Chess Arbiters: Who They Are and What They Do

If you’ve ever seen a chess tournament, whether in real-life or streamed online, you’ve undoubtedly seen them: Chess Arbiters! Over 14.000 Arbiters are currently serving in the world of competitive chess, making sure that every tournament runs smoothly.

Arbiters Are The Referees of Chess

Officially, chess Arbiters are called FIDE or International Arbiters; both titles are awarded by the governing body of international chess, the FIDE. Essentially, Arbiters act as referees for chess games or tournaments.

In their Arbiters’ Manual, FIDE tasks their Arbiters with four main duties for competitive chess tournaments:

  1. To see that the Laws of Chess are observed. Meaning, Arbiters ensure that all moves by players are legal and the
  2. To ensure fair play and prevent cheating. This should come to no surprise, but it is the responsibility of the Arbiters to make sure all players use their own brains to come up with their moves.
  3. To ensure a good playing environment. Arbiters make sure that players can completely focus on their games without being disturbed by the environment. Essentially, they are meant to act in the best interest of the competition as a whole.
  4. To observe and govern individual games. Most games in a tournament go smoothly without any interference from the Arbiters. In some games, however, especially when the players are short in time, the rules of the game can become a secondary concern for the player. This is when Arbiters usually come up to the chess board to oversee the game directly, making sure the game is played correctly and impose penalties where appropriate.

Sounds like a cool job, doesn’t it? Well, how can you become a FIDE Arbiter?

How To Become a Chess Arbiter with FIDE

If you have a deep passion for chess, becoming an Arbiter with FIDE is probably one of the best decisions you can make! However, first, we need to differentiate between two different forms of Arbiters, we haven’t mentioned before: FIDE Arbiter and International Arbiter.

How to Become a FIDE Arbiter

The FIDE Arbiter is the entry-level title for arbiters. 

In their Arbiters’ Manual, FIDE puts the following requirements on becoming a FIDE Arbiter:

  1. Thorough knowledge of the Laws of Chess, the FIDE Regulations for chess competitions and the Swiss Pairing Systems.
  2. Absolute objectivity at all times.
  3. Sufficient knowledge of the at least one official FIDE language
  4. Skills to operate electronic clocks of different types and for different systems.
  5. Experience as Arbiter in at least three FIDE rated events and attendance of at least one FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar and successful passing (at least 80%) an examination test set up by the Arbiters Commission.

There are a few extra points and exceptions mentioned in the FIDE handbook, so we recommend you check that out as well!

How to Become an International Arbiter

The International Arbiter is the advanced-level title for arbiters. 

The requirements for becoming an International Arbiter are even stricter. Here is an excerpt from the handbook:

  1. Thorough knowledge of the Laws of Chess, the FIDE Regulations for chess competitions, the Swiss Pairing Systems, the FIDE Regulations regarding achievement of title norms, and the FIDE Rating System.
  2. Absolute objectivity.
  3. Obligatory knowledge of English language, minimum at conversation level; and of chess terms in other official FIDE languages.
  4. Minimum skills at user level to work on a personal computer. Knowledge of pairing programs endorsed by the FIDE, Word, Excel and email.
  5. Skills to operate electronic clocks of different types and for different systems.
  6. Experience as Arbiter in at least four (4) FIDE rated events.

There are a few extra points and exceptions mentioned in the FIDE handbook, so we recommend you check that out as well!

Okay, But Where Do I Start?

Now you know what requirements are needed to become an arbiter with FIDE. But where do you even start with that?

We recommend you start offering your help at a local chess club that regularly organizes chess tournaments. Often times, there are experienced arbiters in chess clubs that are more than willing to help you get started.

This way, you can start gathering experience by helping out in smaller tournaments, before actually embarking on the journey of becoming an accredited FIDE Arbiter.

How Much Does a Chess Arbiter Earn?

Usually, people do not make a good living from being a FIDE Arbiter. For most, it is an extension of their passion for the game of chess, rather than a career. Numbers for the exact pay are hard to find, and obviously change drastically with the type of tournament.

For national tournaments, arbiters get paid somewhere around $50 to $100 per match day, plus travel expenses. This number can increase for international tournaments and more qualified arbiters.

But after all, we don’t recommend getting into refereeing chess games for monetary reasons.

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