What happens when chess clock runs out? (Draw or not?)

The chess clock is the friend that every chess player should get to know at some point. It makes things fair and winds up the spirit of time pressure that affects our gameplay.

What happens though when the chess clock reaches its final clutches? Who wins, and is a draw part of its conclusions?

If the chess clock runs out of time the player who still has time left would be eligible for a win if a theoretical checkmate is possible. If not, the result of the match should be a draw.

Personally this is an issue that I have little knowledge of even today if I had not researched this article. It’s important for you to be aware of this mechanic in order for it to be used to your advantage.

It may be the difference of at least drawing the game or surrendering the position to an utter defeat. Let’s get going.

What if the clock runs out and checkmate is possible?

We all had this situation (for those who have decent chess experience), where the clock runs out and checkmate is possible.

In conditions where the chess clock runs out of time and a theoretical checkmate can be achieved, the player with the remaining time is considered the winner.

This means that winning by time is a real victory condition that can transpire in over the board game. There’s even an actual fide rule (international regulator) addressing how such issues should be handled:

Fide article 6.9: Except where one of the Articles: 5.1.a, 5.1.b, 5.2.a, 5.2.b, 5.2.c applies, 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.

The 5.1.a, 5.1.b, etc. exceptions are basically the other winning conditions in the game (checkmate, resignation, etc.) that of course would take priority over a time issue.

However, if an expiration did occur and a checkmate (theoretically) can happen then the win should be given for the one with remaining time.

What if the clock runs out but no checkmate is possible?

So the one with the time is the one who will win if checkmate is possible, but what if it is not? What happens then?

The game will be considered a draw if one of the player’s time expires when a theoretical checkmate cannot be achieved on the board.

This means that running out of time does not always result in a conclusive defeat. There are actually situations where the much that the position can offer is a draw (if no checkmate can be achieved, through insufficient material in most cases).

This special condition prevents people from just trying to win on time and force them to play the game instead. It will greatly discourage players from just gaming the system and win by pressuring the opponent.

I personally think that this is a prerequisite that should stay in place in order to provide a fairer setting.

Is it a draw even when there is material but no checkmate?

Material advantage is not one of the conditions for a checkmate to be possibly realized, there are positions where it is impossible (checkmate) even with a huge material count.

Yes, a draw can transpose (from running out of time) even if there is material advantage so long as a checkmate cannot be obtained.

To provide a more clear description, I will provide very insightful examples.

Look at the position below:

It seems that one of the players should get a win if anyone runs out of time (since there are so many pawns), yet this will be a draw if that actually happens.

Theoretically, there is no way any of the King can advance to the other side to devour any of the pawns leading to a win.

This means that it is literally impossible to cause a checkmate even though there is a clear presence of material. So this is a draw, let’s change things up, shall we?

We have added a black Knight at b6, which clearly is a factor that will be considered in the equation now. The Knight unlike the king can influence the opposing pawns even without reaching the other side.

If white run out of time here then it is a win for black since a checkmate can occur after the white pawns are eliminated and the black pawns promote.

Consequently, it is also a win for White if Black runs out of time since “theoretically” the black Knight can be sacrificed allowing one of the White pawns to leave the blockade.

Again, let’s do a little change to the example.

I replaced the Knight with a black bishop this time, which would definitely change the outcome if the time ever runs out. If the Knight causes a win this one definitely leads to draw.

The black bishop cannot hope to attack the white pawns (since it is in a dark square), while the kings still cannot enter the position. The Knight gives a decisive result since it can jump despite the blockade which the bishop can’t.

So even if there’s an extra bishop it doesn’t really change the fact that a checkmate cannot be obtained, therefore still a draw.

In order to paint this in a more understandable light I will give another example.

Here you can see the black king and a black bishop against a lone white king. A checkmate cannot be achieved under these conditions therefore running out of time means a draw for each side.

Let’s change the environment a little bit, let’s say adding a queen?

As you can see, a theoretical position where the black king and the bishop can deliver a checkmate exists now even though it’s not possible before. The presence of the queen itself can be seated in a way that prevents the king from escaping (theoretically).

This means that if white runs out of time it is actually a win for black (even though it is a draw before). The existence of the queen has made it so that there is a conclusive result.

The point is it doesn’t matter if the checkmate position is hard to achieve, as long as a checkmate is possible. Even if it means playing really unreasonable moves to get there as long as it is playable then it should count.

Here’s a situation where we can promptly apply this knowledge:

This is an overwhelmingly won position for white, but do you know that if white run out of time here then it is a win for black? Theoretically, if the king can capture the white pawn and promote the black pawn in return, then a checkmate this possible right?

If the rook and king would allow the black king to march then it should be “in theory” not impossible, therefore still a win for black.

But the funny thing is, it would be a draw if the white rook captures the black pawn. Of course, this may appear so worthless sacrifice but not really.

After the black king captures, the pawn that would have been promoted is then eliminated in play therefore trampling the chances for a checkmate.

This means that even if White runs out of time here it would actually be a draw unlike the one from earlier.

Despite the seemingly being down in material now, it actually prevents losing from running out of time (since a checkmate is no longer possible).

I will give you a challenge now, look at the picture below and see if it is a win or draw (white is to move) assuming white ran out of time.

So the white king is in time to prevent the promotion of black pawn, so does this even count as a draw? The white king after all is able to stop the pawn and checkmate is no longer possible right? wrong.

Again theoretically if white decided to not capture the pawn and doze off, the black pawn can promote and checkmate is now possible. Therefore it is a win for black if a white run out of time here.

Here, to seal the nail in the coffin I will give the last illustration:

White here seems to really have dozed off and not finished the clearly defeated black. This is beyond just winning, it is overwhelmingly stacked against the favor.

But still, if white run out of time here it would be considered a win for black altogether. After all, a king and a rook have checkmated a lone king before which may happen here.

Regardless of the number of remaining pieces, if they’ve stumbled onto the sides with the King falling into the mate then it should be legit.

So this is a win for black (if white’s time run out), since a checkmate is not impossible although quite difficult to occur.

My recommended product, resource, or service for this article

There is one thing I hate the most about chess, which is it could be an expensive pursuit (with little value gained) if you look for the wrong products. I believe that chess should be inexpensive if you know what you are doing, which is why I always share my top picks!

In some posts, I embed this section with products related to that specific post so you may see this section throughout the website.

But enough of all that, here are some of my recommended items/services for this post:

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Can there still be a draw (from running out of time) even in online chess?

Yes, draws can happen from running out of time even in online chess. The rules that govern online platforms follow the official rules of chess.

So don’t think you have an escape from this rule just by playing online. I say this because I personally thought that the rules in these platforms are different from what is practiced over the board.

It is the same, so don’t be surprised if you encounter a draw from one of the rushes to gain those ratings. In fact, most rules that apply offline are being respected online as well so long as it is possible.

Final thoughts

Learning whether a position is drawn or won after the clock runs out of time is a necessary skill that would be useful in the game. After all, you would know how to resolve the draw if it is possible (and not lose).

It would allow you to diagnose positions in regards to its relationship with the time. You would of course after this be likely to make wise decisions over the board.

I have wondered about this for a long time but only learned now (and I have decent chess experienced) so I am sure that it is something that I want to share. I hope you learned everything, sleep well and play chess.

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