If you have played a game of chess before then you know that the struggle will end at some point, or will it? Because not every chess game can end definitely.
There are certain conditions that would allow a chess game to be played forever, however, there is context to this. And that is the topic for today! Can a chess game go on forever?
As a chess player here is what I know:
Chess games can theoretically go on forever (if checkmate is not possible) if weren’t for the tournament rules. The 50 move-rule, 75 move-rule, and the threefold repetition ensure that no chess game can last eternally since the game would automatically be declared a draw.
There is actually more to this than what can be explained simply, this is an interesting question for me personally. And I know the exact answer to this which I will share here.
Most draws are chess games that can last forever
Theoretically, the game could go on forever as long as there is no checkmate. If two kings are left in the game for example, the two kings can still play the game forever without running out of moves.
In fact, all games that end in a draw can be played out indefinitely (even in insufficient material) since both sides have moves available to be played yet cannot make progress.
Insufficient material is basically a label we created to say that there is no point in continuing, which is actually true. If a checkmate can no longer be achieved then continuing the game is pointless.
The only type of draw that is an exception to this is an agreement to draw since there is still a sliver of a chance that a checkmate might occur (and thus cannot be played forever).
But insufficient material is not the only type of game that theoretically can be played forever, there are also the perpetual checks.
Perpetual checks are chess games that are never-ending
A perpetual check is a checking maneuver where one of the players is forced to move in a limited number of spaces. This is an example of a game that can never end.
One player will check the other player’s king indefinitely, over and over again (perpetual) which by definition should last forever.
Now, a perpetual check is actually a type of draw. Since one player can just continue checking and no progress can be made then it is considered a draw via tournament rules.
If we are talking theoretically whoever, chess games that have perpetual checks can be never-ending if it weren’t limited by the rules of the competition.
It has also been made a draw since there is no point in continuing.
This brought us to the next point, because it seems like the tournament rules are crafted in a way that chess cannot last forever even if it can theoretically.
This is actually true and for good reason.
Tournament chess games can never last forever
Whenever there is a situation that moves are just going to be repeated without any progress such as a perpetual check, the organizers wouldn’t allow the game to never end and will be declared a draw.
Competitions are merely interested in who can play the best chess on the board, basically the result of the struggle. It would be senseless to continue playing a dead game.
A dead game is basically a situation where no progress can be made. A condition where any decisions of the players will not change the result at all.
Some drawing conditions in chess tournaments are meant to stop the game from being played forever since it is considered a dead game that is irrelevant to the spirit of competition.
50 move rule that prevents eternal chess
Fide has the 50 move rule stating that if there are no captures or any pawn movements are made for the last 50 consecutive moves, then the game will be automatically drawn. This is to prevent the games from lasting forever.
This is made to prevent further attempts of a player that is not capable of converting an endgame position. Because even if an endgame is winning, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the player knows how to convert it.
What usually happens is that winning players will try to move across the board over and over again until they eventually exhaust the other player.
Sometimes the attempt time becomes so ridiculous that the tournament rules have to step in.
But this is the primary reason why chess competitions cannot last forever, competitors can only play moves without any capture or pawn movements for 50 moves.
There is a catch in the 50 move rule though.
50 move rule is based on the will of the players
In the 50 move rule, both players can still choose to play on if no one chooses to report the 50 move mark to the arbiters.
This means that there isn’t a strict implementation of these rules and players can still extend their game as long as both of them agree to do so.
So the next question is, can players play forever (theoretically) as long as they do not tell the arbiters?
The answer is still no, this is not because of some technicality in the 50 move rule but rather on its sister rule, the 75 move rule.
75 moves rule does not allow games to be played forever
If the 50 move rule allows the players to have the power in deciding whether to continue the game, the 75 moves rule however ensures that no game is forever.
After the 50 move rule has passed, the next potential rule to stop the game is after the 75th move which will be forcibly implemented by the organizers. The game would be stopped after the 75th move.
The match will be then considered a draw independent of the will of the players to continue, no games can be never-ending due to the 75 moves rule.
If it weren’t for these technical regulations, a lot of chess games can be played forever. It would be impractical and pointless to allow such matches to continue but it can happen theoretically.
Chess games can be played forever without tournament rules
Exempting all of the tournament rules preventing the game from lasting eternally, it is possible for a chess game to never end.
The only reason that the games can never be played forever is that we made rules to get around the theoretical part, we recognize that a match that can never end would be pointless.
But if we are just talking about the nature of the game independent of competitive rules implemented by the organizers then yes, chess games can be played indefinitely under the right conditions.
Another rule that limits the player’s capability to make a draw is the three move repetition rule.
The 3 move repetition rule limits the moves in a chess game
Both players cannot repeat the same moves over and over again to make the game never ending because of the three move repetition rule.
If both players can just repeat the same move over and over again then theoretically, their game would never end. Per tournament rules, this is of course impossible because the game would be declared a draw then.
If both players repeat the same move three times in a row then it is automatically a draw, making a game that lasts forever impossible this way.
Even if both players agree beforehand that they wanted the game to never end, it would never be accomplished because of this restriction. They cannot make the same move three times in a row.
What about online chess? Do the same rules apply on the internet making a never-ending game impossible?
Forever chess games are not possible online
Even in online chess platforms, there are rules in place to prevent the game from lasting forever since it is pretty impractical.
The three move repetition rule, the 50 moves rule, the 75 moves rule, mostly also apply on popular chess platforms (as of the time of this writing).
To make a chess game last forever is still not feasible in online platforms such as chess.com and lichess which I am sure will remain that way in the near future.
Over the board chess has something similar with online chess, which is they want to declare a winner if there is one and abandon the game if no progress can be made.
This is actually to your best interests since nobody would want to play on a dead game that would not change the results by the decisions within the game.
Online and over the board, chess games are not allowed to be played eternally.
The redundancy of a never-ending chess game
There is no point in playing a chess game that will be on repeat, a tournament rule has to be in place in order to prevent such games from lasting forever.
Because by nature, chess can be continued as long as there is no checkmate that occurs in the game. And the problem is, there are a lot of situations where a checkmate is not possible.
Even if it is possible to continue the game in a never-ending state it would be redundant since the end result will still be the same, which is that no checkmate has been made.
People in the tournament just skips over the process and declares a draw since it would be anyway even if it is played out.
I personally believe that the ending of a chess game is one of the most important phases of the competition wherein the winner will be decided.
It is not always the case though that there is a winner and people have to step in with all these rules in order to stop redundant continuous play.
I actually think that all these limiting rules are important to accommodate competitive play. In settings where participants just want to see the outcome of the matches, having the game last for a really long time is doubly manageable.
I had fun writing this article! I hope you’re satisfied, sleep well and play chess.