My Old Drunken Chess Tournament Rules

Hearing about Chess 2 (which I want to talk about in a future post), I decided to revisit my chess-playing past and share it with you.

Back in 2002, a friend and I got into a drunken (polite) disagreement about a chess rule, and at an impasse, we decided we needed to find a Drunken Chessmaster to cut our Gordian Knot. Thus, I formed the Drunken Chess Tournaments, drafted rules, and ran three of them in 2002 and 2003. I occasionally speak in person about this, so I figured I’d show a blast from my past. Here are the revised rules for the tournament.

A note: the final DCT ended up becoming an important moment in my life, because it’s when I met one of my best friends (and my Best Human in my upcoming wedding), Jeremy Tidwell.

Drunken Chess Tournament Rules

The Drunken Chess Tournament is a single-elimination chess tournament created by Ryan Arndt and Ryan Macklin, upon realizing that we needed to find the Drunken Chessmaster in order to settle a drunken chess argument.

The Truth of All Time

Some people are under the gross misconception that because Chess is a “thinking man’s game” that it’s not proper to imbibe alcohol. Some people think that a chess board has no place in a bar or pub. I laugh in the face of such silly notions, and propose tournaments to find who among us are truly Drunken Chessmasters.

Establishing the Tournament

You must find a suitable location to hold the tournament. This isn’t  something to be held in a mere private residence! Pubs and microbreweries are perfect for providing a constant supply of beverage. Playing at a quality bar guarantees that you’ll always have the drink on hand, that you will never need to clean up (though still bus yourselves and for chess’s sake leave a tip, and that taxi service will be available. Playing in public should draw an audience, which creates potential to meet people interested in future tournaments.

If you fear puking or spilled beer, get a vinyl mat and some jumbo plastic pieces. This isn’t  a time for the nice $300 chess sets to be broken out.

Once you have a venue, you need players. Since this is a single-elimination tournament, you’ll need 8, 16, or even 32 players (possibly with some byes in the tournament).

A Note on Timed Tournaments: Nothing ruins the enjoyment of drinking and chess like a damn clock. There are no chess clocks in the Drunken Chess Tournaments.

The Entry Free

The “fee” for the Drunken Chess Tournament is simply the ability to buy enough drinks to get you to the finals. It is considered respectful to buy the judges and organizers a drink, but you’re also allowed to be crass and without either manners or honor.

The Prize

The prize of a Drunken Chess Tournament is nothing as pedestrian as mere money, not even to have your drinks bought for you. No, the prize is majestic: to be declared a Drunken Chessmaster, and to have your wisdom noted down for all the ages.

The prior Drunken Chessmasters are: TJ, Dylan, and Ryan Arndt. The former two have their last names lost to time, for they have transcended such needs.

Organizers and Judges

Those who are organizers may participate as contestants. Judges shouldn’t, though — not due to fear of cheating, but because herding drunks is really hard.


There should be at least one person knowledgeable about the game of chess to be an official judge. Judges are encouraged to drink, because otherwise you’re just soberly watching a bunch of drunks! But drink slower than the players. Judges are the liaisons with the venue owners and staff, and handle all situations. Those who are eliminated in the first round are welcome to be judges, if they aren’t tanked by three drinks.

There should be at least one person knowledgeable about the game of chess to remain sober as an official judge and designated driver. This person should also have a camera on them to document this event, because some of the participants may very well not remember it.

A judge is there to settle any disputes between players, make sure they are drinking when they should, and to sometimes point out that “the horsey doesn’t move like that”. While other drunken masters could be available to consult on a rule question, they might get caught up and start making moves for you, completely forgetting that they’re playing another game.

Beverage Selection

All players must be drinking a beverage of similar alcohol content. While some people can choose a beer with less alcohol content than another for “tactical reasons,” they’re not in the spirit of the tournament. However, choosing a beer different with an alcohol content than your opponent because of taste preference is certainly allowed.

There’s no handicapping due to weight or alcohol tolerance. There are also no rules on what may be eaten before the tournament or any other outside factor that could influence the effects of alcohol.

My beverage of choice is beer, but any alcohol would suffice. The rules assume an Imperial Pint or half-liter as the standard size of drink for each match, noted in the rules as “a drink.”

Drinking Rules

During a match, you must begin your opening moves will a full glass, aside from any toast you wish to make with your opponent prior to the opening moves. During or after each move you make, you should drink some from your glass — even a small sip is enough to fulfill this requirement. You opponent may enforce this by refusing to move until you have drunk from your glass.

Once the match is over, any player who has any remaining beer must immediately pound it. (Thus, be careful about small sips.) If you won but cannot finish your beverage, you forfeit your win.

Exhibition Round

Before the drunken tournament begins, all players must become inebriated. This is the Drunken Chess Tournament, and we’re serious about the “drunken” part. The tournament starts with a single exhibition round, which is not counted against during which both players must drink double the normal amount.

There will be a one game exhibition round during which both players must drink double the normal amount. For the exhibition match, your opponent may not be the same that you will play in the first round. The exhibition round continues until all games are complete or one hour has passed. At that time, all games stop and any remaining alcohol must be drunk.

Round Play

From this point on players must consume one drink per game, otherwise the drinking rules are the same as stated above. Drunken Chess Tournaments are single elimination — you lose, you’re out.

Automatic Elimination Due To Excessive Inebriation

If a player passes out during a game, the judge may attempt to revive the player. If the player does not wake, it is considered the same as the player resigning and the game at an end. If a player passes out prior to his next game and cannot be revived, they are considered having forfeited that game, and the other player must down their drink. Just because the game is over before it started does not excuse the player from alcoholic obligations.

Likewise, if a player throws up or shows other signs of illness, that player is eliminated.

These rules exist to keep people from making themselves sicker by allowing them to continue playing. Do not bend these rules.

Accidental Cheating

Players are allowed to cheat provided that both are unaware of the cheating and a judge or other party doesn’t catch it. In other words, if you screw up because you’re drunk and your opponent is too drunk to notice, but you catch it a couple moves later, don’t roll back — play the move as it lies.

The other player can point out the error before his move is completed. If that happens, take it back.

Purposely cheating is the sort of bad form that’ll get you permanently expelled from the tournament, as well as forever be labeled a Shameful Dick.

Kibitzing, Touch-Move, etc.

As this is a drunken chess tournament, you may find it hard as the match goes on to keep quiet or follow any of the other rules that makes for a “civilized” tournament. It’s up to the event coordinator to establish what rules the tournament follows, but it should be kept in mind that as the players become more intoxicated, following the standard rules of chess might be trial enough.

It’s suggested that these rules are thrown out the window, and the judge regulates when someone gets out of hand. Seriously, touch-move will be hilarious in the final rounds.

Being Safe

Don’t drink to sickness. Be careful about drinking pre-game — that’s lead to bad times in DCTs past. Don’t drive afterward. Don’t get carried away and piss your money running up a bar tab. This is part of what judges need to watch for, especially because you can be held liable in a civil or even criminal suit for particularly unfortunate incidents.

The bits about being safe and the rules automatic elimination due to inebriation were implied before, but needed to be declared after the third and final DCT that I ran, as did the explicit note about judges being separate from players and not being as drunk. The third one had some disasters that were smoothed over and no one hurt, but still went south because we weren’t prepared for them.

Come to think of it, I haven’t played chess since 2009 or 2010. It’s a game I love dearly, but don’t like playing with random strangers. And I loathe the chess clock and the conversation-less play it creates. When I lived in Oakland, I would watch people play in coffeeshops, and be saddened every time someone used that quick tempo to be aggressive, hitting the clock hard and slamming down pieces. That chess is not my chess — my chess is one of drinking and laughing. It’s one where after victory is declared, rolling back a few moves and working together to see if the other person could have gotten out of the situation.

– Ryan


3 Responses to My Old Drunken Chess Tournament Rules

  1. Ray says:

    I was a participant in the final DCT. While I had a grand time, I was but a child, and drank like one. Not a regret, but I feel this was not the best way to celebrate the gentleman’s game with friends.

    Still, it introduced me to some long lost friends, cost me a shirt and I think a friend, and I had an amazing time …from what I can remember, anyways.

    Thank you for posting this, man. Good times.

  2. blackcoat says:

    …I’m now tempted to ping the AFK and see about setting one of these up.

  3. Ken Burnside says:

    In college, we had a variation on chess called Geologist’s Chess.

    Every time you captured a piece, you drink a number of half-shot glasses of whiskey or bourbon equal to the ICF point values of the piece. So a pawn is a half-shot, a knight or bishop is 1.5 shot glasses, a root is 2.5, and the queen is 5.

    The first person to pass out or be checkmated loses.

    This was called “geologists chess” because at University of Alaska-Fairbanks, there was a geology program that sent 3 grad students up north of the Brooks Range for 6 weeks with tents, and a lot of sample cases; they returned with sample cases full of rocks. They went up with the sample cases full of the airline-sized sample bottles of liquor.

    Let me tell you, geologists practice their drinking hard in grad school…

    This is a remarkably self-balancing game.