Just the Rules: The Slippery Slope

just the Rules by Tim Just


Let’s start out the year by putting on our rulebook thinking caps. This quiz pushes the limits of slippery slope thinking. The solutions are at the end of the exam.


1. You and your fellow wood pusher are in time trouble. A quick calculation on your part puts your opponent in check. They swiftly grab their bishop. It slides across the board with the greatest of ease and gets firmly planted on its destination square. At that instant you point out that the bishop move is illegal. Why? Your opponent’s king is still in check.

With the clocks stopped, the TD informs your counterpart that he must put the bishop back on its starting square and make a legal move to get out of check. The penalty your opponent must suffer? You get two extra minutes of thinking time. He objects. He points out that he did not make an illegal move; therefore, there can be no penalty. He argues that he had not yet pressed the clock so his move was not yet legal or illegal, just incomplete.

(a) You get your two extra minutes of penalty thinking time.
(b) You get no extra thinking time because the move was not yet legal or illegal.

2. Your rook is pinning your counterpart’s knight to his king on e1. The knight has no other guardian. He grabs his king and sets it two squares over on g1. Your eyes bulge and your heart starts beating faster and faster. Your brain is screaming at you, “He is going to lose that knight!” He lifts his hand from the king so he can grab the rook.

He promptly halts. He notices that his knight is hanging. So, he does a U-turn and does not grab the rook. The castling maneuver is incomplete. Instead, he moves his king to the empty d1 square to protect the knight. He knows that that he must move the king since it was touched, but he argues that he does not need to castle.

(a) Your opponent must castle
(b) Your opponent does not have to castle.

3. Despite your best efforts your adversary marches their c-pawn down the board. Square after square the lowly pawn aims to raise itself up to higher standards. Now it is sitting on c2 — only one square away from your first rank. It is only one step away from getting an upgrade. Your challenger’s hand darts over to grab a queen sitting near two of her subjects — a knight and a rook — just off the edge of the board. The queen touches the c1 promotion square but stops short of being released. A trade up to a queen will create a stalemate.

The queen returns off-board next to her minions. Instead, the rook gets the nod. The waiting pawn gets removed from c2 without ever moving onto the c1 promotion square. The clock gets pressed. You claim your opponent must promote to a queen. He says the whole process was illegitimate due to the pawn never actually moving forward onto the promotion square before it was replaced. Your opponent points out he never touched the pawn so the queen swap was not required. Besides he never let go of the queen.

(a) The pawn must be promoted to a queen.
(b) The pawn can be promoted to the rook.


1. B: Be careful when you make your claim. Your opponent here is right — he did not press the clock so his move was not complete. Had you waited until the clock was pressed you would be eligible for that extra two minutes of thinking time.

2. A: Castling is the only king move that lets a monarch move two squares in either direction along the rank. This king moved two squares. The only move available at this point is to complete castling. Now, if the opponent had moved his majesty over two squares AND not released it, the castling maneuver would not be mandatory. The king could then make any other legal move.

3. A: In the older rulebooks this created a messy situation. In the current edition some extra wording by the “Law Givers” says that the promotion takes place — even if the pawn does not move onto the promotion square — as long as the upgraded promotion piece only “touches” the promotion square. In this case the queen touched the promotion square. The pawn promotes to a queen.

The free, updated US Chess Rules (Chapters 1+2 + 9 + 10 +11 from the 7th edition rulebook) are now downloadable and available online. Past “Just the Rules” columns can be viewed here. Plus listen to Tim when he was a guest on the US Chess podcast “One Move at a Time.”

Tim Just is a National Tournament Director, FIDE National Arbiter, and editor of the 5th, 6th, and 7th editions 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. His new column, exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations.


These are great questions, especially example c.

If a player promotes a pawn by first placing the queen (or other piece) on the eighth rank, and only then removing the pawn from the seventh, at what point does the player incur the obligation to promote to THAT piece on THAT square?

For years I have felt that the rule SHOULD be that the obligation is incurred as soon as the player has caused that piece (e.g. queen) to touch that square. This way creates the closest possible analogy to "touch-move" in other situations.

What would be the alternatives? (1) To incur the obligation when the player touches the off-the-board piece? No, that would be too strict. The player might well just be fiddling with the off-the-board pieces standing near the clock. (2) To incur the obligation only when the player releases the piece after placing it on the eighth rank? No, that would be too lenient. It would be analogous to allowing a player to touch an on-the-board piece without having to move it, or to touch an opponent's piece without having to capture it.

One fine day a few years ago, both FIDE and U.S. Chess adopted my preference as the standard rule. If a player causes a piece off the board to touch a square on the board, the player must promote to that piece on that square if legal. They listened to me! (lol) GMTA.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Plain Text Comments


Share Your Feedback

We recently completed a website update. If you notice a formatting error on this page, please click here.