Just the Rules: Instant Draws?!

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.

The game was into the last seconds of the Sudden Death time control for both players. The two combatants were slapping down pieces while also banging away at their clocks. Then it happened. While it was the second player’s turn he ran out of time, but he pressed his clock anyhow—he had not noticed his own flag fall. After his opponent made a move, his adversary’s flag also fell. Both flags were down. Both players were out of time—the game was a draw.

Both flags down may cause a frown.

If both you and your opponent are out of time in a sudden death time control, then the game is drawn.

But what happens if your game has two time controls like 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by game 30 with a delay of 5 seconds (40/90,G/30,d/5)? While examining the position of move 39 near the end of the first time control (40/90), your opponent notices that both your flags are down—you are both out of time in the first time period! The game continues, and neither of you may make a flag fall claim.

And then there is this:

The general of the white pieces made his move with lightning speed. He forcefully slammed down the button on his clock, starting his opponent’s timer. White’s move was not check or checkmate BUT he left his adversary no legal moves. White’s move created an instant draw—the game was over; i.e., a stalemate. Nothing that happened after that moment mattered—even flag falls.

Can’t make a move and it’s your turn? Then a stalemate is what you’ve earned.

It is your move. You are not in check, and you don’t have a legal move on the board. You can’t legally move a single piece. It’s a draw.

Remember the column about checkmate instantly ending the game? Well, stalemate also immediately halts the contest. The move that causes the stalemate puts a stop to everything, including any flag fall claims; however, if your opponent’s flag falls before they deliver the stalemating move, then feel free to make that flag fall claim. And if you discover a stalemate during postgame analysis which impacts the score, contact a TD immediately.

Since the publication of the 6th edition US Chess rulebook the lawgivers have come up with two new ways to rule a game a draw.

14K. Director declares draw for lack of progress

If one or both of the following occur(s) then the TD may declare the game drawn—without any claim from either player:

  1. The same position has appeared, as in 14C, for at least five consecutive alternate moves by each player.
  2. Any consecutive series of 75 moves have been completed by each player without the movement of any pawn and without any capture. If the last move resulted in checkmate, that shall take precedence

Here is how it works:

  1. Everyone could see it. The same pieces traveled around and around on the same few squares over and over, time after time. And neither wood pusher was making any kind of claim. The same position appeared at least three, four and five times. Having observed the same position a minimum of five times in a row, the TD declared the game a draw—without a player claim being made.
  2. It was a long hard fought game. Neither side had any advantage throughout the contest. Now the strategic endgame was creeping along. Black just finished making another move—move 105. Not a single pawn had budged and no pieces had been captured for the last 75 prior moves by either player. No claims were uttered. The TD broke the silence, “The game is a draw.”

It is as easy as ABC to ask for a bye from the TD.

The most common ways to ask for a bye are to (1) sign up on-site or (2) when you register for the event. Simply telling the TD you want that half-point, without writing anything down, opens the door to errors. Make the safe bet and check what the bye request procedure is for the tournament you are entering—including the tournament’s bye policy for the last round.

And next month we will jump into the clock rules quagmire.


  1. Don’t forget the old rule that with less than 5 minutes a player can request that a TD (if available) observe the game for either a 3 move repetition or 50 move draw. In that special case the TD would not need wait for 5 move repetition or 75 move draw.

    • For those watching from home, Larry refers to 14C8 (repetition of position) and 14F4 (50 moves on requested count).

      Tim’s article focuses on 14K which was updated in 2015. Unfortunately even the Kindle edition of the rulebook is 2014 and hasn’t been updated with the current rule changes.

      • In retrospect, it would have been better had the existing rule 14K been replaced with the text “this rule has been deleted” and the new rule numbered 14L. Sigh …

    • There is no explicit rule allowing a player to REQUEST a director observe the position for triple occurrence of position. Rule 14C8 allows a director’s observation (should it happen) of a triple occurrence of position to serve as a substitute for a score sheet sufficient to demonstrate the correctness of the claim. It does not explicitly state that the player has the right to request a director to observe the game for this purpose. (Compare this with the explicit language in the beginning of rule 14F4.)

  2. Hmmm…The TD can observe 3 move repetitions and the 50 move draw scenario;, however, I believe the rules indicate that the player(s) must still make the claim. The TD can not automatically call the 3 move repetition or 50 move draw.

    • Rule 14F4c: “After the count by the director or deputy begins, neither player has a right to know the count until 50 moves are reached. At that point the game is declared drawn unless the opponent successfully challenges the move count.”

      To me, this suggests that the opponent does not need to claim the draw if the director is counting moves in time pressure.

      • Kind of. The player still has to “declare to a director the intention to invoke the 50-move rule when possible, and ask for assistance in counting moves.”

  3. I’m confused by this statement:

    ” And if you discover a stalemate during postgame analysis which impacts the score, contact a TD immediately.”

    If a stalemate is discovered after the game why should they contact the TD. Isn’t the result irreversible?

    • If both players’ scoresheet indicate later that the stalemate took place, but a different result–other than a draw-Tim Just was posted, then the wrong result may be reversible–well, if it is reported early enough.

      • Thanks for the response Tim.

        I dislike this rule. A result should be irreversible once it is reported to the TD. It is the players fault if they didn’t notice they had stalemate as much as if they didn’t notice their Queen was en prie. Changing reported results is an unnecessary burden for the TD and can delay the next round.

  4. I had always heard that checkmate does NOT end the game if the checkmating move itself, is an illegal move ( otherwise, unscrupulous players would do this with regularity ).
    It should be reasonable then, that a stalemating move is also NOT final, if the stalemating move is an illegal move.

  5. “The same position has appeared, as in 14C, for at least five consecutive alternate moves by each player.”

    i don’t understand. is this not three-fold repetition? or are we under the <5 minutes remaining and neither player keeping score?

    • The players may be under 5 minutes and not keeping score, but it doesn’t really matter here. Remember for a game to be a draw by three-fold repetition, one of the players has to claim it. If the position repeats three times and no one claims it — the game goes on. This rule allows the director to declare a draw if five consecutive identical positions are observed, in order to keep the game from going on forever. Same goes for the director declaring a draw on 75 moves without a pawn push or capture — either player could have claimed the 50 move-rule earlier, but no one did.

    • Three-fold repetition requires a player to make a claim. Five-fold repetition does not; i.e., the TD can just stop the game and declare it a draw without any player claim at all after those five repeats–thus it is automatic (no player claim necessary).

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