What happens if you only copy moves in chess? Explained

Chess is a very complex game that requires a higher level of thinking than most activities. As such we are tempted to just copy moves of the opponent in order to make things a little bit easier.

This may appear reasonable to some people who are not that familiar with the game, which will be the center of this article. Is it good to just copy your opponent’s move in chess? or is it bad?

As someone who have been playing for a long time, here is what I know:

The side that only copy moves will likely lose. A player can only keep copying until there is a check that forces deviation from copying, or a pawn/piece will get attacked forcing a reaction that will break the symmetry.

We will discuss in full detail how this is a bad idea then just playing normally. Granted, I think this is something that you will learn yourself eventually.

But, I am here to skip that stuff for you to make you work for the things that actually matter (in chess). Here we go.

Is there a rule forbidding your opponent from copying moves?

Copying moves is not illegal with concern to the laws of chess. There are no official penalties in the handbook for doing this.

Rules in chess can vary depending on the federation that organizes the events. One thing they have in common talking about this instance is they actually allow the copying of moves.

Fide (international body), in particular, is considered to be the real harbinger of the rules in general. Whatever fide says is recognized to be authoritative and sometimes be the basis for other federation’s rules.

And they agree that this act is within the bounds of strategy (it’s not against the rules to do this).

Is copying moves the best strategy?

So, we now know that we are able to copy moves without facing penalties. But the real question is does it even work? Is it the best strategy?

Copying can only be done with black, which is down by a tempo to White and should naturally lose long term.

It is wonderful to think that we can just go on “autopilot” and allow the opponent to think for us. But chess is complicated, there will be a time where you cannot copy anymore.

In order to illustrate this better, have a look at the example below:

Black has been copying white at this point, where White just played Queen d1 to Queen h5. If we follow the principle of “copying moves” then we should play Black Queen d8 to h4 here which is an absolute mistake.

First off, white is now threatening a checkmate on f7 which needs to be defended. Even if it isn’t though, black queen to h4 is ridiculous since the white queen covers that where the black queen will just get captured.

You see, there are moves that actually work here but we need to ditch the copying move scheme.

Even if it is not decisive, copying usually deteriorates the position. You would be tempted to not play the best moves just so you could copy.

It is really easy for an experienced player to punish this (positionally), by forcing moves that are not reasonable for the black side.

If you copy you will have the same position yes, but not the same situation. Eventually, there will be a time where you can’t copy moves anymore and all that is left is a bad coordinate that is tricky to solve.

Copying moves don’t even lead to a draw, since again, white is up a tempo and therefore be one step ahead of Black. I have to mention this since it is the thing that attracts people to this strategy.

By reason, if you and your opponent play the same moves then “logically” you will be able to draw. But then again, it is just an illusion since chess is a long game and you can’t copy forever.

It just prevents you from playing the best moves within a position. In fact, symmetrical setups are always slightly worse for black, even in the opening.

You are likely to lose really early if the opponent can take advantage of his/her superiority. It’s just not a really good plan.

When do copying moves usually happen?

Copying moves usually occur if played by someone with little experience in chess. It’s not even a consideration at a basic level.

This may seem harsh of me but it is the truth, beginners are usually the ones who copy moves. And I get it trust me, I have the same thoughts when just starting.

But the realization will come very quickly like, in your very first game. You will get to know how bad of a strategy it is in practicality.

The point is, moving without a plan is always a mistake, copying moves or not. It will make you formulate decisions without continuations if things go bad.

Chess after all is unpredictable to some degree even in the eyes of pros (since they are playing against someone their level). If not, one player would just win all the time which is not the case.

And yes, certain openings involve symmetrical moves, but only to a point. It is rare for such symmetry to the last for something that is well analyzed.

If both players play the same moves beyond move 5, then it is already special. This is because symmetrical moves are played not because people copy moves, but it is the best move in the position.

Which moves in chess can you not copy?

In order to break this down further, I want to provide all the little details where you can’t copy (to be specific).

There are things in chess that you can’t copy, like that of a check, checkmate threat, unreasonable captures, or moves with pieces that are absent.

The check in particular is pretty obvious since you will have to respond to a check and therefore be unable to imitate it. It will force you to move the King, capture the checking piece, or block the attack (which is no longer copying).

Specific captures too cannot be copied (since it will lead to positional loss). Here’s a very good example of what I mean here:

This is a famous line in the Petrov (a chess opening) which is even played by some experienced players. The position looks very identical, where the white queen on e2 plays capture of the Knight at e4.

Black obviously cannot play black queen (e7) captures Knight at e5 to copy white since it will lose the queen. The correct reply is d6 attacking the pinned knight and winning back the piece (just try visualize it).

This is only one scenario, another is when a piece you need for copying may have already been captured. This would of course force you to move other pieces that have not yet been eliminated.

This is usually when it was just captured the last turn by the mimicking piece, and therefore unable to copy since it is already off the board.

If you force copying, it occasionally requires you to lose a piece to maintain the strategy. Look at this example:

The white knight at f3 moves to g5, performing a double attack with the pawn on f7. If the black knight on f6 tries to do the same (g4) it will just be captured by white queen from d1.

And even if it isn’t, the double attack from white would occur earlier than black, therefore not very practical.

A checkmate threat too needs to be defended in a way that you really can’t really copy the threat (unless you want to get checkmated). The point is copying can lead to unguarded squares, which would need to be defended before any other action.

And especially a checkmate where you can’t afford to be the last one to deliver. It just makes things harder than it should (since defending a checkmate usually isn’t complicated).

Is copying moves disrespectful?

Okay, we have already established that it is a bad strategy. But does it even appear as respectful in general?

Copying moves is not a sign of disrespect, it is to an extent a fair strategy.

We’ve already discussed before that it is part of some really famous opening, occasionally is not that bad. In fact, your opponents would be really glad if you opt for this

It is not unfair for one to copy moves, it is in fact a strategy, a bad one. And they would be really happy to take advantage of an easy win.

Nobody really likes to decline a tasty offering right? Disrespectful are not people are still going to take it.

Although it is likely that the one who implements this strategy is not that adept at the game. If someone tries this on you, then it’s likely that they are not mocking you and just don’t know what to do.

Will you still copy moves?

Copying may seem like an easy way out but is just of pit hole waiting to be discovered, and I don’t want you to learn that the hard way.

It is just a very bad strategy, it doesn’t teach you chess and it doesn’t even let you draw. What it teaches you to be lazy and wait for things to happen.

And if you have spent some time with my other articles then you know that chess is really hard work, make your own moves not copy them. Sleep well and play chess.