[EDITED to include followup - EDIT 2 to include definition of position]

This is in part a genuine question on the FIDE Laws of Chess, and in part a small puzzle to solve.

Suppose that during a long time control tournament game under FIDE rules the endgame is reached. Black tries to make a move to reach the following position, but the flag falls before he manages to press his clock.

8/8/8/8/k7/8/1K6/q2N4 w - - 0 1

The arbiter is called. Naturally, the arbiter needs to know the details of exactly what happened in the last moments. The sequence of events is exactly as follows, no more and no less:

  • White pressed her clock after moving, completing her last move.
  • Black placed the queen on a1 and released it.
  • Black's flag falls and white calls it.

The arbiter rules that white wins. (This is my understanding.) Why?

The main argument for giving a draw is that in the diagram, white can never checkmate black, so under 6.9 black might draw.

I disagree with this; I argue that under article 4.7, the actions black took were not enough to complete his move, so the diagram position was not reached and 6.9 doesn't apply. (Yes, I am saying that releasing the queen on a1 is not enough to be considered having made the move!)


Edit 1 (light spoiler)

So the first part is fairly easy to figure out: to reach the diagram, black must have been trying to play ...a2-a1=Q. (The queen can't legally come from anywhere else.)

The scenario is therefore that black placed the queen on a1, and the flag fell before the pawn on a2 was removed. Now comes the part about applying the FIDE Laws. There are two arguments for a draw:

Annatar makes the argument that invoking 4.3, black has "moved" the queen onto the board, and so must promote to a queen. By 6.9 therefore black can claim a draw.

RemcoGerlich cites a different article, 4.4.4, to justify that when promoting, "the choice of the piece is finalised when the piece has touched the square of promotion", so again black has finalised the choice of a queen and under 6.9 a draw can be claimed. (This was the other argument I had in mind when posting the question.)

My viewpoint is different. Looking at article 4.7.3, a promotion move is considered to have been made if "the player's hand has released the new piece on the square of promotion and the pawn has been removed from the board". Black has not removed the pawn here, so the move has not been made.

Then looking at 6.9 in more detail, it says "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". It refers to "the position", which is not defined as such in the Laws, but I would interpret as the board position plus information such as side to move and castling rights. Now, despite that black has "finalised" the promotion to queen (I don't dispute that), the move has not actually been made, so I argue that "the position" remains the one with a black pawn on a2 and no queen on the board. And from here there does exist a helpmate (...a1=N/B/R, etc.) so I would conclude that white wins.

So, to refine the question: which interpretation is correct? And have there been precedents for similar situations? (e.g. Article 4.3, touch-move, about to play the only legal move with the piece - mate - but flag drops before releasing it.)

tl;dr

  • Argument for draw: Under 4.3/4.4.4 black has indicated intention to promote to queen. Then draw under 6.9 assuming black "obliged" to promote to queen in all legal sequences.
  • Argument for white win: Under 4.7.3, the promotion was not made. Therefore under 6.9, "the position" means the one with a pawn still on a2. From this position black can underpromote for a helpmate, so white wins on time.
  • Which is right?

EDIT 2: Further clarification

In the comments, IA Petr Harasimovic has helped to further clarify the issue and narrow down exactly where my disagreement with a draw lies. (A draw seems to be the intuitive outcome.) I take issue in particular with the term "position" referenced in 6.9 - nowhere in the FIDE Laws is this term defined (strangely enough). So my working definition is:

The location of units on the board, plus side-to-move, castling rights, e.p. and 50-move information - a purely abstract notion, and no clock information. And for me, a position is changed only when a complete move is made - i.e. in full accordance with article 4 [and 3], and without reference to article 6.

(Quoted from a response to Laska's answer.) I mention when I consider a position changed as a kludge fix to avoid illegal moves changing the position in nonsensical ways. (I should also mention that article 3 is a given?)

I feel that this might not be everyone's understanding of the term, and so to determine exactly what article 6.9 means I want to ask for clarification: What is the definition of a "position"?

I also want to apologise for the amount of text this question has engendered - seems like it's not exactly straightforward.

  • Your question is confusing because where you say "the actions black took were not enough to complete his move" you actually mean that they weren't enough to make his move. That it wasn't completed is obvious because his flag fell. – RemcoGerlich Jun 13 at 14:09
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    Also, there really ought to be a "fide-rules" tag as the answers for USCF rules would probably be very different :-) – RemcoGerlich Jun 13 at 14:33
  • I only had a quick look at the answers and did not really read them but according to what you say in the edit Annach and Remco Gerlich are right. The choice of the new piece has been made, therefore, there is no way how black could underpromote. Thus the result is a draw. – IA Petr Harasimovic Jun 15 at 12:54
  • @IAPetrHarasimovic: I agree that the queen was chosen, but the move as a whole was not completed (4.7.3). To rule a draw you are using 6.9, which depends on legal moves from "the position". If the move has not been made, does "the position" include the queen on a1? If not, then I think underpromotion is possible. – Remellion Jun 15 at 13:52
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    @Remellion I see, yes, I guess I am involving article 4 then. What I have in mind is the resolution of ambiguity. In several places the Laws refer to 'position', which I believe is meant to be a physical arrangement of the pieces on the board, because what is on the board is unambiguous (as opposed to players' claims of what did or did not happen). If you touch a piece it can be disputed, if the piece is already standing on the board (in a new position) that cannot be disputed. Therefore, if all ambiguity about the next move has been resolved then the position should include this move. – IA Petr Harasimovic Jun 17 at 22:04

There is still a pawn on a2, and it wasn't touched.

The queen can only be on a1 due to a promotion, but you don't state the pawn was ever touched, and you say that nothing more than that happened.

Now the puzzle becomes extremely technical, and I don't think the FIDE laws are precise enough to decide. Of course we're talking about

6.9 Except where one of Articles 5.1.1, 5.1.2, 5.2.1, 5.2.2, 5.2.3 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.

Since the pawn is on a2 still, the move ...a1=Q was not made.

But is it still legal for black to make another move?

First, I am sure that if this were still an ongoing game, black would not be allowed to make any other move anymore. Namely,

4.6 The act of promotion may be performed in various ways:

[...]

4.6.2 removing the pawn and putting the new piece on the square of promotion may occur in any order.

and

4.4.4 promotes a pawn, the choice of the piece is finalize when the piece has touched the square of promotion.

Because the queen touched the square, it is now a touched piece on the board, putting a piece on the board is a legal way to start a promotion, and the choice is finalized. So no other piece can be moved anymore and the choice stands (no solutions to this puzzle involving minor promotion, sorry).

What I am in doubt about is connecting this definition of legal move involving touched pieces to the one used in 6.9, to decide whether the game is lost or drawn. Rule 6.9 does not mention something like "the series of legal moves must start with a move by a touched piece, if applicable", or so.

Let's quote the Preface as well, my favourite part of the rules:

The Laws of Chess cannot cover all possible situations that may arise during a game, nor can they regulate all administrative questions. Where cases are not precisely regulated by an Article of the Laws, it should be possible to reach a correct decision by studying analogous situations which are regulated in the Laws. The Laws assume that arbiters have the necessary competence, sound judgement and absolute objectivity. Too detailed a rule might deprive the arbiter of his freedom of judgement and thus prevent him from finding a solution to a problem dictated by fairness, logic and special factors.

My judgment is that they can be interpreted to be the same meaning of "legal move", and that it is in the spirit of the laws to do interpret the rules like that here (with the queen on the board, arguing for a win based on a move other than ...a1=Q is unreasonable in my opinion). The alternative would be to give white a win based on a series of legal moves that black wouldn't be allowed to actually play, in my view that would be worse.

Therefore I say that the result is a draw as after ...a1=Q white has no series of legal moves to checkmate black.

  • Very precise answer (upvoted), and this was going to be exactly my second argument for possibly ruling a draw. However I would still argue that your first point holds: the move ...a1=Q was not made. I think is the key point is that in 6.9, it refers to the position (whatever that means), and I take black's incomplete move (see 4.7.3 - the piece must be placed and the pawn must be removed for the move to be made) to mean that the position hasn't changed, and black can be mated so 6.9 doesn't give a draw. (It's even worse if the white knight was on c2 instead - 5.2.2 is invoked.) – Remellion Jun 13 at 14:42
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    Exactly, yes. But to argue for a win you'd have to give a series of legal moves that the player couldn't legally make anymore. That's not satisfactory either. – RemcoGerlich Jun 13 at 14:54
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    @Remellion: quoted the Preface now, how about that :-) – RemcoGerlich Jun 13 at 14:58
  • With regard to your first reply, "a legal move the player couldn't legally make anymore" doesn't exist. In the glossary to the Laws, a "legal move" is defined unambiguously under 3.10.1, which requires just Article 3 to be fulfilled - no touch-move or clock shenanigans. So I think underpromotion is a legal move even if black touched the queen, as the move was not made and the position therefore unchanged. On the other hand I like you quoting the Preface - it's a good spirit to keep in mind. – Remellion Jun 16 at 6:49

Well, the solution to the first part of the puzzle is

that the position above can only be reached if Black's last (non-completed) move is a2-a1=Q+. Therefore, before this move there was a position in which White still has enough material to win (when both sides are cooperating); Black needs a minor promotion for that to work.

  • Very fast and correct. So now is the meat of the problem: how does this knowledge impact the arbiter's ruling? (I'll still wait a couple hours before editing in my other argument for a draw - I want to see how people interpret the rules in this situation.) – Remellion Jun 13 at 12:45
  • White does have the material to win, but there is no way to achieve checkmate. In order to trap the king on a1, stalemate will occur before the knight could deliver the final check. Therefore both positions would be a draw. – Fred Knight Jun 13 at 15:18
  • @FredKnight ah, of course, I confused this with the general KN vs. KP (rook pawn) ending. – Glorfindel Jun 13 at 15:22
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    No, @Glorfindel, your original answer is right. Black could have promoted to R, N or B, and in each case there is a helpmate possible. – Remellion Jun 13 at 15:57
  • Right. I've added some explanation to make it more clear. – Glorfindel Jun 13 at 16:00

Yes, I am saying that releasing the queen on a1 is not enough to be considered having made the move!

4.7 explicitly states that:

When, as a legal move or part of a legal move, a piece has been released on a square, it cannot be moved to another square on this move. The move is considered to have been made in the case of: (...) promotion, when the player's hand has released the new piece on the square of promotion and the pawn has been removed from the board.

Thus, the

pawn

"cannot be moved to another square on this move".

Thus, the "possible series of legal moves." from 6.9 HAS to start with this move (any other move could not be considered legal, as it would conflict with 4.7) and the game is drawn.


Edit:

To further back up my opinion that Black HAS to "move" the queen, I invoke 4.3a:

Except as provided in Article 4.2, if the player having the move touches on the chessboard, with the intention of moving or capturing: one or more of his own pieces, he must move the first piece touched that can be moved

All requirements are met:

  • Black touched the chessboard with a piece with the intention of moving (obviously)

  • It's his own piece (it's a black queen)

  • the touched piece can be moved (there is one legal way to move it)

So he still has to make a move involving the queen in some way (to make his first legal move in the possible move sequence). And there is only one option for that.

  • The article you cite (4.7.3) is an "and" clause: "...and the pawn has been removed from the board." Note that black never did this. Nevertheless, there may be another article you can cite to back up your argument.... – Remellion Jun 13 at 13:42
  • @Remellion It's clearly absent in your diagram. ;) – Annatar Jun 13 at 13:45
  • The diagram is the position that would have been reached if black completed the move. That's the puzzle part of the question: to deduce that indeed the last move would have been a promotion. – Remellion Jun 13 at 13:46
  • @Remellion I know, I know. Puzzles have to be treated very literally. "No more and no less". – Annatar Jun 13 at 13:48
  • Invoking 4.3... I didn't see this one coming. Not the article I expected, but there's a case for it. Here one could argue that the black queen can't be moved (it was off the board!), and the pawn was never touched... but you of course see why I'm asking the question. :) In any case upvoting, and I'll wait for further responses. – Remellion Jun 13 at 14:08

I am not surprised that such an excellent loophole exists in the FIDE laws, or that Remellion was the one to find it.

To summarize: bPa2 was never removed, although the move could only end with that action. Moreover, the clock was never pushed. So by 6.2.1 the move was not complete. The key question is whether an illegal, unfinished move has any impact on position evaluation.

In a FIDE tournament, such a question is resolved by one respected person's opinion: the arbiter's. Different arbiters might in principle have different opinions in different games, but that does not detract from their legitimate authority.

But here in chess.stackexchange, we promote reason over opinion. And, when reason gives out, we admit that the question has no answer. Instead, I think this interesting novelty should be sent to the FIDE Rules Committee. The Laws are improving over time, and this may be of help and interest to them.

I do want to say why I (a problemist mainly focusing on retros) think it's more coherent to rule that White has lost. This is because it's an important principle, not properly articulated until it comes into question as here, that moves are atomic. Except in joke problems, a move either happens or it doesn't, and until it is complete, it never happened.

An arbiter in a tournament may choose to extrapolate what "must happen next" in the move, but breaking atomicity in this way creates more problems than it solves. Let me illustrate.

A subtle question is why the arbiter extrapolates. Is it because he wants to complete the move so that 6.9 can be applied at the beginning of White's move? Or is it because he applies 6.9 immediately, in the middle of Black's move? In either case, there is an unhappy implication:

8/8/8/8/8/2k6/p7/q1K5 w - - 0 1

If the arbiter is allowed to intelligently extrapolate to the end of the move before applying 6.9, why shouldn't the same apply to checkmate? Here the clock has fallen. But if the arbiter is allowed to extrapolate to the end of the move, then bPa2 will be removed, there will be checkmate, and under 6.2.1 there is no need for Black to hit the clock! So Black wins.

8/8/8/2p5/8/k1P5/p7/K7 w - - 0 1

Alternatively, if the arbiter can start evaluating under 6.9 in the middle of a move, then why should the same not apply to the dead position rule 9.6? In this case, with no clock issues, if Black touches bPc5, the game is immediately over, because under touch move rules the draw is inexorable.

These absurd situations result from undermining the principle of atomicity. The real solution is for the Laws to state the protocol for different actions in a turn. 90% of the job is done, but arbiter's discretion, although a practical necessity, is no substitute for a high-level sequence of play that exists for any other serious table game (bridge, monopoly, go, magic the gathering etc). Atomicity is a key simplifying principle in such a protocol.

EDIT The FIDE definition of "position" appears in 9.2.2 (draw by repetition). It aligns with what Remellion proposed, and because it includes player to move, I feel it can't be invoked in the middle of a move. Petr effectively came down on the same side of the fence by commenting that:

...by putting the Queen on a1 the player committed to making the a2-a1Q move (there is no other move the player can make according to the Laws), hence, I think that the commitment has to be honoured (as long as the move is legal) and the position that is being examined must include that move.

So we are looking at Case 1. The problem now is to explain why an arbiter would "honour a commitment" to move when it results in a 6.9 draw, but not when it results in checkmate. Maybe some "advantage rule" like in football exists but has never been mentioned? And this implies the arbiter evaluate the position comprehensively before he decides whether to "play on" until the end of the move. All very vague and unsatisfactory. It's not fair on the arbiter to be put in such an individious position, when the loophole could easily be cleared up so no opinion is needed.

  • An answer after my own heart, improved with the diagrams. The first matrix I had considered: wKc1, wBa3, bKc3, bQa1, and asking if there was any way for black to lose on time after releasing the Qa1 (same promotion idea). I really don't like the idea of touching a piece intending to move it being the end of the game (e.g. every selfmate a halfmove before the end), especially if the move was not made. It shouldn't be considered to stand if it wasn't made (under article 4 in general), should it? – Remellion Jun 16 at 6:43
  • I would not say that this is a loophole and it is certainly not a new situation, I have seen that before and even the FIDE rules and/or Arbiters commissions might have seen that. Probably nothing new to them. Regarding the first diagram, this is not a checkmate since the move has not been completed. Don't forget, that black might well push the clock in the position on the diagram (and I have seen this happen many times), in which case they would commit an illegal move, which might even result in them losing the game. Btw. there is no extrapolation, it is all inevitable under those conditions. – IA Petr Harasimovic Jun 16 at 15:06
  • @ IA Petr Harasimovic, thank very much for your feedback. I am surprised that this situation has been spotted before: is there a reference? I agree that the extrapolation is along a single forced path, that's why the arbiter might think it's safe to do so, but it is pernicious as my examples show. Please can you clarify under what basis you would extrapolate? Is it to apply 6.9 at the end of the move (leading to diagram 1 issue), or to apply 6.9 in the middle of the move (diagram 2 issue)? And I agree diagram 1 is not checkmate, that was my point. – Laska Jun 16 at 16:07
  • Not really a good example for diagram 2, I think, since under 6.9 Black has a draw regardless. Try wKa1, bKc1, wPa2, bPa4 (and wPh3, bPh4 to make it legal with black to move). Black touches Pa4 with intention to move, draw? I'm not convinced that the Laws can be read in a way to accomodate that. ("Legal moves" are defined in 3.10.1, and only rely on article 3 - "touch-move" and the rest of article 4 do not influence what is legal.) – Remellion Jun 16 at 19:01
  • @Remellion, yes I wondered if diagram 2 was a bit simplistic. I will change it above, so that either side can win if the pawn isn't touched, and that Black can normally force a win. It seems that diagram 2 is a bit academic: I was trying to understand possible rationales for an arbiter's apparently arbitrary arbitration – Laska Jun 17 at 2:32

I will provide a different perspective on this problem than the other answers. This is meant to be a puzzle on the laws after all so here is a couple of alternative scenarios.

Since nowhere in the question you say that all preceding moves were legal the move a2-a1Q is not the only possible move. I can easily imagine moves like Qc1-a1 or Kb5-a4 resulting in the same position (although you say the Queen was put on a1 so not the latter). If that was the case then the arbiter would rule to return the game to a position before the illegal move was made and the game would continue from there. They would also adjust the time on the clock as they deemed appropriate. Theoretically, though, white could lose the game for having made a second illegal move.

Or there might have had been a white piece on a1 that was captured during the promotion in which case the promotion would be an illegal move. Then the move would be taken back and black would be required to make a move with his King. However, since they ran out of time and it was their fault (no reason for time compensation), the game would be declared lost on time for them since underpromotion would still be possible and white would have two pieces anyway.

  • Good catch - as a retro problemist my tendency is to take for granted that only legal moves are made. I agree with your judgements for the alternative scenarios you give. – Remellion Jun 15 at 13:55

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