent; unfortunately for him, his opponent realized the board was set up incorrectly and only 9 moves were played. I went over to see what happened and knew the rule was they would have to restart the game. I felt bad for the child who was one move away from checkmate; I confirmed with our Chief Tournament Director Harold Stenzel that the game should be restarted, even though he was so close to checkmate and Harold agreed it should. Shortly after, the child who was a few moves away from checkmating ended up losing their ‘second game’ which counted and started crying. Unfortunately, he learned the lesson that it is important to make sure the board and clock are set up correctly before the game begins the hard way. Similarly, I have seen many experienced players get into time pressure and only then realize that the clock was not set up with time delay. Know the rules before you go and make sure the board and clock are set up correctly before your next game.

3 thoughts on “Back to Basics: Setting up the Board and Clock”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *