It’s a commonly held belief that you can’t repeat moves in chess or that there is some sort of numerical restriction on the number of times that you can repeat moves but is this true? Is there a rule that prevents you from repeating your moves or is it a bit more complicated than that? Well, it’s actually quite a bit more complicated as you will see.
Can you repeat moves in chess? Any move can be repeated in chess, as long as that move is a legal move, and thus the position on the board does not prevent a move from being repeated. Although many would argue that this loses “tempi”, a move in chess can be repeated without any official forfeit. The only exception is when both players repeat their position three times over – in this case the chess game is drawn.
Let’s take a look at this in more detail.
Can You Move Back And Forth In Chess?
“Back and forth” is a vague concept but it is perfectly OK for a piece to move forwards and backwards on the same line as long as the move is legal. So, a queen, for example, might move from a1 to a8, then move back to a2 and then move to a7 and, in fact, could continue to do this as many times as they like as long as the player does not fall foul of the “threefold repetition law” (more on this in just a few moments).
Can You Move The Same Piece Twice In Chess?
Yes, in fact, you can move the same piece as many times as you like unless the piece is unable to move legally, you could in theory, move your queen, king or rook 63 times, and each time move it to a different square on the board and this would be completely OK.
Of course, you are unlikely ever to move a piece more than two or three times in succession but there is nothing to prevent you from doing so and many beginner chess players will find themselves moving their king around the board in several consecutive moves in the endgame.
Can You Repeat Moves In Chess?
Yes, the only constraint on making the same move is the legality of that move. So, you can, for example, move your Knight to say King’s Rook 3 and then move it back to its starting position without impediment.
What you can’t do is make a move again that is now against the rules. Which might include trying to move a pawn backwards (they only move forward) or moving a king into check when previously the move did not entail moving into check.
Finally, as with “moving back and forth” you can repeat moves only as long as you don’t fall foul of the threefold repetition law.
What Is The Threefold Repetition Law In Chess?
FIDE the International Chess Federation sets the rules of the game and one of the lesser known rules is that of threefold repetition.
Many players interpret this rule as the idea that the two players must not make the same moves three times over, each. So, for example, a player moves their knight to a square and moves it back again three times while their opponent moves their king to a square and then moves it back again three times.
While this would, in most circumstances, infringe the threefold repetition law – the law is more complicated than that and it can come as a surprise, particularly to new players when they infringe it by accident.
In fact the law as given by FIDE states:
A chess game shall be considered a draw if the same position occurs a minimum of three times during the chess game (the intervening moves are irrelevant to this). The draw must be claimed by the player who’s turn it is to move.
They make the claim either:
- If a position is going to appear a third time and they are going to make the move to invoke the rule – the player must write it on their scoresheet and then summon the arbiter to explain they intend to make the move and claim the draw
- Or the position has now appeared for a third time, the player who’s turn it is to make a move may then claim the draw
A position is said to be the same if it meets three criteria:
- The player who has the move had the move when it previously appeared
- All the pieces of the same types and colors are in the same squares as they were previously
- All the moves that were possible in the previous instances of the position are still playable
This third criterion is important because:
- Losing the right to capture en passant (which can only be claimed when the pawn is first moved) means it will not be the “same position”
- Losing the right to castle (either king and/or rook and/or other rook has been moved since the previous position arose) means it will not be the “same position”
But what is not required is for the threefold repetition to occur on three consecutive moves. This rule does not apply to moves it applies to positions. This is an important distinction. Though in many games it will mean the same thing, in some games it will not and the unwary may find themselves with a drawn game even when they had a winning position to play from.
If a player claims a draw under this rule and is incorrect there is a penalty paid to the other player who gets an additional 2 minutes added to their clock. The player claiming the draw must also play the move that they had written down (assuming that it was, in fact, a legal move).
It is also possible to be disqualified for making such a claim if the arbiter deems it to be an attempt to annoy or distract the other player.
Finally, even if the claim is wrong, the other player may choose to interpret the claim as an offer of a draw and accept that offer.
It is worth noting, however, that the players are not required to claim a draw under this rule and may continue to play as usual. If the position is repeated 5 times though, the arbiter is required to intercede and declare a draw whether it is sought by the players or not.
Why Does This Rule Exist?
Rather like the rule which relates to perpetual check (where an opponent aggressively keeps placing the other player’s king in check without moving to checkmate the king) the rule on threefold repetition is designed to stop a player from frustrating their opponent by making no real progress in the game.
Nobody wishes to take part in an infinite chess match where the same position is repeated endlessly, so the rule exists to prevent this situation from occurring and to prevent one player holding out for the other’s resignation out of frustration and boredom. In short, it’s meant to guarantee a fair outcome to the game.
There are some good reasons for tournament players to occasionally repeat a move and, in particular, sometimes there is an “increment” where time is added on to a player’s clock for reaching a certain number of moves. However, this doesn’t excuse them from having to obey the threefold repetition law and there are examples in competitive chess where a player with a superior position has accidentally drawn the game due to this rule.
Can you repeat moves in chess? Yes. Though the move you are repeating must be a legal move in the rules of chess, you can’t, for example, reverse the direction of a pawn and move it back to its original position as pawns must always move forward. However, other than with this restriction you can repeat a move as often as you like.
What you must not do, unless you are seeking a draw, is repeat the same position of the entire board three times, and the intervening moves do not matter for this rule. So, while many people assume this to mean you can’t make the same sets of moves three times (and you cannot) there are other ways to trigger this rule too.