Playing chess during COVID-19

Playing chess during COVID-19 is unlike anything most of us have experienced. The shift to social distancing and stay-at-home orders has changed how people think about playing the royal game whether that be informally or in tournaments.  USCF in-person events have moved online using platforms like or  Playing in online rated tournaments is not new. Internet sites have been hosting USCF events for years. What has recently changed is the volume of players and the demand for services.  With few states allowing in-person gatherings,  chess players are flocking to the Internet like never before.  For example, is a chess playing website that normally peaks at about 35-40,000 members during its busiest time. Now, that number is closer to 90,000 and growing.

The recent pandemic has forced local chess clubs to rethink how to plan their tournaments.  This past Memorial Day weekend, the Washington Chess Federation hosted the Washington State Championship virtually using and Zoom video.  Participants had to sign a fair play policy and agree to be monitored with a webcam using Zoom.  The tournament completed successfully, and the results are pending as the games undergo fair-play review.

Informal gatherings that take place in malls or other public places are not having as easy a time. For example, I play chess every Friday night at the Crossroads Mall in Bellevue, Washington.  Players of all types show up there.  With the recent stay-at-home order in Washington state, I decided to host our weekly events online using  It was a lot easier than I thought. 

First, I sent out a few e-mails to people I played with, telling them about my idea.  Then, I set up the event online and e-mailed out the URL to all who might be interested. To my surprise, lots of players showed up. We are on now our 10th tournament and routinely get anywhere from 8 to 12 participants every week.  This is more than the number of Friday-night players who show up at Crossroads! So, playing chess during COVID-19 has some advantages!

If your local chess gathering is unable to meet, consider hosting an Arena tournament on  When playing in the Arena format, all players are all thrown into an “arena” and paired with whoever is available.  This does not follow a traditional Swiss or Round Robin pairing system.  You can be paired with the same person for multiple games depending on who is available. 

To help break the monotony, you have the option to press PAUSE.  This temporarily removes you from the tourney.  Click Join to re-enter the tourney.  There is no penalty for leaving the tournament.   Points are scored as follows: 2 points for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss.  If you win multiple games in a row, you have the potential to get 4 points for a win.  Complete instructions can be found on LiChess.

Playing chess during COVID-19 – Tournament setup

Here is the process for setting up an Arena tournament:

First, logon to  Create an account if you do not already have one. Once you logon, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Play menu and choose Arena tournaments.
Playing chess during COVID-19
  1. At the top right click the CREATE TOURNAMENT button.
Playing chess during COVID-19

The following screen will appear:

Playing chess during COVID-19

This is where you configure your tournament settings.  I usually uncheck the Rated button so all games are unrated but that is up for you to decide.  For clock times, I choose 3 minutes and 2 seconds increments.  That is the USCF standard for blitz time controls.

The Duration is simply how long you want the tournament to last. Remember, there are no rounds in an Arena tournament.  So, if you set the tournament to be two hours, then whoever has the highest score at the end of two hours is the winner.

The Advanced settings menu is important if you want to schedule the tournament in advance.  It also lets you customize the criteria for entering the tournament.  Click the Show advanced settings.           

It will display the following screen:

Playing chess during COVID-19

              The Password field allows you to set a password known only to you and invited participants.  The rest of the fields are self-explanatory except for  the last one.

The Custom start date allows you schedule a tournament at a future date.  When you click it, the interface brings up a date and time prompt so you can schedule your tournament days or weeks in advance.

Once you setup and schedule the tournament, it’s time to send out a notification e-mail.  I’ve included the one I use below. You can edit it to your own liking.

Playing chess during COVID-19 – Email to participants

From: Paul
Bcc: {Enter the e-mail addresses here. This is important so people won’t reply all to your message}
Hello All.
Shelter at home rules are still in effect.  Stay home, stay safe and logon Friday to play some chess!
Arena chess is not like a typical Swiss or Round Robin event.  It emphasizes quick pairings to whoever is available. This means that you might play the same person multiple times in a row.  To get around this, use the PAUSE button.  This will temporarily remove you from the player pool.  When you see players become available that you want to play, click JOIN to re-enter the arena and get paired.
The tournament conditions are as follows:
Time start:      Friday April 24th, 2020 @ 6PM
Time controls:   3 mins + 2 secs per move.
Rated:           No (this is unrated so don’t worry about losing any precious rating points)
Duration:        6PM-9PM (3 hours). LiChess doesn’t use a round system.  Everything is based on time.  After three hours, the tournament is over.
Late joining is possible.  You can take a break at any time by pressing PAUSE.  Follow the instructions below to participate. 
You will need a LiChess account to play. Join for free at

Click the URL to join à
The tournament is private, meaning you will need to enter a password. The password is:  passwordofyourchoice

Feel free to forward this e-mail to anyone who you think might be interested. 

Hope to see you all on Friday,

I hope you found this Better Chess article interesting.  Playing chess during COVID-19 is an opportunity to embrace a different venue to play the game we all love. Please feel free to share this with anyone who is thinking of making a shift from in-person chess gatherings to online play.

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