11 Special Chess Rules You Might Not Know About

Special chess moves such as castling, en passant, or pawn promotion are well known. Even beginners might know about the existence of these rules. This article is not about these commonly discussed ‘special chess rules’.

Rather, this overview covers obscure chess rules not everybody might know about.

Perhaps you’ve encountered them yourself in a chess tournament. Or you’ve overheard casters of a live tournament talk about them before. Some regulations discussed below might be completely new to you. Let’s explore them!


1. Flagging Rule

Flagging Chess Clock
Source: Wikimedia Commons


Flagging refers to a win (or draw) of a chess match based on time. If the opponent used up all their allocated time, chess rules dictate that the victory goes to the opponent. In case no victory was possible, a stalemate is the end result.

You might have heard popular chess personalities talk about “flagging” their opponent. This basically means they won the match, but not because of a checkmate. The term “flagging” is a victory that is based solely on the opponent running out of time on their chess clock.

Analog chess clocks actually use a flag to indicate if time has run out. Once the flag on the clock ‘falls’, the game will generally end in a victory for the person that still has time on their clock. However, the person has to verbally declare that the opponent’s flag has fallen, otherwise the victory is not acknowledged.


2. The 75-Move Rule

75 Move Rule

FIDE has officially replaced the 50-move rule in July 2014 with a similar 75-move rule. It meant that if practically nothing happens for 75 moves (by each player), the chess game ends.

In chess, the 75-move rule states that any consecutive series of 75 moves without moving any pawn, and without capturing any piece, would immediately result in a draw. The 75-move rule replaced the 50-move rule because some endgame positions are winnable but require more than 50 moves.

This rule was basically implemented to end prolonged chess games early.  If both players decided to draw out their games without any significant moves or captures for a long time (75 moves to be exact), the game ends.


3. Fivefold Repetition Rule

Threefold Repetition Chess

Another law of chess introduced by FIDE in July 2014 was the so-called ‘fivefold repetition rule’. Different than the threefold repetition rule, it is not the player but the intervention of an arbiter that declares a draw. Despite the introduction of the fivefold repetition rule, the threefold repetition rule still exists.

For both rules, it is the number of times an exact board position occurs that matters.

After a similar board position occurs three times during the whole chess game, either player is allowed to claim a draw during that position. If a similar board position occurs five times, an intervening arbiter can independently declare a draw.


4. Book Draw Rule

Book Draw

Probably the weirdest chess rule is that of the Insufficient Losing Chances (ILC), which would result in the book draw rule. This rule comes into effect once a player has less than 5 minutes of time left on their clock.

The book draw rule states that a draw would be the most probable outcome of a chess match, exactly because of the extreme likelihood of not being able to finish a match in time.

A draw as a result of ILC would need to be claimed by the player with 5 minutes or less on their chess clock. An arbiter would need to independently verify if the stalemate is the most likely outcome of the match. If that is not the case, the player claiming the draw risks a penalty of a 1-minute playtime reduction. However, a warning is usually given, unless bad intent is obvious.


5. The Upside Down Rook Exception

Upside Down Rook Chess

Ever used an upside-down rook to create a second queen? Yeah, that’s actually against the rules of chess. You can’t put a rook upside down to make a queen, at least not in tournaments.

If a player in a high-level chess match can’t find another queen after promoting a pawn, they will have to inform an arbiter about it. When a rook is taken from their own initiative and placed upside down on the board, an arbiter will have to declare that piece a rook.

There is one thing a player is able to do to avoid this situation: verbally announce that the pawn should be promoted into a queen. That’s when a second queen piece should be found and placed on the board. If that is not available, the common practice is to use a spare rook and place it on the board with its head down. But only after verbal permission.


6. Incorrect Starting Position Rule

Incorrect Starting Position Chess

When it is found out that an incorrect starting position of the chess pieces was used, the current game has to be replayed from the start. This chess rule is not commonly known by many players, but it is indeed a real rule.

Once one player declares that an incorrect starting position was used and that turns out to be correct, the game has to be restarted in full.

So if you don’t wish that to happen to you, make sure you place all chess pieces in their correct position. Remember that the positioning of white and black pieces are different. Specifically, make sure you use the correct starting position for the king, as well as the correct starting position for the queen!


7. Touch Rule

Touch Rule In Chess

Are you a person that likes to touch their chess pieces? Better be prepared to immediately play them, because the touch rule demands it. In essence, whichever piece you touch on your own turn, you are obliged to play.

The touch rule is extremely strict and can determine your chess tournament performance.

It is easy to blunder an accidental touch of a chess piece, but it gets even more complicated when a chess clock is involved. Generally, the touch rule states that you can only move pieces with one hand. The same hand should be used to press the clock as well. Those are the rules, I didn’t make them.


8. J’Adoube Rule

Jadoube Rule Chess

What if you get annoyed by pieces that aren’t placed correctly in their square on the board, despite the aforementioned touch rule? You’re not the only person. And you don’t need to have an obsessive-compulsive disorder to get annoyed by a misplaced piece.

However, make sure to learn some French to legally reposition that weirdly placed chess piece.

Remember that the touch rule forces a player to move the piece it touched? If a player only wants to readjust a chess piece on the board, they have to say the words “j’adoube” or “I adjust” beforehand. Essentially, the j’adoube rule legally circumvents the touch rule. It allows a player to readjust their pieces on a chessboard without consequences.


9. Clock Position Rule

Black Chooses Clock Position

Most chess tournaments use clocks. But the placement of that clock (left or right of the board) is decided in an interesting way. As a rule of thumb,  because white has the advantage in the early game, black gets to decide on which side a chess clock is positioned.

The positioning of a chess clock especially matters in faster chess game formats, such as bullet.

Being left-handed is actually a pretty big advantage in this regard. There are statistically more right-handed chess players around (about 85%). With the percentage of left-handed chess players being around 15%, the position of a chess clock can make a difference in how fast left-handed players can play.


10. Same Hand Movement Rule

Same Hand Movement Rule

The advantage of left-handed players is even more noticeable due to the same hand movement rule. Since black gets to decide on which side a chess clock is placed, efficiently using your best hand makes ‘punching the clock’ easier.

The same hand movement rule states that chess pieces are only allowed to be moved with one hand. A chess clock should be pressed with the same hand the pieces have been moved.

Furthermore, the aforementioned touch rule implies that touch, movement, as well as pressing the clock should all be done with a single hand movement. The rules about this are so specific to avoid ‘cheating’ by pressing a chess clock faster than needed. Losing a chess game on time is common in tournaments, so rules like these definitely make a difference.


11. Forfeit Rule

Forfeit Rule Tournament Chess

The forfeit rule in chess states that a player must at least be present within one hour after a match would have originally started. If a player is not present after an hour, a forfeit of the match is implied and a victory is instantly assigned to the opponent.

The forfeit rule also used to include the obligation to shake hands before a match. Due to recent global pandemic events, that is no longer a mandatory procedure. A refusal to shake hands is therefore no longer a forfeit, under new FIDE regulations.

Nevertheless, not being present at your chess table on time can happen due to unforeseen circumstances. Having to go to the toilet is not a problem. However, leaving the building to go have an extended lunch with a friend would be a problem. So do make sure you always know when your next tournament match starts!

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