For the most part, a draw occurs when it appears that neither side will win. Draws are codified by various rules of chess including stalemate (when the player to move has no legal move and is not in check), threefold repetition (when the same position occurs three times with the same player to move), and the fifty-move rule (when the last fifty successive moves made by both players contain no capture or pawn move). A draw also occurs when neither player has sufficient material to checkmate the opponent or when no sequence of legal moves can lead to checkmate.
Unless specific tournament rules forbid it, players may agree to a draw at any time. Ethical considerations may make a draw uncustomary in situations where at least one player has a reasonable chance of winning. For example, a draw could be called after a move or two, but this would likely be thought unsporting.
Until 1867, tournament games that were drawn were replayed. The Paris tournament of 1867 had so many drawn games to be replayed that it caused organisational problems. In 1868 the British Chess Association decided to award each player a half point instead of replaying the game (Sunnucks 1970:100).
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The rules allow for several types of draws: stalemate, threefold repetition of a position (with the same player to move), if there has been no capture or a pawn being moved in the last fifty moves, if checkmate is impossible, or if the players agree to a draw. In games played under time control, a draw may result under additional conditions (Schiller 2003:26–29). A stalemate is an automatic draw, as is a draw because of insufficient material to checkmate. A draw by threefold repetition or the fifty-move rule may be claimed by one of the players with the arbiter (normally using his score sheet), and claiming it is optional.
A claim of a draw first counts as an offer of a draw, and the opponent may accept the draw without the arbiter examining the claim. Once a claim or draw offer has been made, it cannot be withdrawn. If the claim is verified or the draw offer accepted, the game is over. Otherwise, the offer or claim is nullified and the game continues; the draw offer is no longer in effect.
An offer of a draw should be made after a player makes a move but before he presses his game clock. The other player also declines the offer if he makes a move, and the draw offer will no longer be in effect. The offer of a draw should be recorded by each player in their scoresheet using the symbol (=) as per Appendix C.12 of FIDE Laws of Chess.
Draws in all games
- Stalemate - if the player on turn has no legal move but is not in check, this is stalemate and the game is automatically a draw.
- Threefold repetition - if an identical position has just occurred three times with the same player to move, or will occur after the player on turn makes his move, the player on move may claim a draw (to the arbiter). In such a case the draw is not automatic - a player must claim it if he wants the draw. When the position will occur for the third time after the player's intended next move, he writes the move on his scoresheet but does not make the move on the board and claims the draw. Article 9.2 states that a position is considered identical to another if the same player is on move, the same types of pieces of the same colors occupy the same squares, and the same moves are available to each player; in particular, each player has the same castling and en passant capturing rights. (A player may lose his right to castle; and an en passant capture is available only at the first opportunity.) If the claim is not made on the move in which the repetition occurs, the player forfeits the right to make the claim. Of course, the opportunity may present itself again.
- A similar rule was added in section 9.6 on July 1, 2014. If the same position occurs for five consecutive moves by both players, the game is automatically a draw (i.e. a player does not have to claim it).
- The fifty-move rule - if in the previous fifty moves by each side, no pawn has moved and no capture has been made, a draw may be claimed by either player. Here again, the draw is not automatic and must be claimed if the player wants the draw. If the player whose turn it is to move has made only 49 such moves, he may write his next move on the scoresheet and claim a draw. As with the threefold repetition, the right to claim the draw is forfeited if it is not used on that move, but the opportunity may occur again.
- A similar rule was added in section 9.6 on July 1, 2014. If no capture or no pawn move has occurred in the last 75 moves (by both players), the game is automatically a draw (i.e. a player does not have to claim it). If the last move was a checkmate, the checkmate stands.
- Impossibility of checkmate - if a position arises in which neither player could possibly give checkmate by a series of legal moves, the game is a draw. This is usually because there is insufficient material left, but it is possible in other positions too. Combinations with insufficient material to checkmate are:
- Mutual agreement - a player may offer a draw to his opponent at any stage of a game. If the opponent accepts, the game is a draw.
It is popularly considered that perpetual check – where one player gives a series of checks from which the other player cannot escape – is a draw, but in fact there is no longer a specific rule for this in the laws of chess, because any perpetual check situation will eventually be claimable as a draw under the threefold repetition rule or by the fifty-move rule, or (more likely) by agreement (Hooper & Whyld 1992). By 1965 perpetual check was no longer in the official rules (Harkness 1967).
Although these are the laws as laid down by FIDE and, as such, are used at almost all top-level tournaments, at lower levels different rules may operate, particularly with regard to rapid play finish provisions.
Draws in timed games
- In a sudden death time control (players have a limited time to play all of their moves), if it is discovered that both players have exceeded their time allotment, the game is a draw. (The game continues if it is not a sudden-death time control.)
- If only one player has exceeded the time limit, but the other player does not have (theoretically) sufficient mating material, the game is still a draw. Law 6.9 of the FIDE Laws of Chess states that: "If a player does not complete the prescribed number of moves in the allotted time, the game is lost by the player. However, the game is drawn, if the position is such that the opponent cannot checkmate the player's king by any possible series of legal moves, even with the most unskilled counterplay." For example, a player who runs out of time with a king and queen versus a sole king does not lose the game. It is still possible to lose on time in positions where mate is extremely unlikely but not theoretically impossible, as with king and bishop versus king and knight. (Under USCF rules, king and bishop, king and knight, or king and 2 knights with no pawns on the board is not considered sufficient mating material, unless the opponent has a forced win, even though it's theoretically possible to mate (but extremely unlikely to happen) in situations such as K+B vs. K+N).
- Because of this last possibility, article 10 of the FIDE laws of chess states that when a player has less than two minutes left on their clock during a rapid play finish (the end of a game when all remaining moves must be completed within a limited amount of time), they may claim a draw if their opponent is not attempting to win the game by "normal means" or cannot win the game by "normal means". "Normal means" can be taken to mean the delivery of checkmate or the winning of material. In other words, a draw is claimable if the opponent is merely attempting to win on time, or cannot possibly win except on time. It is up to the arbiter to decide whether such a claim will be granted or not.
Frequency of draws
In chess games played at the top level, a draw is the most common outcome of a game: of around 22,000 games published in The Week in Chess played between 1999 and 2002 by players with a FIDE Elo rating of 2500 or above, 55 percent were draws. Roughly 36 percent of games between top computer chess programs are draws (more than are won by White or won by Black).
Yuri Averbakh gives these combinations for the weaker side to draw:
- perpetual check
- perpetual pursuit
- drawing balance of forces (Averbakh 1996:79–86).
- A "book draw" or a "theoretical draw" is a position that is known to result in a draw if both sides play optimally.
- A "positional draw" is an impasse other than stalemate, where a draw is salvaged despite a big material disadvantage (see fortress (chess)#Positional draw).
- A "grandmaster draw" is a game in which the players quickly agree to a draw after making little or no effort to win (see draw by agreement#Grandmaster draw).
Andy Soltis discusses the vagueness of the terms "draw", "drawish", "drawable", "book draw", "easy draw", and "dead draw". In books and chess theory a position is considered to be a draw if best play leads to a draw – the difficulty of the defence is not taken into account. Soltis calls these positions "drawable". For instance, under that criteria the rook and bishop versus rook endgame is usually a theoretical draw or "book draw", but the side with the bishop often wins in practice. In this position from an actual game, the only move to draw is 124. Rf8! White actually played 124. Rd8?? and lost (Soltis 2010:12–13).
- Articles on draw rules
- Averbakh, Yuri (1996), Chess Middlegames: Essential Knowledge, Cadogan, ISBN 1-85744-125-7
- Just, Tim; Burg, Daniel B. (2003), U.S. Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess (fifth ed.), McKay, ISBN 0-8129-3559-4
- Harkness, Kenneth (1967), Official Chess Handbook, McKay
- Mednis, Edmar (1990), Practical Bishop Endings, Chess Enterprises, ISBN 0-945470-04-5
- Schiller, Eric (2003), Official Rules of Chess (2nd ed.), Cardoza, ISBN 978-1-58042-092-1
- Soltis, Andy (August 2010), "Chess to Enjoy: Draw-Drawish-Drawable", Chess Life: 12–13
- Sunnucks, Anne (1970), "drawn games", The Encyclopaedia of Chess, St. Martins Press, ISBN 978-0-7091-4697-1
- Golombek, Harry (1977), Golombek's Encyclopedia of Chess, Crown Publishing, ISBN 0-517-53146-1
- Hooper, David; Whyld, Kenneth (1992), The Oxford Companion to Chess (second ed.), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280049-3
- McCrary, John (2004), "The Evolution of Special Draw Rules", Chess Life (November): 26–27
- FIDE Laws of Chess
- article by International Grandmaster Joel Benjamin
- ChessGames article on some interesting draws
- Chessbase article on draw debate