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What Happens When Only The King Is Left? (Explained)

When you play a chess game, several pieces are being exchanged. And in the end, it happens that you or both of you and your opponent are only left with the kings. But do you know, what happens in chess when only the king is left?

A player who has only the king left, can’t win the game because one king can’t directly checkmate another king. The player either loses, or the game ends in a draw. However, when only the kings are left, the game immediately ends in a draw due to insufficient mating material.

In simple words, insufficient mating material means not having enough chess pieces to checkmate the king. Not just with king vs king, it also occurs with the following combination:

Remember that, one king can’t directly check or checkmate another king. Hence, as soon as you are left with only a king, forget the dream of winning the game. There will be only two outcomes, either you lose or the game ends in a draw.

If you want to know why one king can’t checkmate another king directly, read my in-depth article: Can A King Kill A King In Chess? (Solved)

Now you may ask, what happens if the opponent makes illegal moves or runs out of time in this condition? Then also the game ends in a draw and here’s why.

As per the standard rules, if your opponent makes two illegal moves then he or she will lose the game. But if you cannot checkmate your opponent by any series of legal moves (and that is what known as having insufficient mating material), then the game is drawn.

Read Related: Illegal Moves In Chess: Everything You Need To Know

Moreover, if your opponent runs out of time, then technically, he or she should lose the game. But if you have insufficient mating material, then again, the game will end in a draw.

To Know More Read: What Happens When Chess Clock Runs Out of Time? (With Rules)

So as you can see in whatever case you mention, it is impossible to win in chess with just a king.

On top of that, if both you and your opponent have the king as the last chess piece, then the game is drawn just because of the same reason.

Now, lets discuss how many moves are left when king is alone.

How Many Moves In Chess When Only The King Is Left?

As per the 50 move rule, if no pawn movement and capture has been made within the last 50 moves, then the game can end in a draw. So in chess, a player has 50 moves to checkmate a lone king from the last pawn movement or the last piece capture.

The player can claim a draw after 50 moves but if forgets, then after the 75 moves the game is drawn automatically by the 75 move rule.

These two rules are known as the 50 move rule and 75 move rule. Apart from these there are two other rules known as threefold repetition and five fold repetition that you should know related to this topic.

Ahead I am going to explain all these rules in an easy to understand way so keep reading.

What Is The 50 Move Rule?

All the standard chess rules are mentioned in the FIDE Laws of Chess. (FIDE is the international chess governing body). Now in that the article 9.3.1 and 9.3.2 describes this rule. According to that,

A player having the move can claim a draw, if he/she first writes his moves on the scoresheet and then declares to the arbiter that making the move will result in the last 50 moves with no pawn movement and piece capture or this condition has already resulted.

This means that whenever there is a pawn movement or piece capture, the counting of 50 moves starts again. The main purpose of the 50 move rule is to prevent a player from playing indefinitely when he/she can’t win.

You may have also noticed that the player has to write down the moves on the scoresheet in order to make the claim. You can read this article: Why Do Chess Players Write Down Their Moves? To know more.

Most of all the basic checkmates can be achieved within the 50 moves. However if you play wrong moves in basic checkmating patterns and make any mistakes then you might not be able to complete it within the 50 moves.

One thing to note is that the game doesn’t end in a draw automatically by this rule. The player has to claim for it. If the payer forgets then the game can continue beyond that. 

Now you will ask me what will happen if none of the players claimed a draw by 50 move rule, will the game continue forever? The straight answer is no and that brings us to our next topic of 75 move rule.

What Is The 75 Move Rule?

As per the FIDE article 9.6.2, if no pawn movement and capture has been made within the last 75 moves then the game is drawn. But if the last move resulted in a checkmate then that is given more priority.

Under the new 75 rule a game is drawn automatically by the arbiter even if both players forget to claim for a draw by the 50 move rule. Hence the chess game can’t go on forever.

Also Read: Difference Between Stalemate And Draw [Simplified]

What Is The Threefold Repetition Rule?

As per the FIDE article 9.2, A player having the move can claim a draw if the same position is about to appear for the third time and the player has written this down in his/her scoresheet and declared the arbiter about this or if the same position has already repeated for the three times.

Here the positions are considered the same provided the same pieces occupy the same square, possible moves of both the players are same, same player has the move, castling rights are same and possibility of en passant is also the same.

Now just like the 50 move rule, under the threefold repetition rule the game is not drawn automatically. The player has to claim for it. So what happens if the player forgets to claim by this rule and that brings to our next topic, fivefold repetition rule.

What Is The Fivefold Repetition Rule?

As per the FIDE article 9.6.1, a game is drawn automatically if the same position occurs for at least three times. Here the definition of ‘same position’ is the same as we discussed in the threefold repetition rule.

Under the fivefold repetition rule, none of the players has to claim a draw. The arbiter can declare the game as a draw as soon as this rule comes into effect.

Also Read: 3 Actual Reasons Why Chess Players Offer Draws

Quick Summary

Here’s a quick summary of whatever we discussed so far:

  • As per the standard chess rules, when only the king is left, a player has only 50 moves from the last pawn movement or the piece capture to checkmate the opponent’s king. However, if the player forgets to claim a draw by the 50 move rule then the game immediately ends in a draw by the 75 move rule.
  • The 50 move rule means a player can claim a draw after 50 moves if no pawn movement or capture occurs within the last 50 moves.
  • The 75 move rule is the extension of the 50 move rule and if the player forgets to claim the draw by 50 move rule then as per this rule the game is drawn automatically by the arbiter.
  • The threefold repetition rule states that if the same position is repeated for the three times then the player having the move can claim for a draw.
  • The fivefold repetition rule is the extension of the threefold repetition rule and if the player forgets to claim using the threefold repetition rule, then as per this rule the arbiter can declare the game as a draw.   

Suggested Read: How To Get Better At Chess? (Complete Roadmap)

Final Words

So that’s it! Hope you liked reading this article and understood everything. If you found this helpful then please do share with others. Till then Thanks and Good Luck!

Related Questions:

How many moves can a king make before stalemate?

There is no such limit of moves before a stalemate in chess. However, as per the 50 move rule, a player can claim a draw if no pawn movement or capture has been made within the last 50 moves. If the player forgets then by the 75 move rule the game automatically ends in a draw.

Is there a 16 move rule in chess?

There is no 16 move rule in chess. There is only 50 move rule and 75 move rule as per the standard FIDE (international chess governing body) laws of chess.

How to win chess with only a king?

A player can’t win chess with only a king because a single king can’t checkmate another king. The player will either lose, or the game will end in a draw.

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