Do your friends keep bringing up some “16 Moves Rule” whenever you’re about to win? What is this rule, and why does it exist? Here’s all you need to know.
The 16 Moves Rule in chess states that when either side only has a king remaining, the game must conclude within 16 moves, or it will be declared a draw. This means the winning side effectively has 16 moves to checkmate the enemy king. The 16 Moves Rule is not an official rule.
Not an official rule? How come it’s so popular, then? I’ll answer this question and many more in the rest of this article. Keep reading to further your knowledge of the game.
- What is the 16 Moves Rule in Chess?
- The 50 Move Rule
- The 75 Move Rule
- How The 50 Move Rule Fits into Your Average Chess Game
- Related Questions
What is the 16 Moves Rule in Chess?
To help you understand what the 16 Moves Rule is, let me take you to the chess board.
Say you’re playing a game with a friend, a family member, or a stranger – and you’re winning.
You capture the last of your opponent’s pieces. Except for their king, of course, since the king cannot be captured.
Your material advantage is overwhelming. The enemy has no hope of winning. All you have to do now is hunt down the opposite king and checkmate him.
The only problem is the 16 Moves Rule. According to the rule, if you now don’t checkmate the enemy king within 16 moves, the game will automatically be declared a draw.
The 16-move countdown begins exactly when your opponent’s last piece falls.
Now, to anyone who’s played competitively or professionally, this will sound somewhat unreasonable.
You see: 16 moves is hardly enough to checkmate an enemy king if you don’t have the right pieces left. You would probably be able to do it with a queen or a rook, but the minor pieces struggle to drive a king into a corner fast enough to deliver a checkmate.
It diminishes the advantage of the winning side and increases the likelihood of a draw. Is that kind of unfair? It probably is.
Which is why the rule is pretty much unheard of in the professional world of chess. But as you’ll soon see, there’s a time and place for it.
Is the 16 Moves Rule in Chess Real?
The 16 moves rule is not an official rule recognized by FIDE (the International Federation of Chess) or similar organizations.
There is a similar rule called the 50-move rule, which you may have heard about before. We’ll talk more about this rule later, but for now, you should know that the 16 moves rule does not exist in regulated, professional play.
You won’t find the 16 moves rule even in casual online games on websites such as Chess.com and Lichess.org, so suffice it to say: this particular rule is not very well recognized by the international chess community.
It does have some popularity among casual players of the game, though – How come?
How Did the 16 Moves Rule Come About?
The 16 moves rule is an innovation popularized by street chess.
In street chess, games are short, sweet, and to the point. They’re all about action, spur-of-the-moment tactics, and bold decision-making.
This is very much intentional because it makes the games entertaining to watch and draws in more viewers.
The 16 moves rule applies perfectly to games played in this way – it shortens the game’s length and incentivizes aggression during the end game, so games remain intense to the very end.
See, the endgame is particularly dry, especially for viewers who aren’t so well-versed in the intricacies of the endgame.
There are few pieces left on the board, all the important trades have already been made, there’s no more room for fancy tactics, and the game’s outcome is predictable – why keep watching?
And on top of all of that, hunting down the king when the rest of his army has already fallen is, suffice to say, not the most entertaining thing in the world.
So if you think about it, the 16 moves rule cuts out the most boring part of chess games to make them more engaging and viewer-friendly. It also adds some uncertainty to the end of the game, so players rooting for the losing side can stick around and hope for a draw.
Now, even though the 16 moves rule is an invention of street chess, not all street games are played with this rule.
In fact, most street games still follow the official FIDE rules, with a few minor tweaks for convenience and practicality.
The 16 moves rule, though, virtually reinvents the dynamics of the endgame.
The 50 Move Rule
The 50-move rule is the original “X Move Rule.” It has had an interesting evolution in the last few centuries, but it now rests firmly as one of FIDE’s official and uncontested chess rules.
It’s employed in almost all professional games but rarely called into effect. I’ll explain why that’s the case shortly, but first – here’s what the 50-move rule is:
According to the 50-move rule, either player can claim a draw if no pawn moves have been played or no piece has been captured in the last 50 moves of the game.
Naturally, the rule comes into play during the endgame, when most pawns and pieces are off the board.
If no capture is made or no pawns are moved in 50 moves (which is a lot longer than you may think – the average chess game lasts 40 moves), it’s likely the case that the game won’t be going anywhere because the position is dead-even, or it’s impossible for the winning side to make progress.
So, it makes sense to allow either player to claim a draw without the need for agreement from the other party.
The 50 Move Rule vs. the 16 Moves Rule
The 50-move rule is similar to the 16 moves rule in that you effectively have a limited number of moves to checkmate the enemy king.
So, in games played with the 50-move rule, if a running king can’t be subdued and checkmated successfully within 50 moves from the last capture/pawn move, the losing party can claim a draw.
An easy way to get around this problem is to ensure you keep a pawn at your disposal and move it when you’re nearing the 50-move limit. This completely resets the countdown.
As you can probably tell, the 50-move rule is nowhere near as influential as the 16 moves rule in the endgame. The winning side has much more room to work with when the former is employed, whereas the latter demands constant aggression.
The 75 Move Rule
You can consider the 75-move rule an extension of the 50-move rule. It was introduced only recently, in 2016 (yup, that’s recent when you consider most chess rules have been around for centuries).
The 75-move rule essentially states that if 75 moves go by in a chess game without a pawn move or a piece capture, the game will automatically be declared a draw by the arbiter.
What’s the Difference Between the 50 Move Rule and the 75 Move Rule?
As you can tell from the above definitions, the two rules have much in common.
When the 50-move rule comes into effect (meaning 50 non-pawn, no-capture moves have been played), either player can claim a draw. But they can also not claim a draw and keep playing if they want to. The 50-move rule ends up being a mere utility.
So – suppose they continue playing until the 75th such move.
When the 75-move rule comes into effect, the arbiter draws the game automatically. The 75-move rule is enforced upon the players.
Why Does the 75 Move Rule Exist?
The 75-move rule exists to prevent chess games from being drawn out needlessly.
50 moves are plenty to checkmate a running king if you have the pieces necessary to deliver checkmate.
For example, a bishop and knight checkmate, considered by many to be the most difficult checkmate to deliver, can be achieved from any starting position within 33 moves with perfect play.
If player A cannot achieve this checkmate within 50 moves, player B can claim a draw. If for some reason, player B decides to keep playing and player A is still unable to deliver checkmate within 75 moves, the game will be drawn by default.
In this way, player A is penalized for not knowing how to deliver a checkmate properly. Which, I would say, is pretty fair.
How The 50 Move Rule Fits into Your Average Chess Game
Now that you know all about the 50-move rule (and its derivatives) let’s talk about how this rule may fit into a chess game.
Earlier, I mentioned that the 50-move rule is rarely ever called upon. The reason for this is quite simple. Most games end before the 50-move draw needs to be claimed.
Here are the various ways a game of chess can end.
- Checkmate: When a king is in check, and cannot move out of the check, block the check with one of his pieces, or eliminate the checking piece, he is in checkmate. The side that delivers checkmate wins on the spot.
- Resignation. If a player becomes convinced their position is completely lost, they can choose to surrender, known in chess as resigning. A significant portion of games end this way since it’s hard to bounce back from a losing position against opponents who know what they’re doing.
- Timeout. When either player’s time runs out, they lose automatically. It goes without saying that losing on time can be a pretty disappointing way to go. This happens quite commonly in shorter formats such as bullet and blitz.
- Agreed draw. Both players can agree to draw at any point in the game.
- Stalemate. When either side has no legal moves, but their king is not in check. The game ends in a draw.
- Insufficient material. If enough pieces get traded that there aren’t enough left on the board to possibly deliver checkmate, the game automatically ends in a draw. For example, a knight and a king against a king is a draw because a checkmate can never be delivered, no matter the moves both sides play.
- Threefold repetition. If the same position on the board arises three times, the game ends in a draw. In online chess, players are sometimes only given the option to claim a draw rather than the draw being enforced.
If none of this happens (which, of course, is extremely rare), the 50 (or 75) move rule saves the day by preventing the game from going on forever.
Have a look at some related questions to brush up on your knowledge of the game.
What is the 15 Moves Rule in Chess?
Like the 16 moves rule, the 15 moves rule is an innovation of street chess. It’s pretty much the same, with the only difference being the number of moves to deliver checkmate is reduced by 1. There’s also an obscure 14 moves rule.
Keep in mind that all of these numbers are purely arbitrary. Only the 50 and 75 move rules are official.
Should I Apply the 16 Moves Rule to my Chess Games?
If you want to, go for it! The 16 moves rule can make playing with your friends and family much more exciting and fun. It can also allow you to claim a few sly draws against opponents who aren’t particularly good with the endgame.
Do inform the other party that you would like to play with the 16 moves rule in effect, though, since this rule is not a well-known convention.
Keep in mind that the 16 moves rule won’t apply to any form of regulated play, whether online or over the board.
What is the Maximum Number of Moves That Can be Played in a Chess Game?
The maximum number of moves that can theoretically be played (with the 50 and 75 move rules in mind) seems to be some 5900 moves, with the most agreed-upon estimate being 5949 moves.
The longest game ever played lasted 269 moves – Ivan Nikolic vs. Goran Arsovic, Belgrade, 1989 – unsurprisingly, the game ended in a draw.
The 16 moves rule in chess was invented and popularized by street chess players. It aims to make the endgame more exciting, and it just does that, but in doing so, considerably diminishes the winning player’s advantage.
It’s not an officially recognized rule. The very similar 50 are 75 move rules, however, are official rules employed in regulated chess.