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There are some positions, in which both players have pawns, rooks, and even queens, but checkmate cannot be forced.

[FEN "4k3/4r1r1/3p1p2/p1pPpPp1/PpP1P1Pp/1P5P/8/4K3 w - - 0 1"]

For instance in this position both players have pawns, and black has two rooks, however in order for either player to get checkmated black first has to sacrifice a rook and white has to capture it, however both sacrificing the rooks, and capturing the rooks can be avoided.

[FEN "4b1NQ/3bPpPP/5P1P/2K5/4k3/8/8/8 w - - 0 1"]

And in this position white has a queen, pawns, and a knight, but so long as black doesn't move the bishop on e8, and white doesn't move the pawn on e7, neither player can ever get checkmated, and black can avoid moving the bishop, and white can avoid moving the pawn, so neither player can force checkmate.

[FEN "4K3/4Q3/8/8/8/8/4q3/4k3 w - - 0 1"]

And in this position each player has a queen, but we can see that black cannot have a forced mate as white can just take the black queen, and also white cannot have a forced win as if white takes the black queen the black can take back, and if white moves the king then black can capture the white queen.

So using USCF rules would the game be declared over if it reached any of these 3 positions?

2 Answers 2

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There is certainly no rule saying that the game is over if neither side can force mate. If there were:

  1. It would be impossible to apply the rule consistently, as, in many "balanced" positions, we don't know whether mate can be forced.
  2. Any theoretically drawn endgame would become actually drawn.
  3. The prevailing opinion seems to be that chess is a theoretical draw. If this is ever proven, then it would be impossible to play a game of chess under such a rule, as it would immediately be drawn.

However, there is a rule variation that may sometimes be used to claim a draw in positions where it would be very difficult to lose: "Variation 14H. Claim of insufficient losing chances in sudden death." Otherwise, such positions may be drawn by agreement or by the threefold/fivefold repetition or 50/75 move rules. There's an FIDE rule that may apply in such positions if your opponent is trying to win on time in a "quickplay finish," but I haven't been able to find an equivalent USCF rule.

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So using USCF rules would the game be declared over if it reached any of these 3 positions?

No. There is no such rule. Furthermore if one player's flag fell in any of these positions then they would lose on time because in each case there exists a serious of moves that leads to checkmate.

The only way a player in any of these positions could claim a draw is if there were no increment and it was a standard or rapid time control and they had less than 2 minutes left on the clock. These rules don't apply in blitz.

But note that the player would have to claim. There is no "declaring the game over" while there is a possibility, even with really bad moves, of one player checkmating the other apart from 5 fold repetition and the 75 move rule.

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  • So why is it that KNvsKN, KBvsKB, with both bishops on opposite colors, KNvsKB, and KNNvsK all considered insufficient material according to USCF when in all of these end games checkmate can happen even if they require really bad moves? Jul 11, 2022 at 14:43
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    @AndersGustafson I don't see any of those under "14D. Insufficient material to continue." I do see something of that sort under "14E. Insufficient material to win on time," but that only applies if the clock runs out. Jul 11, 2022 at 16:00
  • @AndersGustafson also, "really bad moves" is subjective. The USCF has a few provisions for cases where it would be hard to lose in 14E, but it's impossible to cover all cases. Jul 11, 2022 at 16:35

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