Just the Rules: Some Half-Point Claim Mysteries Solved

Tim Just is a National Tournament Director, FIDE National Arbiter, and editor of the 5th & 6th edition of the US Chess Rulebook. He is also the author of My Opponent is Eating a Doughnut & Just Law, which are both available from US Chess Sales and Amazon/Kindle. Additionally, Tim recently revised The Guide To Scholastic Chess, a guide created to help teachers and scholastic organizers who wish to begin, improve, or strengthen their school chess program. Tim is also a member of the US Chess Rules Committee and his new column exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations. While the time on your clock approaches zero, you decide to make your move 39. That move will repeat a position for the third time (Triple Occurrence of Position). You record your move 39 and then pause your clock before claiming the draw (pausing the clock before making any claim is a good idea). Your opponent, playing the black pieces, points out that, since there was no perpetual check or a repeat of the position three times in a row that, the game must continue--there is no draw. It is time to get help from a TD. Before the director investigates the claim, he reminds both of you that a draw claim is also a draw offer. Your opponent tells the TD to investigate your claim before he decides on the draw offer. The TD correctly points out to your opponent that there is no “perpetual check” or “three-times-in-a-row” rule, so your claim will now be looked into. After checking the score sheet, the TD rules that the claim was incorrect. Why? The exact same position with the same pieces sitting on the same squares for both players (think of a photo) was verified, but all of the pieces did not have the same moves available to them as required by the Triple Occurrence rule. In the first two positions, on your moves 32 and 34, castling was available to your opponent. By move 39, the third position in the claim, your opponent’s rook had moved away from its starting square and then back again before the third position occurred, i.e., while all of the pieces for both players were on exactly the same squares, not all of those pieces were able to make the same legal moves. The game continues. The draw offer remains in effect until you make your announced move 39 and your opponent accepts/rejects the offer (see my “Draw Offer Blues” column). Let’s take a peek at the two rules at work here:

Three positions exactly the same? You have the right to make a draw claim.

Imagine you are taking a picture of each position on the board when each move is determined. When three of those pictures are exactly the same, you may claim a draw by “Triple Occurrence of Position” (make sure that is how you word your claim). Make your claim on your move just before or just after that third snapshot is taken. Typically, the player making the claim is allowed to first write the move down on the scoresheet without making the actual move on the board before making the claim; however, if the move is made first, but the clock is then paused—not pressed, the claim can still be made. Remember, all the pieces have to be able to make the same moves (even castling) in each picture-perfect position. Your accurate scoresheet is often your best source of proof. However, under some circumstances a TD is able to observe or re-create the threefold repetition. And the wrong way to make the claim: Make your move, press your clock (which starts your opponent’s clock), and then make your claim. The TD should deny your claim. You need to pause your clock —so that neither your clock nor your opponent’s clock is running—before you make your declaration; otherwise, it is not your move, so you have no right to make a claim. Oddly, even though this routine is not proper, the improper draw claim still doubles as a draw offer until your opponent rejects or accepts the draw.

Make a draw offer or make a draw claim: Either way, they are just the same.

Making any draw claim—even an improper one—is the same as making a draw offer. You can’t take it back. That means your opponent can accept a draw before the TD investigates and makes a ruling on your claim. And the draw offer, via your claim, is still in effect even if the TD rejects your claim. Check out this example: The game has been long and hard. By your count, no pawn has been moved and no piece has been captured in the last fifty moves. As you make that last move to reach that magic count of 50 moves, you press the clock and make your claim. Even though you pressed your clock (a big no-no when making claims) instead of pausing it to make the claim, your opponent accepts your draw offer. The game is over, and you split the point with your opponent. Here’s a closer look at that 50 move routine:

After fifty moves, a draw is proven if no pieces were taken, and no pawns have been moved.

For fifty moves, neither you nor your opponent moves a pawn or takes a piece. It’s time to claim a draw. Just make sure your score sheet is accurate. And, please remember to pause your clock when you make a claim, so that a fallen flag does not create chaos. If you are in time trouble, you may ask the TD to silently count off those fifty moves for you. Most TDs will help you out with this task. Sometimes the TD will assign an assistant or a bystander to do the counting while they attend to other duties. Don’t rely on your clock’s move counter to make this claim. Remember, if a piece gets taken or a pawn moves, then the fifty-move count starts all over again. Next time around we will explore how some of the rules automatically hand you a half-point without almost any effort at all on your part.

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