What is a ‘spectator’?

A ‘spectator’ is a person who is observing a chess game within the playing area.   This includes players who have finished their games (FIDE Rule 12.5) but does not include someone who has got up from his board to wander around; that person is still a ‘player’.   Media personnel, if any are present, are also regarded as ‘spectators’.

Rule 13.7a states that spectators are not allowed to speak about or otherwise interfere in a game.   Common instances of this rule being broken are when an illegal move is made or when a player’s flag falls and a ‘spectator’ points it out, gestures, or simply gasps, thereby drawing attention to the fact.   If this occurs, usually in a time scramble, it’s unfortunate for the player whose flag has fallen, because his opponent may also be very short of time and had not noticed the flag-fall.   But the result of the game stands.   There’s no requirement or option to replay the game (NB. it is an option under US Chess Federation rules, which differ from FIDE’s), or for the game not to count for grading or rating purposes.   It’s important that young players are aware of this rule as they are often the culprits.

In the event of a spectator offending this rule, the arbiter may expel that person from the playing venue.   In most cases, however, the spectator would just receive a warning.

Spectators are allowed to inform the arbiter (but only the arbiter) if they happen to observe an irregularity.

No one (including a ‘spectator’) may use a mobile phone or any kind of communication device in the playing area and any contiguous area designated by the arbiter (Rule 13.7b).

Finally, the following ‘rules’ have been extracted from a US chess site.   They are intended to apply equally to spectators and parents, as well as to players observing other players’ games.   They are all perfectly valid in this country (except we call them ‘crisps’ – see #8):

1.   Don’t ‘camp out’ to watch a particular game.
2.   Don’t stand in front of or make eye contact with any player whose game you are observing.
3.   Don’t make faces or gestures or convey in any graphic way an opinion of the game being observed.
4.   Don’t discuss or even whisper an opinion of a game being observed.
5.   Don’t speak privately with any player at or away from the board while his or her game is in progress.
6.   Don’t take pictures after the first ten minutes of a game when using flash or a camera with an audible shutter unless you have prior approval from a tournament official.
7.   Don’t take pictures at any time from a location that makes you an obvious distraction to the players.
8.   Don’t make any noise, such as opening a bag of potato chips, within earshot of a game in progress.
9.   Absolutely do not point out flag fall or illegal moves, or otherwise attempt to play the role of tournament director by intervening in a game for any reason.
10.   Don’t discuss a game at its conclusion in the tournament room or attempt to analyze a game at the board.
11.   You may make a tournament director aware of concerns about perceived cheating or rules violations of players or other spectators, but do not attempt to enforce rules yourself.
12.   Do, of course, comply with any requests or instructions issued by tournament staff.   Be aware that a tournament director may ban spectators from the viewing area if necessary.

2 thoughts on “What is a ‘spectator’?
  1. Playing in a county match a year or two back I had less than 5 minutes on the clock and had not been keeping score. A crowd had collected around the board to watch the gory finale. My opponent allowed what I was sure was a three-fold repetition and I claimed a draw. It looked like my opponent was about to accept this when a voice in the crowd advised my opponent "No it isn't, and you need to win this to win the match". My opponent took heed of the advice and played another move. It dawned on me that without a complete score, the threefold repetiton would be difficult to prove, so I played on, and eventually lost the game. Two questions then (a) What is the advice for claiming a threefold repetition when you haven't been keeping score. (b) What should I have done about the interfering spectator?

    Ted Matthewson

    1. Taking (b) first: there's nothing you (as a player) can do. Had there been an arbiter present, as there would probably be in a congress, or at the 4NCL, then the spectator could be punished. If he was a player, he could be penalised by the loss of a point, or even kicked out of the tournament. If he was a spectator, he could be banished from the playing area for the rest of the event.

      As far as (a) is concerned, I need to ask a question: was your opponent still keeping score (i.e. did he have more than five minutes left?) If so, then you should be able to use his scoresheet to justify your claim. But if he, like you, had stopped scoring as he too was short of time, then it's probably impossible to prove a threefold repetition. Normally it's worth claiming, as your opponent may readily accept.

      Your example just goes to prove how important it is that spectators keep stumm.

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