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Tournament Players

Every adult tournament has at least one really old player. They usually aren't very good, but they often demonstrate more manners and sportsmanship than a bus-full of juniors.

The common name for a player who massages his grade to qualify for lower grading sections, thus increasing his chances of winning money. Sharks are usually well-known and disliked, and often travel alone. There are two common types:
a) The player who used to be very strong and suspisciously starts slipping down the grading list and b) The player who regularly wins lower tournament sections but whose grade, for some inexplicable reason, stays the same.
It's hard to like sharks but you have to admire their nerve.

More on Sharks from MrPrincie: "Sharks are those chinny 120 grades with foreign names who turn up down the club and get beat by all and sundry, only to appear at chess congresses and win Majors with 100% scores. You can usually tell them by the ill-concealed fin strapped down beneath their thick wooly sweater, plus the fact they have to play in a large tank since they can't stay out of water for long periods."

chess damien

Demon Child
"Aren't they all!" I hear you cry, but actually there are a lot of really polite and friendly chess-kids out there. Sadly they're outnumbered by the psycho-brats from hell ! The trouble with some chess-kids is they understand that the game requires a kind of aggression but they don't yet know how to channel it properly. So, it's as if they think they're winning if they can wind you up somehow. Where else but a chess congress can you experience an eight year old trying to stare you out?!

evilkidsR.Wright sends this example...
I played a kid at the International Students IV in London about two years ago...who spent the entire game either kicking me under the table, stooping so low he could see into my hand shrouded gaze or cracking his empty Coke can in boredom. All's fair in war though...the little b*****d.

Stephen Luck adds...
Herod had the right idea about the first-born!

Chess Parent
While the demon child is trying every trick in the book to disturb you, the chess parent looks on admiringly. Usually to be found holding plastic bags full of egg sandwiches and pop for their little angels.
Neil Coward of AXA adds....
One thing I have noticed about 'Chess parent' is that they may be extrememly pushy and convinced that their son is on his way to becoming a GM. It's great to totally smash up their kiddie, then sit back and watch Chess parent lay into them.

A really bad loser who flies off the handle. As old as the game itself, these types have a hero in Nimzowitsch who famously stood on his chair and shouted 'Why must I lose to this idiot?!!' during a quickplay tournament. Their party piece is the dramatic sweeping of the pieces off the board with one arm - a good response to which is 'You missed one!'
Named after the seventies kids game involving a plastic donkey (which is amazingly still on sale!)

These much hassled folk seem to spend most of their time trying to avoid answering questions. This is probably a natural reaction when faced with the same stupid questions over and over again. Be gentle with them.

The guy who just won't resign, no matter how lost he is. Has the Dunkirk spirit, but the boats ain't comin'. Some do this because they feel it's sporting to let the opponent have the satisfaction of mate. Others are just stubborn swine. I had an opponent who made me 'prove it' with king and rook against his king. Easy, but can take quite a few moves. As my friends waved goodbye to me, grinning, on their way to the pub, he sat and took ages over each move. Then, when I was finally one move away from mate, he resigned!!

The player who spends more time away from the board drinking/smoking, and pacing up and down like an expectant father, than playing. [Note: most local tournaments in this region have provision at least for smokers, and sometimes a bar. This might not be the same where you are].

Walking Informator
He knows all the latest theory off-by-heart but is useless when he has to think for himself. When you beat him he'll probably tell you where you went wrong, what you should have played and how he would have beaten you if you had played properly. If you see him coming, try 1.b3.

mad teethRaving Lunatic
The player whose behaviour at, or away from, the board is eccentric to say the least.
Regular tournament players will know the kind of thing I'm on about, but I'm not going to give any examples here in case the players involved recognise themselves and start stalking me!
Anyone braver care to send me some case-studies?

Over to Bart Van Hoorebeeck...
"In a club league game in the lowest Belgian divison, our fourth board once sat across from a guy who rather silently spoke to himself all the time, in at least three different voices. For four hours our club mate had to listen to one voice telling jokes, and the other ones laughing, and especially to different sorts of noises with which the different voices (personalities?) evaluated the position or each other's plans."

Here's one from, well, I'd better not say in case the subject recognises himself. Don't want to start any fights!...

"I was at ***** congress when this guy who I used to know came up to me in the middle of my game and started ranting to me that I had been sending anonymous letters to him saying someone was porking his wife. Obviously I hadn't, and asked how on earth this guy had reached this conclusion. His reply was "You have got a computer. The letter was typed. You have got a printer too. The letter was printed off somewhere. The letter had no spelling mistakes. You are the only person I know who can spell. The letter had no punctuation errors either. You are the only person I know who uses punctuation. You live near a post box. I have started playing chess for our local club again and you are jealous because whilst you are the best player in the club and some 50 BCF points better than me, you are scared I will be board 1 and you won't. You are also jealous of me because I am friends with one of your friends."

Just to clarify, this guy is 34 years of age.

I told him he was a tw*t and went back to my game, whereby he spent the next 2hrs staring at me, trying to psych me into losing. I didn't, and eventually he got bored and went home to make his wife's life more miserable than it already is.

The next day he was back, same treatment, but I went home early because I was on 0/3 and had a full point bye. He remarked that I was "Extremely sad" and "a loser" for not waiting the 6 hours until my lastgame, but this was after I had left so I didn't get the chance to ask him what he would call someone who spends his weekend at a chess congress just standing over someone and watching their game, which he doesn't understand, and sporting a fat, stupid mongy grin."

Tournament Virgin - thanks to Stephen Luck of Lytham
Despite being at least 65 years old, claims to have only recently taken up chess after the death of his wife. Usually accompanied by, "I played a little in my youth, but decided to play in this event after some friends said that it might be fun". One can surmise that this is a "go gently on me" tactic. Often heard when approaching a tricky end-game or on a Sunday afternoon. A desperate extra gambit is,"I used to be a vicar you know". Beware, play hard and sympathise after winning the game.

Here's a familiar character, courtesy of Frank Fields...
Silent But Deadly

You walk up to the chess board, extend your hand and say hello, he just smiles a little and shakes your hand. Later on in the game you offer him a draw, again he just smiles and plays a move. Then you end up losing to him and he still doesn't say anything!

...and another from David Hall of Brighton Chess Club
The Chess Oracle
The font of all knowledge, the oracle is a player that takes an undue interest in your own game.
The oracle watches intently as you try to win a 'theoretically' won game or save a draw in a lost one. Just as you fail to do either the oracle steps in with the immortal words "You should have played blah blah blah" etc. Whether the oracle's suggestion is any good, and it usually isn't, his advice is not what you want to hear in your moment of misery after the disaster at the board.
Whenever I have encountered the oracle myself I have had to exert an immense self control not to punch the smug b*****d in the mouth.

...and a heartfelt entry from M. Ashley
Obnoxious Irritating Jerk
This player is the epitome of bad manners and has lots of really good practiced smirks. He plops onto the seat across you, smiles at you in a condescending way, gives you a limp handshake and then proceeds to show off his 'skill'. Sometimes he is really good, sometimes he is not, but when you lose to him he gives you a really bright smile that makes you want to bash his face in. After the game, you'll hear him boasting to his friends about how lousy you were, directly in front of you. That is if you lose to them. If he is lousy or makes a mistake because he was overconfident, he'll start frowning and scowling. And after you trash that lousy moron, he'll whine to his friends and say that he should have won and that you weren't really good. That's why it feels so great to trash the fella. =)

other strange folk

A double entry courtesy of William Hyde (many thanks)

Our Mr X entered the Canadian open in 1980, rated somewhat under 1500. He proceeded to win game after game against progressively stronger opponents (with a few draws thrown in) never using more than 10 minutes on his clock. In round 5 or 6 he was paired with future CGM (then rated 2300-2400) Berry, whom he beat in a game which Berry was gentlemanly enough to annotate in "En Passant". Our hero then proceeded to lose all the rest of his games against progressively weaker players, dropping a full point in the last round against a fellow C player. Nowadays people might suspect some sort of computer aid which broke down after round 5, but that was not possible at that level in 1980.

One minor incident was that of The Shirt. I was organizing an event here around 1989, backing the prize fund partially with my own money in hopes of luring some real players. It worked to the degree that along with a 2500 player we got a strong expert, Mr Y. But Mr Y wore The Shirt. This was no ordinary shirt. All I can say is that Mr Y had eaten many and various interesting meals since last washing The Shirt. It was discoloured, it was stiff, and it stank. Looking at Mr Y's position from the other side of the board he always seemed to be winning, but looking from behind him (where the effect of The Shirt was minimized) his positions seemed about equal. I strongly suspect that he was about a 1600 player, but that The Shirt was at least 2700, so on average they played about 2150.
I wonder how many people declined to come to our next event, lest they meet The Shirt? I organized three more events here, but I didn't direct them, lest I meet it again.

-----------------Latest Types-----------------

Instant Shirov
Definition: Someone who has lost the first few rounds, leaving them with no hope of a prize, and then switches from their usual stodgy, defensive style into suicidally swashbuckling mode, trying badly thought out combinations and insane piece sacrifices. Often happens under the influence of alcohol.

I played this guy in a quickplay tournament.

He adjusted his pieces to be in the exact centre of each square before the game.

Nothing unusual there.

Then he did the same to mine.

ok, fair enough.

Then, after my first move, he asked if he could centre my piece.

Hmm. I said ok.

From there on, and without asking, he centred every piece i moved and seemed to be increasingly irritated by my sloppiness (even though my pieces weren't exactly hanging off their squares). I could have invoked the touch move rule and made him capture the touched piece(s), but he had a hint of madness in his eyes and I wanted to see how wound up he could get.

He eventually won, but he didn't seem very happy about it.

He reset the pieces with mathematical precision, stood up, adjusted the chair to be perfectly parallel with the table and marched off in a straight line.

It's his family I feel for...

Neil Coward suggests...
Ozymandias - Its the bloke who beats you and then says something like "you shouldn't play the French defence against me" or "I'm an expert on the Ruy Lopez, its my favourite opening, I play it all the time". These guys are usually around 5 or 10 points higher than you but talk as if they are world champions and totally unbeatable.
I call this type an "Ozymandias" based on Shelley's poem about a great king - it contains the lines "look on my works ye mighty and despair".
An Ozymandias is hard to argue against because he can only be an Ozymandias if he already beaten you, thus making it hard for you to convince him he's not as good as he thinks he is. In fact, if you had beaten him, he wouldn't have said anything and so you would have no idea he was a closet Ozy.
A recent Ozymandias (who is the same grade as me) told me that the time to draw him in a tournament was towards the end as he gets tired towards the final rounds (the implication here is that he is unbeatable in the earlier rounds).
However recent theories suggest that bizarre reasons given for losing are signs that the player might be an Ozy. For example he might complain that "you played the wrong move" in his opening and confused him or got lucky that way or he may cite grounds of ill health. One guy told me I beat him because the floor was bouncy (we were playing in a scout hut type of building where the floorboards had lots of spring in them and the tables wobbled when people walked by)."

Simon Cage suggests...
"The Wanderer - The sort of player who turns up to make his move, then vanishes into thin air for 10 (or more) minutes at a time.
I quite enjoy playing against this sort of person, as I'm not the sort to wait until a player returns to make my move.

I met 'Mr Wanderer' during the 3rd round of the 1999 Hitchin Congress (Minor section) and he was graded 117BCF against my 78. He just barely made the time control for the first section, while I only used up about half an hour of my own time in the process."

Ted Vergith suggests...
"Silent But Deadly - In america this is slang for a fart that makes no noise but stinks like hell. When facing these players you have two options 1. adjust the board so you are upwind 2. resign quickly and get some fresh air."

Paul Evans (aka "HRH" or "The Prince") suggests...
"Chess Stalker - At B***** Congress this weekend, in round 1 I won a piece after 11 moves. Then I lobbed the piece back, but got a pawn for it. My opponent claimed I was Houdini and would never have won if he hadn't have lobbed his piece because then I couldn't have lobbed my piece back for a pawn, which turned out to be enough to win. Also, if he had simply not bothered to try and win his piece back - thereby leaving me a knight up for no compensation - he would have drawn, because we had the same number of pawns, therefore I wouldn't have had an extra one to queen. A further point of note is that he says a BCF 147 who is a knight up can only draw with a BCF 126, all things being equal.
He followed me around for the rest of the tourney and immediately spotted winning moves for all my opponents, and at the end of each round was straight over with "You're Houdini you are, you should never have won that, more jam than Hartleys etc etc."

Ian Coldicott suggests...
"The Blonde Bombshell - Quite often to be seen in Minor or Major sections, often surrounded by middle aged men 'analysing' the game and looking kind of serious as they weigh up the position, while actually eyeing up the blonde. These women are usually immaculately turned out. Sometimes they win by skill - sometimes they win by flirtation or other distraction. In either event, who cares - they are good for chess tournaments too often overpopulated with nerdy types, slobs in smelly shirts and precocious brats. I'd like to see more of them - it might get me out to congresses more often."
...and here's a variation from Neill Cooper...
"The Tantaliser" - The teenage girl who has one to many buttons undone
thereby exposing part of her cleavage. Works a treat against male

'Gus' suggests...
"The Nodder - This type of player always nods (or even purrs) sort of approvingly after you make a move. After a while all this nodding has the inescapable effect of making you feel very comfortable and believing your position is superior. Which of course it isn't. In fact it has nothing to do with good moves, but you only realize this later. The worst of it is when you are down to desperate moves, and still he is nodding, 'understandingly'... But by then it is too late of course and you have been nodded quietly into disaster... Well anyway, you knew how it ended... "

Michael Holmes suggests...
"The Invalid - With a wan smile, this fellow apologizes for the weak game he is about to play because of his ill health. After beating you in a short, sharp game, he mumbles something about his good luck."

John Lee suggests these two characters...

"Rainman - named after Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie of the same name. Basically this guy rattled on and on about what move should have been played and why. It was annoying enough that he did it, loudly, after his game, but he also did it during his game. Interestingly, he was a terrible player as well.

Earthquake - When his opponent had less than a couple minutes left, he would slam his piece on the board with every move, hit the clock, and then adjust them all on his opponent's time. In one game, he adjusted a rook to a different square so that it could be forked on the next move... very sneaky. He won that tournament."

Brian Haworth suggests...
"Clock Kickers" - click here to see his heartfelt and very angry definition, but only if you are 18 or over (PawnPusher's first X-certificate! Pawnpusher accepts no responsibility for any offence caused by violent and aggressive language found at the above link)

Kelvin Adolph suggests...
"The "Duh-uh-er" - The player who proudly announces before the game that he is a master of the sicilian, and then after you play 1. d4 or 1. Nf3 scowles at you as if you've taken advantage of his good nature. He'll remain bitter and resentful for the rest of the event, and make dirty looks in your direction from then on."

Neil Coward suggests...
"The "Ineffectual Controller" - It was a q & p ending and my opponent was short of time, I played a few checks, keeping the pressure on, and won a pawn, I played a few more checks as I thought I could win a second pawn. My opponent called the arbiter over claiming its a draw, I can't make progress. The arbiter agreed, and demonstrated a move for my opponent, I tell him but its my move and I win the second pawn next move. The arbiter ignored me and asked what my response was to black's extra move. Then a friend steamed in, repeated that it was me to move and I win a pawn next move. I am making progress as I'm now two pawns up. The arbiter agreed reluctantly but then told me I could win easily by just swapping the queens off, I said I wasn't sure the k & p ending was a win. He said yes it was a win. I said well I didn't know, I'm only a minor player. He said well it was a win, I said well I wasn't sure it was. He says well it was. I said but I thought I would win a few more pawns and then swap the queens off. Arbiter says but its a won ending if you swap queens off now, I said I didn't know if it was or not. He says yes it was. I said well I'm only a minor player so I decided to win a few more pawns first. The arbiter said but I should have swapped the queens off right away etc etc etc etc.

Another story is about ***** ***** at B***** recently. One guy was annoying his opponent by singing softly to himself at the board. His opponent asked him twice to stop singing but the guys mental and so he can't. Finally the guy stormed off to see the controller. The controller came over, looked at the game, did nothing (maybe the guy has stopped singing now? a new scumbag trick?) and Ineffectual Controller went away without doing anything. More humming, the guy then just abandoned the came, went round the tables grabbed his singing opponent by the lapels and shook him, the guy stands up and a fight nearly breaks out but the furious guy just walks away. Well done, ineffectual controller!"

(see also "Pulling Rank" on the 'scumbag tricks' page)

Glasses18 wrote with...
"As i was entering a strong tournament i suddenly felt the desire to try my luck in the open section. In the 1st round i was paired up against a 2100 player and being a mere 1500 player i thought i would give it all i had. As it turned out i had him mated in 4 when i decided to pull a wanderer for about 20 minutes, as i had over 30 minutes and he only 7. When i got back to the board, i moved instantly without looking (1500) and made a crucial blunder.
After the game i asked him how he thought i played and he said "well i guess you played ok for a 1500 rated player but you made alot of mistakes", when he knew he barely won by the skin of his teeth!.
I dont have a name for this idiot but if you can come up with one thats fine with me."

Gustavio81 pointed this out...
"In an article about personality types associated with styles of post-game analyses, GM Andy Soltis described: The Sufferer: He agonizes rather than analyzes, "How did I fail to win this?" he asks anyone within earshot. "What's wrong with me?" The Sufferer is a spiritual descendant of Aron Nimzovich, who after one game is alleged to have exclaimed, "How can I lose to this idiot!" - Chess Life, May 1994 (p. 16) "

MrPrincie suggested...

An increasingly frequent character at Congresses "The Asylum Seeker" is very polite. He knows enough English to get by and is a very likeable person all round. However when it comes to the chess board he is brutal. Typically the Asylum Seeker will claim to "just about" know how to move the pieces. He will seek your approval when moving a more complciated piece like a knight to ensure he has put it on a legal square. He will use all his time up on the first 10 moves, making a variety of illegal moves en route like trying to castle long when his queen is still at home, or moving his white squared bishop to a black diagonal. He will leave himself 3 minutes to make the remaining 30 moves to reach time control. His position will be so bad a GM couldn't defend it.

Then this will happen: thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack thwack. The dust will clear. The Asylum Seeker will have a) made the time control b) recovered all the pieces he lost during the opening 10 moves c) won a couple of yours into the bargain d) be totally winning e) explain where you went wrong after you have resigned and have stagger-stumbled your way to the Controller with a big fat zero alongside your name. The Asylum Seeker will then win the Congress (usually a Major) but won't be able to cash the prize winner's cheque because he doesn't have a bank account.

Two from P.Banks...
1. The gurner
English people will know of this Northern sport, where the object is to pull the ugliest
possible face. Some players in the Birmingham League are notorious for pulling bizarre
faces as they think. Possibly it's subconscious, but if not it's a really clever tactic.
2. Carrier Bag Man
The one who arrives with one or more carrier bags, full of canned drinks, newspapers, loaves of bread and various other items. He spends most of his time (when you are thinking) rooting around in these bags and retrieving items to be drunk, eaten or read.

If you can think of any tournament player 'types' that I've missed, email your suggestion to

Home Time Trouble Tournament Player Types Scumbag Tricks A Guide To Axa-Speak Scotch Gambit The Grob, The Bad & The Ugly Amazing & Untrue Facts T-Shirts King's Gambit 3.Bc4 Pipe & Slippers Notes from a small tournament Chess Accessories Links The Nursery chess metaphor liberation organization chess lookalikes chess clubs in the British Isles Who's The Greatest? Beast-o-Meter