Tiebreaks in chess

What are chess tiebreaks? Which ones should you choose if you’re organizing a small tournament at a school or a closed round-robin? Learn more here.

Tiebreaks in chess
Written by
Ranveer Mohite
Published on
Oct 14, 2022
Read time
6 min

Imagine a 5-round tournament. After round 4, two players are at 4/4 points. In the last round, they face each other. And their game ends in a draw.

Now suddenly, you have 2 players on 4.5/5. So how do you decide who’ll be the champion?

This is one of the scenarios where tiebreaks in chess come into the picture. Tiebreaks help decide the better player amongst those who have scored the same number of points.

FIDE has proposed many different tiebreaks. Here, we’ll look at the most important ones used in tournaments.

If you’re organizing a school tournament, Round Robin, or a Swiss tournament, we’ll suggest which tie break you can include while deciding the winner.

Let’s jump in!


This is a very popular tiebreak. Under this, you calculate the total points made by each opponent of a player. That gives you a Buchholz score.

Imagine Alex and Jennifer score 4.5 out of 5 points.

Alex's opponents Score Jennifer's opponents Score
Matt 3.5 Matt 3.5
Walter 3 Walter 3
Suzan 2 Suzan 2
Ulrich 3 Ulrich 3
Craig 1 Max 3
Bucholz Score 12.5 Bucholz Score 14.5

Table showing how Buchholz is calculated

And as you can see, Jennifer has a higher Buchholz score than Alex. She can thank Max because the point difference between him and Craig made all the difference!

Logic: A stronger opposition will score higher in a tournament. So a player who faces them performs better than someone who faces a weaker opposition.

In Swiss tournaments, you might hear about a tiebreak like Buchholz Cut 1. It uses the standard Buchholz calculation minus the opponent's score, who has the least number of points.

Direct encounter between the tied players

Under this tiebreak, if Player Y and Player Z are on 4.5/6 points, and if Player Y has won against Player Z in their individual match, then Player Y is declared the champion.

This tiebreak can also be used to decide a 3-way tiebreak or more.

Have a look at the table below.

Name vs John vs Tom vs Alex Total points
John * 0.5 1 1.5/2
Tom 0.5 * 0.5 1/2
Alex 0 0.5 * 0.5/2

John, Tom and Alex have the same points and are in a 3-way tie.

Now using direct encounter tiebreak, we check who has scored the most points between the individual matches of the participants.

And as you can see, John comes first, Tom is second and Alex is third.

This is a very popular tiebreak in round-robin tournaments, where every player plays against each other.

Logic: Amongst the group of players who have tied, the player who has scored better in the group should be the stronger player.

But the drawback of a direct encounter happens when all the players have scored the same number of points against each other. Then, you must rely on other tiebreaks.

Progressive (also known as Cumulative)

Under this tiebreaker, a player is given a score after each round. And that is added for every round.

Take a look at this tiebreak to decide the better player between John and Matt.

Rounds John's (Results) Score after the round Progressive score Rounds Matt's (Results) Score after the round Progressive score
1 Win 1 1 1 Loss 0 0
2 Win 2 3 2 Loss 0 0
3 Win 3 5 3 Draw 0.5 0.5
4 Win 4 7 4 Win 1.5 2
5 Draw 4.5 8.5 5 Win 2.5 4
6 Loss 4.5 9 6 Win 3.5 6
7 Loss 4.5 9 7 Win 4.5 8

Calculation of Progressive tiebreak for John and Matt

Both the players scored same points (4.5), but John won because he has the better progressive.

The main idea of this tiebreak is to give players who play well in the early phase of the tournament an advantage. And the above comparison between John's and Matt’s scores exactly shows exactly why.

Logic: The player who plays well in the early stage is more likely to face stronger opposition than someone who lost at the start, faces a weaker opposition and scores points later.

Win with the Black pieces

It’s widely believed that Black starts with a disadvantage at the start of the game. So the player who wins more games with the Black pieces shows greater skill to win. And hence, that should be taken into account.

But it has a drawback.

Let’s say in a 7-round event, Alex gets 4 Black, while John gets only 3. It’s more likely that Alex will have a higher score than John under this tiebreak because he has got more games with Black!

And John can do nothing about it because it was outside his control how many Blacks he can receive in the tournament.


Playoffs are quite popular in top-level events. They’re used to decide the winner of some of the biggest chess events like the World Championship Match and the FIDE World Cup.

Magnus vs Caruana playoffs at the World Chess Championship 2022
Magnus vs Caruana playoffs at the World Chess Championship 2022

In a playoff, 2 players with the same score play against each other but in a different format. So if all their classical encounters have ended in a draw, the players will play rapid and then blitz to decide the winner.

For spectators, it’s fun to watch.

Logic: Settle the debate by playing a game with a different time control.

However, this method has major drawbacks too:

  • In a Swiss tournament, what if there are 10 players tied for the 3rd place? Making them all play a playoff will require a different tournament!
  • An organizer may not always have the resources and the time to conduct extra rounds.
  • And what if the playoffs also end in a tie? Then again, you need to use another tiebreak system.


An armageddon is like a death match. Or, in football terms, it’s like a penalty shootout to decide the winner.

Generally, if the playoffs end in a tie, Armageddon becomes the deciding match.

In every other tiebreak, there might be a possibility of not getting a clear winner. But that’s not what happens in this death match!

In Armageddon, the White player receives a minute extra (5 minutes), while the Black player has draw odds but less time (4 minutes).

If White wins the game, he’s declared the winner.

And if Black draws or wins, he’s declared the winner.

The logic: White’s extra time vs Black win even if there’s a draw.


It’s calculated by adding the total score of each defeated opponent and half the score of every opponent against whom one has drawn the game. Going into details of its calculation will require a separate article. So I’ll keep it short here.

Logic: It rewards a player for a win/draw against a stronger player rather than someone who has a win/draw against a weaker one.

Tiebreak Recommendations (by IA Maciej Cybulski)

Some tiebreaks are better suited for a particular tournament than others. Here are our recommendations for tiebreaks:

For teachers organizing a small competition at school

  • Direct Encounter
  • Buchholz Cut 1
  • Buchholz System
  • Sonneborn-Berger
  • Progressive
  • The greater number of wins
  • The greater number of wins with Black (unplayed games shall be counted as played with White)

For arbiters organizing major Swiss tournaments

  • Buchholz Cut 1
  • Buchholz System
  • Sonneborn-Berger
  • Progressive
  • Direct Encounter
  • The greater number of wins
  • The greater number of wins with Black (unplayed games shall be counted as played with White)

The above is also the default setting for Swiss tournaments organized using ChessManager.

For Round Robins

  • Direct Encounter
  • The greater number of wins
  • Sonneborn-Berger
  • The Koya System (Not covered here. Number of points achieved against all opponents who have achieved 50% or more, including wins by forfeit.)

The above is also the default setting for Round-Robin tournaments organized using ChessManager.

ChessManager has these tiebreaks inbuilt!

We hope you found this guide on choosing tiebreaks for a tournament valuable.

With Chessmanager, you have access to all these tiebreaks.

In the free version, you can change the setting of the ordering of the tiebreaks.

With a premium version, you can adjust your tiebreaks according to the needs of your tournament!

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