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A Technical Advantage: Special Chess Rules You Definitely Must Know

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You probably know by now that Chess is not as simple as it initially seems. With the range of strategies and tactics to counter them, the possibilities are virtually endless. Some of these involve following the special chess rules unique to this game, from the moves of the pieces to the regulations followed in various parts of the game.

While most of us probably aren’t going pro, it helps to know some of these special chess rules and gain that technical advantage:

1. Touch Move

Always starting with the most common ones, Touch Move is one of those special chess rules often employed during chess tournaments. Although it is among the most common, it still remains dangerous as a moment of absentmindedness could doom a player into defeat.

special chess rule touch move
“If you touch it, you have to move it,” – a chess tournament official, probably.

To put it simply, Touch Move is the rule that specifies that any player who deliberately touches a chess piece on his/ her turn must move, advance, or capture if there are any legal moves that allow them to do so. If it’s your turn and you touched any of your pieces, you have to move them; if you touched an enemy’s piece, you have to capture them. Of course, if you touched a piece that has no legal moves available, there’s no penalty. Also, it’s bad sportsmanship touching pieces when it’s not your move.

This is one of the rules you can always expect at formal chess events like meets and tournaments. Additionally, if for example you find a piece not properly positioned in its square (or if its position overlaps with other squares), you can declare the French term “j’adoube,” which means “I adjust” to put it into its proper position without triggering the Touch Move rule. This is detailed in The Oxford Companion to Chess.

So, what to do when you fall into the dreaded touching mistake? Keep calm. Sure, it would most likely ruin the advance that you’ve been preparing, but it could actually open possibilities for gaining another position. Similarly, if you think that your mistake will be costing you this game, you can just resign – an honest and graceful way of dealing with a mistake. Lastly, as a reminder, always keep your hands off the board unless you’re done surveying and you’re sure of the move you’ll be making.

2. The 50-Move and 75-Move Rules

Chess is generally a zero-sum game played with a certain level of etiquette. This means that an opponent’s loss is your gain, and vice versa, and that standard behavior is expected from players. With that being said, it’s inevitable that every now and then there are players who have difficulty accepting defeat, and some who are just stubborn? Have you experienced putting an opponent’s king in check and then it gets moved to a safe square, then you follow him for another check, and the king returns to his previous position?

special chess rules, move numbers
There’s a dignity in knowing when to stop. But for those that don’t, FIDE has these rules in place, detailed in the Laws of Chess handbook.

To prevent this infinite loop of stubbornness from happening, organizers of chess (FIDE, specifically) have devised special chess rules that prevent this from happening. Basically, a player can claim a draw if there has been no pawn move or no capture in the last 50 moves, or 75 moves depending on which rule is implemented.

You see, a mathematical analysis of chess reveals that it should take no more than 32 “good” moves to achieve checkmate, even from the hardest of positions. However, this is pretty difficult, not to mention that it’s highly situational. In fact, even chess grandmasters have difficulty finding that pinhole of a victory chance at the end game. Basically, if you can’t secure victory in 50 or 75 moves, what gives anyone the assurance that you’ll find it out after more moves? And lo, the rules are born.

Another interesting fact is that modern chess only adopted these special chess rules fairly recently, despite one of its ancestors/ precursors, Shatranj from what is now Iran, had a seventy-move rule.

3. Threefold, Fivefold Repetition

Do you know how strategy is a player’s plan for the larger picture, often over a longer time frame, while tactics are short-term maneuvers you pull off to gain an advantage? In a way, threefold and fivefold repetition are special chess rules that allow players to drive the game into a draw. Historically speaking, it has saved a number of losing games, become a little-known yet useful tool for salvaging a downhill battle.

special chess rules, fivefold
Either by intention or by happenstance, the repetition rules are there to keep a chess game from going on indefinitely.

First, the threefold repetition. It states that a player can claim a draw if the same position occurs three times. So, when you go back and forth three times with an enemy and end in the same position three times in a row, it can be declared a draw. Now, it has two basic requirements. The first is usually the presence of noted positions, meaning the players must have the notations written down. The second is that either of the players must declare the draw with the arbiter, who formalizes the request.

In contrast, a fivefold repetition requires the arbiter to take the initiative, intervene, and declare the draw after a position has been repeated five consecutive times.

4. Board Orientation, Piece Placement

This is another of those small and mostly forgotten rules, mainly because it rarely happens, if it does at all. Furthermore, there are regional differences with these special chess rules so we’d just stick to the ones used internationally, including those enforced by FIDE itself.

special chess rules
In formal chess games and tournaments, standardized placement and orientation are observed.

The correct board orientation and piece placement, for those unfamiliar with it, is that the square in your right-hand corner is always a light-colored one. Of course, standard chessboards mean that this is the same whether you’re playing black or white. Second, simply remember the phrase “The Queen gets her color.” It means that the white queen will always start from the light-colored square (D1 in standard algebraic notation) and the black queen starts from a dark-colored square (D8 in standard algebraic notation).

For most forms of chess, if it has been discovered that the board has been incorrectly set up, the board orientation is corrected and all pieces are moved to the correctly oriented one. In the event of incorrect starting positions, the game is restarted provided that there have been less than ten moves. Otherwise, the game continues as is.

READ NEXT: Life Lessons From Chess

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