50-Move Rule

     One of the ways a chess game can end in a draw is by the 50-move rule. Among the many ways a game comes to a draw (the others being an agreement by both players, insufficient material to checkmate, stalemate, and 3-fold repetition), the 50-move rule is probably the least common and least understood. I therefore want to clarify the rules of this situation in this post.

     A draw can be claimed by the 50-move rule if neither side has moved a pawn or captured a piece in 50 moves. We must qualify that when we talk about one “move” in chess, we are referring to where both white and black have moved. In order words, 50 moves mean 50 turns for each side.

     I often hear kids ask about the 50-move rule when one side has won most of the other side’s pieces and is trying to set up a checkmate. The losing side plays on with the hope that 50 moves will pass, and the game will be a draw. This is usually a misconception because:

     a) It is is not enough for 50 moves to elapse — there must be 50 consecutive moves without a single pawn push or piece capture for either side. Even if this goes on for 47 moves, if someone pushes a pawn or captures a piece on the 48th move, the whole counting resets.

     b) 50 moves are a lot of moves. Especially since it means 50 turns for both sides.

     Essentially, under normal circumstances, particularly if there are still pawns on the board, there is little or no chance of getting a draw via the 50-move rule. I should add that some kids ask me if there is an 18-move rule. Although 18 is a significant number for many things, I am not aware that an 18-move rule is part of chess.

     Has the 50-move rule ever occurred? Certainly! In my two decades of playing chess, I only recall one time it happened to me. After a complex game, I reached the following position as black against an International Master.

     With a rook vs. bishop, I still had some advantages and prospects to win the game if white would make a mistake. My opponent was quite experienced, however, and accurately used his bishop to protect his king from my rook. He requested that I count out the moves as we played on. After 50-moves for each side, the game ended peacefully in a draw.