Is this position a draw?

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1. Nf3 Nf6 2. Ng1 Ng8 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Ng1 Ng8

I don't mean to ask the age-old question "Is chess a draw?"; four moves have been played here, returning to the starting position. Since the start position has appeared three times, it seems that white can claim a draw by threefold repetition. However, lichess does not permit this claim, which got me thinking that perhaps there is a subtlety to the rules.

FIDE says:

The game is drawn, upon a correct claim by a player having the move, when the same position for at least the third time (not necessarily by a repetition of moves):

a. is about to appear, if he first writes his move, which cannot be changed, on his scoresheet and declares to the arbiter his intention to make this move, or

b. has just appeared, and the player claiming the draw has the move.

Positions are considered the same if and only if the same player has the move, pieces of the same kind and colour occupy the same squares and the possible moves of all the pieces of both players are the same. Thus positions are not the same if:

  1. at the start of the sequence a pawn could have been captured en passant.
  2. a king or rook had castling rights, but forfeited these after moving. The castling rights are lost only after the king or rook is moved.

It seems that white clearly has the ability to claim a draw by 9.2.a, since 5. Nf3 would definitely repeat the position after 1. Nf3. But my question is really whether 9.2.b applies for white (or perhaps equivalently whether black can claim the draw on move 4 via 9.2.a): Did the starting position "occur" before 1. Ng3? Or does it somehow not count? Are the rules ambiguous?

Obviously this is a silly game, but this kind of "Fool's Draw" might occur in practice when both players want a draw but are not allowed a normal offer (e.g. FIDE world championship 3.8.3b "The players cannot draw a game by agreement before black’s 30th move.").

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    So, the actual question here would be "Can Black claim a draw after White plays 4.Ng1? Am I right? – David Sep 17 '19 at 8:38

This is a better question than it seems at first glance.

Intuitively it seems possible to claim a draw, since the position appears to have occurred three times.

However, according to a strict reading of the rules, the position after 4...Ng8 has appeared only for the second time. The relevant clauses are 9.2:

[...] Positions are considered the same if and only if the same player has the move, [...]

and 1.1 about the start of the game:

The player with the white pieces commences the game. A player is said to ‘have the move’, when his opponent’s move has been ‘made’.

In the starting position, white does not "have the move" since black did not make a prior move, white merely commences the game. Therefore, the positions before 1. Nf3 and after 4...Ng8 are not the same, and a draw cannot be claimed yet.

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  • Very satisfying answer! The rules do seem to use "have the move" as a formal notion. – Tom 7 Dec 9 '18 at 17:08
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    chess.stackexchange.com/a/19774/14079 Please see my similar answer to that question. – Evargalo Dec 9 '18 at 19:53
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    "According to a strict reading of the rules", sure. But in reality, I don't think most arbiters would go for this. Under this interpretation, White cannot adjust the pieces at the start of the game ("Only the player having the move may adjust one or more pieces on their squares") - but that doesn't matter much, because touch move can't apply anyway ("if the player having the move touches..."). And the glossary entry for "move" says "having the move refers to the player’s right to play next." – D M Dec 10 '18 at 3:36
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    But white can claim a draw if he first writes down 5.Nf3 without making it, then claims. – RemcoGerlich Dec 10 '18 at 9:33
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    But black can't claim a draw writing down 4...Ng8 before playing it, which was the point of the question. Of course white can make a valid claim by intending 5.Nf3. – Remellion Dec 10 '18 at 13:52

This is a funny situation - in a FIDE tournament, it depends on whether you're talking about White or Black. To claim a draw in FIDE tournaments the procedure is as follows:

1) Write down the move you are planning to make that will result in a three-fold repetition. Do NOT make the move.

2) Call over the arbiter and explain what move you're about to make, and how this results in a three-fold. The arbiter checks it over and declares the game drawn.

So after 4.Ng1, if Black wanted to claim a draw he'd write 4...Ng8 down and call the arbiter over. The game would then be declared drawn. If he actually made the move 4...Ng8 and tried calling the aribter over, he could not claim a draw since it's not his turn. It's extremely weird, but this is how it works. So assuming the diagram position has been reached in a real game, Black could not claim a draw there (it's not his turn).

Meanwhile, White could claim a draw in the position you posted. Not because of the fact that the position has been repeated three times, but because if he moves 5.Nf3, the resulting position has been seen three times. So he'd write down 5.Nf3, call the aribter over, etc.

I've known people who have missed out on a draw and ending up losing their game because they weren't aware of this technicality in FIDE tournaments. It's borderline ridiculous but those are the rules.

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The position is a draw if and ONLY IF White plays 5. Nf3 again, with the same position repeated 3 times with all the same conditions. However, if any other move is played, the game continues.

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