What Happens When You Run Out Of Time In Chess?

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If you play formal chess games then you may already know that such games are time-controlled. A chess clock is used while playing. But do you know what happens if a player’s chess clock (timer) runs out?

As per the standard rules of chess, the player whose clock runs out loses the game. However, if the opponent cannot checkmate the player’s king by any series of legal moves then the game is drawn.

This condition is also called insufficient mating material. Here’s a table that will help you decide whether you win or lose when you run out of time.

Any number of piecesOnly 1 kingDraw!
Any number of piecesOnly 1 king and 1 knightDraw!
Any number of piecesOnly 1 king and 1 bishopDraw!
Any number of piecesOnly 1 king and 2 knightsAs per FIDE – You Lose!
As per USFC – Draw!
Any number of piecesHas sufficient material to checkmate
(e.g. 1 king and 1 queen)
You Lose!

‘Flag-fall’ is the term used to describe whenever a player’s allotted time ends.

Ahead of this article, I’m going to explain all of these along with the chess clock rules you need to know, time limits, and some other related questions. So keep reading till the end!

And you can check out the best chess clock here (on Amazon).

What Is Insufficient Mating Material?

Insufficient mating material means having insufficient chess pieces to deliver the checkmate. For example, you are playing with your opponent and you ran out of time, but only two kings are left on the board. Then, the game is drawn because the opponent has insufficient mating material.

In simple words, the opponent cannot checkmate your king by any series of legal moves. The following positions are considered insufficient mating material:

  • a lone king vs a lone king
  • a lone king and a bishop vs a lone king
  • a lone king and a knight vs a lone king
  • a lone king and two knights vs a lone king

In the last position of king and two knights vs a lone king, although there are checkmate positions but forced checkmate is not possible. The USFC rule (14E3 insufficient material to win on time) clearly considers it as insufficient mating material so the game ends in a draw as this position is reached.

However, as per FIDE, a game ends in a draw only when the player’s opponent has no legal moves left to checkmate.

In this case of two knights and a king vs a lone king, although a checkmate can’t be forced, still there is a possibility of checkmating. Hence the game doesn’t end in a draw.

So when you run out of time but your opponent has only one king and two knights then you lose the game as per the FIDE rules.

Remember that the position of the board such as a stalemate (when you run out of time) will also be considered a draw.

The stalemate means a situation in which the king is not in check but the player has no legal moves left to play the game. Read more about it in my article: Stalemate Vs Checkmate: Helpful Guide For Beginners!

How Is A Chess Clock Used?

The chess clock has two faces with two-time displays. As soon as the game starts the countdown time for the white player begins.

After making each move as the player presses the clock it simultaneously stops that timer and starts the timer of the opponent.

The chess clock is preset as per the time control decided for that game and displays the time accordingly.

Chess Clock Rules You Need To Know:

In chess, all the official rules are followed as mentioned by the FIDE which is the international chess governing body. So in the FIDE laws of chess, article 6 explains all the chess clock rules.

Here are some of the key points from that:

  • As per the standard rules, a chess clock is defined as a clock having two-time displays and designed such that only one of them can run at a time.
  • The word ‘clock’ is considered to be one of those two-time displays.
  • There is a flag on each time display and whenever a player’s allotted time ends then it is called a ‘flag fall’.
  • A move is considered to be complete only when a player makes the move and then presses the clock with the same hand.
  • This act stops that player’s clock and starts the opponent’s clock.
  • The time period between which the player makes the move and presses the clock is called the time allotted to that player.
  • A player is not allowed to keep fingers on the clock or hover the hands over the clock.
  • The chess clock must be handled properly. The player is not allowed to hit the clock forcibly or knock it.
  • If the player is not able to handle his/her clock then in that case he/she can take the help of an assistant (approved by the arbiter) for that purpose.
  • The arbiter (referee) is supposed to decide where to place the chess clock before the game starts.
  • A player is allowed to stop the clock if he/she wants some help from the arbiter regarding any issue like while promoting a pawn if the required chess piece is not available.
  • But remember that a player cannot stop the clock and ask the help of the arbiter without any valid reason. If that happens then the arbiter has the right to impose serious penalties on that player.
  • Any kind of electronic devices that show the number of the moves made like screens, monitors, digital chess boards, or clocks are allowed in the playing hall but the player shall not rely solely on the information gained in this manner to make any claim.

This is one of the reasons why chess players are required to write down the moves so that they can use them for making any claim. You can check out my in-depth article on this: 7 Reasons Why Chess Players Write Down Their Moves.

So these are some of the basic rules regarding the chess clocks you need to know. For reading more you can check out the FIDE laws of chess handbook that I mentioned earlier.

What Is Chess Time Limit?

As per FIDE, for all major chess games, 90 minutes are allotted to a player to complete the first 40 moves. After that 30 minutes are given to complete the rest of the moves along with 30 seconds for every move starting from move one.

However, there are other time limits, especially the shorter ones which are more popular these days.

As per Wikipedia, short time limits are divided into three categories:

  1. Bullet: 1-2 minutes per player
  2. Blitz: 5-10 minutes per player
  3. Rapid: 10-60 minutes per player

How Long Is A Chess Game?

Casual games last from 10-60 minutes. But tournament games can last anywhere from as short as 10 minutes or as long as 6-7 hours depending on the time limit and time control methodology used in the game.

Now, I also want to discuss a common doubt that you may have.

Can A Game Of Chess Go On Forever?

Absolutely not! There are certain rules in chess that forbid a player to play the game forever. For example, as per the 50 move rule if no pawn movement and no capture has been made within the last 50 moves then the game can end in a draw.

However, a player needs to claim it. As per the new 75 move rule, there is no such requirement for claiming. The arbiter can declare the game as a draw immediately if no pawn movement and no capture has been made within the last 75 moves.

If the last move resulted in a checkmate then that is given more priority. So as you can see there are strict rules that restrict the game from continuing forever.

Apart from these, there are also rules that don’t allow you to repeat the moves multiple times and extend the game unnecessarily.

As per the threefold repetition rule if the same position has been repeated more than three times then the game can end in a draw if a player claims for it.

But, as per the new fivefold repetition rule, the game ends in a draw immediately with the intervention of the arbiter provided the same position is repeated five times.

Also, the games are now played with strict time limits. Previously, games were so long that they could not be completed in a single day. So the games were adjourned and played the next day.

Read my article Why Do chess Players Adjourn? (Fully Explained) to know more.


Who wins in chess if time runs out? If a player’s time runs out and the opponent has insufficient mating material then the game is drawn. But the opponent wins the game if he or she has sufficient mating material.

So that’s it! Hope your all doubts are cleared. If you found this article helpful then please share this with others. Till then thanks and good luck!