Why Do You Have To Say Check In Chess?

Check, in chess, is the action of placing the opponent’s king in direct danger of being taken. However, as you cannot take the king, the opponent must then move their king out of check before they are allowed to carry out any other move. If you’ve ever watched people play chess you’ve probably heard one (or both) of them declare “check” when they move but do they have to do this?

Why do you have to say check in chess? You don’t have to say check in chess as it is not a rule. There can be good reasons, particularly in competitive play, not to declare check. However, in friendly games with nothing riding on the outcome, it’s considered good manners to say check when you place the opponent’s king in check.

Here’s everything you need to know about one of chess’s most distinctive moves.

Why say check in chess? - ChessPulse.com
Why say check in chess? – ChessPulse.com

What Is Check And Why Does It Matter?

The state of check is when any piece (apart from another king) moves into a position which would allow the king to be taken on their next move if the king does not either move away from the position they are currently in or block the line of attack on the board.

Some Simple Examples Of Check And How To React To It

So, for example if a king is threatened by a knight – the player whose king is under threat must either move their king or, if possible, they may also take their opponent’s knight to remove the threat.

If the king, on the other hand, is threated by a queen say three spaces away – the player can move their king, they may take the queen If possible or they may insert one of their pieces between the king and the opponent’s queen to remove the threat.

The entire purpose of chess is to place the opponent’s king in a position called “checkmate” which prevents the other player from using a single move to end the threat of check.

The Rules Of The Game When The King Is In Check

When a king is in check – the player whose king is under threat must deal with the threat of check, they may not make any other move except one that leads to their king being removed from check.

It is important to note that when castling, even when to get out of check, the king may not be moved through any position which results in check even if the final position does not involve being in check.

In some version of speed chess, there may be a rule which says that if a player leaves their king in check and, instead, moves another piece, they have forfeited the game. This is not typical, though, and you would expect to be informed of this, fairly substantial, amendment to standard rules before the game began.



Three Types Of Check To Look Out For

To make things a little more complicated the type of check that results in moving a piece to attack the king directly is a standard check but there are three other common ways to put the king in check and they all count too:

  • A discovered check. This involves moving one piece out of the way so that you open a line of attack between a piece on the same row/column as the piece you moved and the opponent’s king. Thus, the check is “discovered” not between the piece you moved and the king, but between the king and another one of your pieces.
  • A double check. This is an unusual result when the piece that you move places the king directly in check but also a “discovered check” is revealed by the move you made. In this instance, the opponent must evade both types of check in their next move if they want to stay in the game.
  • A cross check. This is when your opponent not only blocks your check but they also leave your king in check in return. It is, theoretically, possible for them to not just check you like this but also to place you in checkmate. This isn’t called a “cross checkmate” probably because there’s so little chance of this happening in play that it doesn’t come up enough to need a special name.

It’s important to note that whatever kind of check it is – the player with their king in check must move out of check on their next move.


Do You Have To Say Check In Chess?

As we said, you don’t have to say check nowadays. There appears to have been a time up until the early 20th century or so when players were required to announce that they’d placed their opponent’s king in check. But it is certainly not required in the modern rules of the game.

If the move is being recorded in algebraic notation it is customary to add a “+” sign after the move to denote that check arose but this, again, does not need to be shared with the opponent or the arbiter.

Interestingly, if you go back far enough (say back to the early 19th century or earlier), you can find a time when a threat to the opponent’s queen was also required to be notified and you would say “garde” when threatening the queen. Most modern chess players have never heard this term, however, and it would be pointless to offer it.

It’s also worth noting that it’s possible for a move to place a king in check and a queen in garde at the same time.


Is There An Advantage To Not Saying “Check”?

In informal games, it is customary to announce check when you place the opponent’s king in check and it’s both polite and in the interests of both players to do so. After all, a friendly game is not going to stay friendly if you deliberately waste your friend’s time before pointing out that they are in check.

However, in more formal games there are good reasons not to declare check. Most importantly that competitive chess is played on a clock. This clock provides each player with an allotted amount of time to make all their moves in (this is normally the same time for each player unless one is accepting some sort of handicap). When the time runs out – the player with no time has lost.

Not Declaring Check Wastes Your Opponent’s Time

This means that by not announcing check, the opponent may find themselves wasting valuable time on strategies that are not viable.

When they attempt to make a move that does not remove them from check, it is at this point that they should be told that they are in check – they must then work on removing themselves from check but they do not get their wasted time added back on the clock.

Thus, by not informing the player that they are in check, their opponent gains a potentially substantial advantage for the rest of the match. The more time that is wasted – the more pressure that a player feels and as their clock runs down toward zero, they are far more likely to make mistakes too.

There are also some forms of speed chess, including the official FIDE speed chess tournaments, where failing to spot that you are in check is a losing move in itself and making any move that fails to remove the threat of check means you have lost the game.


Conclusion

Why do you have to say check in chess? You don’t. In games that are for fun and between friends, it’s just sporting to do so and it prevents them wasting time looking for a move when they ought to be focusing on their king. However, this is not true in competitive chess, if your opponent doesn’t notice they are in check in competitive chess they may waste time (and thus run down their clock) looking for the wrong kind of move.

You are not required to make them aware of the fact they are in check and can accrue an advantage from their mistake. If they move without removing the king from check, you can force them to take the move back and start again (they do not get to add time to their clock for this). However, in the case of checkmate – you are expected to declare this situation as soon as you think you have arrived at it.

Scroll to Top