The Playing TD


By Mark Kaprielian

President of the MetroWest Chess Club

The 2002 USCF Chess Club of the Year.


As it appeared in Chess Horizon's Magazine, Issue

Playing and TDing - Hazardous to your rating but rewarding in the end (as long as you don’t try it alone).

For weeknight chess clubs run by volunteers from among the membership, it seems most rare to find anyone willing to just TD the event and not play.  In many cases, the TD is usually the person in charge, at least for that night.  Since most TDs play, most will find themselves at a significant disadvantage during their game against someone who plays but doesn’t TD.


I would venture that most Playing TDs can attest to the impact their duties have on their game.  For my own personal story see the accompanying piece called, “Hey, Why don’t you play up?  What are these things, you may ask, and why would they have any effect?   Just as a chess game can be viewed as three primary phases, so can the running of an event.  The opening phase of an event is the responsibility to always arrive on time and get things set up.  If the TD is late, in most circumstances it means that everyone else is held up.  The middle phase is all that transpires while everyone is playing.  Answering questions about the clock or incidents, fielding all sorts of complaints, getting up to see who just wandered in .  The ending phase is the responsibility to prepare standings and files for posting, generally to make sure that everything is put away and the site secured — and always to be the last one to leave.


By the time the pairings have gone up and the players find their boards, the TDs have already been “playing” this “outer” game surrounding their own game for an hour or so.  For the players who waited in line to register for the event, all seems smooth, calm and orderly.  For the TDs, however, there is chaos barking at the door every moment.  The TDs, no matter what their role, are under time pressure to get the tasks at hand done, be courteous, and get that round started on time.


To put yourself into a TD’s shoes, take a look at the accompanying piece called “A Night in the Life of a Playing TD”.  Project for yourself how your game might go under similar circumstances each week.  The good news is that the more people who help, the less severe the impact may be for each of them.  The bad news is that more people are affected. 


At the MetroWest Chess Club, we have worked hard to make sure that we keep a pool of at least five active TDs who are playing on a regular basis.  This is not easy to accomplish, but with this number of TDs to share the work, the impact on our games feels really small, and we can enjoy our night of chess just like the rest of our fellow club members.  While the impact may be negative on your ratings, you will most likely find, as we do, a greater enjoyment and satisfaction from volunteering and in working with your fellow TDs.  My fellow TDs have all been added to my list of good chess friends.  

I encourage you, for the sake of your club, your TDs, and ultimately yourself, to risk those rating points and become a playing TD.  If you leave someone else to go it alone, or even two to go it alone, as our club did during its first 18 years of existence, they will burn out.  A sad legacy from those days is that only two of the many people who served as TDs for the club ever played rated chess again. 

A Night in the Life of a Playing TD


6:30 pm  Doors are supposed to open but none of our seven active  TD’s have arrived to let anyone in. Players begin gathering outside the doors.

6:45 pm  I arrive just after another TD who opens doors and lets players in.  Most of those go off to participate in the Study Group.  The other TD and myself begin work,, I registering players and he running the computer.  I know everyone’s name but I’m short on sleep and having difficulty remembering names at high speed and find myself in the embarrassing situation of asking “aaaah, sorry, what’s your last name?”  over and over again.

7:10 pm  TD #3 arrives and finds people piled up in front of me trying to register. With help of TD# 3 we manage to get the line caught up again including processing 5 of the 10 club renewals we’ll have that evening.

7:20 pm  TD#3 goes off to get club answering machine messages – regulars can call in their registration if they’re running late; 11 do so this night.

7:30 pm   Its start time.  For the first time in two years the holdup is with getting people registered.   1st rounds usually start no more than 15 minutes late.  Looks like reputation and pride are on the line tonight.

7:45 pm  Pairings are read aloud and 55 players set up to play.  I set up side games for paired out players.

7:55 pm  Most games are starting and the room quiets down.  Someone approaches and says “Hey, I got put into the open section but asked to be put into the middle. No way do I want to play in the Open.”   Where was this guy 10 minutes ago when we read the pairings?  I do a quick look at the pairings and call back the side games and call out for one of the Open section games to wait.  I do eyeball re-pairing and send players off.

8:00 pm   I make a pass around the room to check clocks, and then go out to the hall to clear my head before sitting down to play.

8:02 pm  Someone who has been waiting for me comes up to provide final accounting of our Summer Scholastic program.  I speak with a parent, a player, and a TD who’s moving away.

8:13 pm  I now begin my own game.

8:17 pm   Someone taps me on the shoulder with a clock question, I take a minute to answer.

8:25 pm   Two Masters new to the region show up.  One is flustered as they were lost nearby and couldn’t find the club.  I talk to them for about 10 minutes, show them around, and then return to my game.

8:40 pm   My opponent is at the highest rating he’s ever been at, 1386, but that’s almost 300 points below mine on this day. He had a bad idea in the opening, and I’m up 2 pawns by move 9. Things are looking good.

8:50 pm  I’m blurry eyed waiting for my opponent to try and figure out how to dig himself out of his mess, so I get up and take a few photos for the club website.

9:00 pm  Back to my game. My opponent is still sweating it out. I check out my lines a few more times. He moves. No problem, he doesn’t play any of the best responses I worked out for him.  I play Rc1 in just a few seconds, and I’m threatening to win a piece as planned. Now I look some more. Too late! That “nothing” move he made a moment ago just double-attacked my Knight.  Obviously didn’t look at his move.  I’m screwed. I’m going to drop the Knight and my great position will be reversed on me. I haven’t made a fast move blunder on this order of magnitude for about 8 months.

9:10 pm  My opponent has taken 10 minutes to decide if he can take my Knight.  He does.  I pretend it’s all part of the plan and press ahead.  With my Rook I capture his Bishop with check.  Things are complicated, and it’s not easy to figure out the correct response due to a complex set of mutual pins.  My opponent makes a surprising and great move! This is wonderful — I’ve never seen a blundered Knight get immediately upgraded to a blundered Rook.  Wow, another new chess experience for me.

9:53 pm  I’ve been hanging in, taking space and keeping my opponent’s development slow.  I maneuver to get a winning exchange but decline it to grab a pawn instead.  I get a second 2nd chance for winning an exchange and then head right to an endgame of Rook vs Rook, with him having a 2-to-1 advantage in pawns on one side and me having a 4-to-1 advantage on the other side.   

10:20pm Opponent resigns.  Tonight I get away with a win.

Hey, why don’t you play up?


This is a question I’m asked over and over.  If you’ve read the two other accompanying pieces, you will probably be able to guess at some reasonable answers to the question.  What isn’t obvious is why people think that I should play up.  I’ll tell you a little story of why people ask me this question.


When I first stepped in as President of the MetroWest Chess Club in 1995 and began TD’ing, I found that while I was playing regularly for the first time in ten years, I seemed to be playing worse. I couldn’t figure out why.  It just didn’t make any sense to me at the time.  For the previous ten years I had been playing sporadically, but I managed to maintain a solid rating in the high 1600s.  My rating hardly ever moved up or down.  Within the first year of taking over TD duties at the club, I reached a new high in my rating as well as a new low.  For the first time in my life I was headed toward my rating floor, and (thank you, USCF!) the floor was changed that year from 100 points to 200.


For the last few years, I’ve won the “middle” section at the club more than my fair share of times.  Despite this, my rating never gets high enough to force me to play in the Open section.  Over the years I’ve played in the Open section many times and faced most of the higher-rated players at one time or another.  I’ve also faced these same players at weekend tournaments where I’ve done reasonably well against them, as opposed to at the club.  When these higher-rated players see me win the middle section multiple times, they can’t figure out why I’m not playing up.  Hence, the question gets asked of me again.


As I said earlier, if you read the two other accompanying pieces, you’ve probably figured out the reason.  Here it is: “I don’t play up because I TD.  By playing in the middle section I have a chance to make a game of it even when I’ve lost my mind and the pieces that went with it.”


See the accompanying piece called “A Night in the Life of a Playing TD” where, in the middle of all that’s going on, I manage to salvage a lost game.  You’ll see what I mean and why my rating hits my rating floor about once a year.