What do people call a move which maintains a winning position but is the worst among all such moves?

For example, h8=N+ is such a move in the following game:

[FEN "8/7P/6k1/8/8/8/B1K5/8 w - - 0 1"]

1. h8=N+

I will not normally play such moves in serious games, but in casual games such moves might be good practice for endgame skills.

  • 3
    Engines call them inaccuracies. Aug 3, 2020 at 19:38
  • 2
    "Good enough" is the closest I can think of
    – Ian Bush
    Aug 3, 2020 at 19:49
  • 3
    If while proceeds to win the game I would give it ?!, but if white fails to convert I would give it ??.
    – Akavall
    Aug 3, 2020 at 20:49
  • “Strategy without tactics” - Pun Tzu Aug 3, 2020 at 23:02
  • 5
    If it wins you the game, it's not a bad move. Not winning the game would be a worse move. If there was a faster way to win, perhaps it's a sub-optimal move.
    – Mast
    Aug 4, 2020 at 8:26

5 Answers 5


In a winning position, the best move is the one with the shortest depth to mate. So, the “worst winning move” would be the one with maximal depth to mate. So it seems reasonable to call it the move with maximal depth to mate. However, there are two important caveats:

  1. If you repeatedly play these kinds of moves, then your depth to mate may increase, rather than decrease. Due to the 50 move and 3-fold repetition rules, you might actually draw on accident by playing these moves. At this point, these moves are no longer still winning, so some care needs to be taken.

  2. Practically speaking, there can be benefits to playing such a move over a move with lower depth to mate. For example, the “best move” might involve a tricky sacrifice, whereas the “worst winning move” might be a trade that leads to a simple, easily won endgame. If you can’t analyze the sacrifice fully, but are certain of the won endgame, it’s hard to call the safer play a mistake.

  • But "the move with maximal depth to mate" is not really something anyone has ever used. It's about if such a term exists, not if we can make it up. Other than that, good explanation :) Aug 4, 2020 at 9:30

The short answer is no.

In 25 years of chess experience I have never heard such a term. There isn't unless there is some definition somewhere in a shady club packed with sadists who love to mate with several knights!

  • 6
    Nakamura is surely part of that club! Aug 4, 2020 at 0:33
  • I am too actually, but only with a helpful opponent and smoking a lot of greens ;) Aug 4, 2020 at 9:28
  • I heard a name from AI research I don't trust: minimum winning move. I don't think it applies to tablebases though.
    – Joshua
    Aug 5, 2020 at 4:00

There is no measure which distinguishes one winning move from another, other than perhaps number of moves (which is only important if that number could cause a draw). Winning is winning.

To define a score which differentiates winning moves, we would need an off-board metric. Consider: if someone is actively trying to practice knight and bishop end games, this may be a very good move. However, if one is trying to make the game shorter (which is a very typical metric, even if there is no draw in sight), it could be a poor choice compared to promoting to a queen.

However, if I may draw from some non-chess history, I'd recommend a term from the story of Mel. Mel was a software developer in the age of drum memory. Drum memory was a fascinating beast because all of the data was stored on a rotating drum that rotated at a very predicable rate. If you knew how long your instruction would take, you could make sure that the next instruction's memory was right underneath the read-head when it was needed.

Mel was known for doing delay loops where he would intentionally place the next instruction so that it just barely passed the head before it was needed. Then the drum would have to do a full circle before reading the memory. There were optimizers which would place the memory in the optimum place, but he sought the opposite.

His term: it was the most pessimum location.

I think that if you called this move "the most pessimum winning move," you would at least get a few smiles when you explained it!


Take note that without the 3-fold repetition rule and the 50-move rule, choosing a worst winning move (i.e. one that leads to a losing position for your opponent with the maximum moves under best play) at each turn may lead to an infinite game rather than a win!

But anyway, the move you suggest in your question is certainly not the worst winning move, as once you promote to a knight you will have to reach checkmate within 50 moves. A worse winning move is h8=Q and then to trap the opponent to 2 squares before dallying around with your pieces and then forcing the opponent to capture your bishop just before the 50-move rule kicks in, giving you another 50 moves to play cat and mouse before the finishing bite.

  • 2
    How so? It seems to me that it's crafty of you to write "even without". Without those rules, choosing a worst winning move can lead to a perpetual. For example, with wKh1 Qe1 bKb6, 1 Qh4 Kc7 2 Qe1 Kb6 is consistent with White always choosing a longest win and Black a longest loss (though there are alternatives for both players). But your desired conclusion relies on the repetition rule being absent. With those rules in place, the winner must avoid giving the loser an opportunity for a valid draw claim, and the winner accordingly wins after a finite number of moves.
    – Rosie F
    Aug 4, 2020 at 13:23
  • @RosieF: I didn't mean to be crafty... I should not have used "even" there.
    – user21820
    Aug 4, 2020 at 18:38

Least best?

It depends what you mean by worst.
Is that from your perspective or from the one of the person whose decision was to make that move you consider 'worst'.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.