Let's say we have a few situations. White has all their pieces (hypothetically) and black has only:

  • N+K
  • B+K
  • N+N+K

If white were to run out of time, would each of these situations be a draw due to insufficient material? I'm wondering because let's say black were to have a forced checkmate with one of the above situations, could white deliberately lose on time and claim a draw?


1 Answer 1


lichess gets it wrong.

As it happens, White would lose all three games. With all white pieces still on the board, black has still "enough mating material" - it would actually help if White had no pieces at all!

I guess we all agree in the following position black is checkmate:

5k1K/5n1P/8/8/8/8/8/8 w - - 0 1

But this position can be reached from the examples shown. Even without pawns, it is still possible to checkmate for black:

2RKR3/5n2/3k4/8/8/8/8/8 w - - 0 1

Obviously, these cases are rather theoretical. But there are real-world situations (you need something like KRR vs KN, note that KQ vs KN is in fact drawn under that circumstances!) where this may apply. That is why the 10.2 rule (claiming draw with less than two minutes, now annex G) was established and why any higher-rated modern tournament will play with time increments.

There aren't many examples of asymmetric insufficient material. Most of the time, either both players or neither can win.

Edit: The relevant section of the rules is Article 6.9:

Except where one of 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 that 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 common simplification "has not enough winning material" is not always a good one.

  • "asymmetric insufficient material" would result in a 'dead position' and end the game immediately by the article 5.2b of the Laws. No flag fall involved. Dec 14, 2015 at 8:54
  • No, symmetric insufficient material would do that. In asymmetric positions, one of the players can still win.
    – chaosflaws
    Dec 14, 2015 at 9:17
  • What would be the procedure if it's not obvious whether any legal series of moves would allow the player with time to achieve victory? I think a fair rule would be to say that if one player's clock expires, the other player may make moves for both sides as long as his time is running and has not expired. In most cases, it should be sufficiently trivially easy for a player to secure a win that the opponent should resign, but a player who can't checkmate the opponent in such a situation doesn't deserve credit for a win. Any idea if any games have actually been arbitrated that way?
    – supercat
    Mar 31, 2020 at 15:07
  • @supercat The general rule is that "the claimant has to prove his claim". If the player losing on time cannot convince the arbiter the position is drawn, he should lose on time. As the decision does not have to be made immediately (ideally, not before the drawing of the next round), in complicated cases, I would let the claimant argue his case on another board or when all games are finished. If I am convinced by his argument and the opponent cannot point out a winning line for him, I would decide the game to be drawn.
    – chaosflaws
    Mar 31, 2020 at 21:27
  • @supercat However, I have yet to encounter a position at an actual tournament where deciding this question is problematic. As to whether complications did arise in professional play, that might warrant its own question.
    – chaosflaws
    Mar 31, 2020 at 21:28

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