# Can a Chess Game Go on Forever? (Maximum Number of Moves)

Chess is a game that has fascinated and challenged players for centuries.

With its complex strategies and endless possibilities, it is often wondered if a chess game can go on forever.

Why a Chess Game Can’t Go On Forever

No, a chess game cannot go on forever due to the implementation of rules such as the 50-move rule, which declares a game a draw if no capture or pawn move has occurred in the last 50 moves, the three-fold reptition rule, insufficient material, and the conditions of checkmate and stalemate that naturally lead to the conclusion of the game.

Theoretical Maximum Number of Moves in a Chess Game

The maximum theoretical number of moves a chess game can last is 5,899 moves. This is considering the 50-move rule, which states that a game is drawn if no capture or pawn move has occurred in the last 50 moves. The calculation considers the maximum number of times the 50-move rule can be reset, which happens with each capture or pawn move. (We calculate this below.)

Below we look more deeply at the maximum number of moves in a chess game and the factors that can contribute to a game lasting indefinitely.

## The Rules of Chess

Before delving into the maximum number of moves in a chess game, let’s briefly review the rules of chess.

Chess is played on a square board divided into 64 squares of alternating colors.

Each player starts with 16 pieces, including a king, a queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns.

The objective of the game is to checkmate the opponent’s king, which means putting the king in a position where it is under attack and cannot escape capture.

## The 50-Move Rule

In chess, there is a rule known as the 50-move rule.

According to this rule, if both players have made 50 consecutive moves without capturing a piece or moving a pawn, the game is considered a draw.

This rule was introduced to prevent games from dragging on indefinitely and to encourage players to make progress towards checkmate.

The 50-move rule is based on the assumption that if neither player makes any progress in 50 moves, it is unlikely that they will be able to achieve checkmate in the subsequent moves.

By enforcing this rule, the game can be declared a draw, saving both players from an endless and fruitless pursuit of victory.

## Three-Fold Reputation

A position can’t be repeated more than three times. If it is, the game is declared a draw.

## Insufficient Material

When kings are left standing or one side has a king plus a piece that can’t checkmate in coordination with the king (e.g., a knight), the game will be declared a draw due to insufficient material.

## Checkmate and Stalemate

The concepts of checkmate and stalemate serve as mechanisms to prevent games from continuing indefinitely.

### Checkmate

A checkmate occurs when a king is in a position to be captured (“in check”) and there is no way to move the king out of capture (the game ends with a victory for the attacking player).

An example is below:

### Stalemate

A stalemate, on the other hand, is a situation where a player has no legal moves and their king is not in check, resulting in a draw.

These conditions ensure that games progress towards an eventual end, preventing perpetual chasing or indefinite extensions of the game.

## Most Number of Theoretical Chess Moves in One Game

The highest number of possible moves in a chess game is 5,899:

### Calculating the Maximum Number of Moves

With the 50-move rule in place, we can now calculate the maximum theoretical number of moves in a chess game.

The calculation considers the maximum number of times the 50-move rule can be reset, which happens with each capture or pawn move.

In a game of chess, there are 30 pieces that can be captured (excluding the kings) and 16 pawns that can potentially promote to a different piece (like a queen) and subsequently be captured again.

1. 49 as black and white move knights around the board, ensuring to not violate the three-fold repetition rule.
2. 32 * 50 = 1600; this gets the pawns touching. In this case, White pushes each pawn 1 time until it is stopped by a black pawn. (All this time between pawn moves we are wasting time by moving heavy pieces around in some way.)
3. 6 * 50 * 8 = 2400; the white pawns are captured one at a time. As a black pawn is unblocked, it goes down the board, one square at a time every 50 moves.
4. They promote to Knights. 7 * 50 = 350. Then each of the new knights are captured.
5. 30 * 50 = 1500; the rest of the pieces are captured.
6. Kings have to be left standing. At that point, the game will be declared a draw due to insufficient material.

The sum of these moves is 5,899.

Technically, it’s 5,898.5 moves, as white will complete 5,899 moves while black will complete 5,898.

If you apply a 75-move limit, the longest possible chess game is 8848.5 moves long.

## Most Number of Chess Positions

The complexity of chess is encapsulated by the Shannon number, which is an estimated lower bound on the game-tree complexity of chess, approximated to be about 10^120.

This number, proposed by Claude Shannon, represents the potential number of possible positions or games, illustrating the immense complexity and variations that can occur in chess.

However, it also indicates that there is a finite number of possible games, thereby limiting the extent to which chess can be played, and ensuring that games are confined within a calculable, though vast, set of possibilities.

## Examples of Long Chess Games

While the 50-move rule helps prevent games from going on forever, there have been instances where games have lasted an exceptionally long time.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

### 1. Ivan Nikolic vs. Goran Arsovic (1989)

In this game, played in Belgrade in 1989, Ivan Nikolic and Goran Arsovic played for a staggering 269 moves before agreeing to a draw.

The game lasted for over 20 hours and is one of the longest recorded games in chess history.

### 2. Samuel Reshevsky vs. Bobby Fischer (1958)

In this famous game played in the Portoroz Interzonal Tournament in 1958, Samuel Reshevsky and Robert (Bobby) Fischer battled it out for 92 moves before Reshevsky resigned.

The game is renowned for Fischer’s brilliant endgame play and is often studied by chess enthusiasts.

### 3. Anatoly Karpov vs. Veselin Topalov (1994)

In this game played in Linares, Spain, in 1994, Anatoly Karpov and Veselin Topalov played for 102 moves before Karpov emerged victorious.

The game is known for its complexity and the strategic maneuvers employed by both players.

## Factors Influencing Game Length

Several factors can contribute to the length of a chess game. Here are some key factors that can influence the number of moves in a game:

• Player Skill: The skill level of the players can significantly impact the length of a game. Highly skilled players are more likely to find optimal moves quickly, leading to shorter games.
• Opening Choice: The opening moves chosen by the players can determine the course of the game. Some openings lead to more tactical positions, while others result in more strategic battles. Tactical positions often lead to quicker games, while strategic battles can prolong the game.
• Time Control: The time control set for a game can also influence its length. In tournaments, players are given a certain amount of time to make their moves. If the time control is shorter, players may feel rushed and make quicker decisions, potentially leading to shorter games.
• Position Complexity: The complexity of the position on the board can also impact the length of a game. Complicated positions with multiple possibilities require more time for players to analyze and make decisions, potentially leading to longer games.

## FAQs – Can a Chess Game Go on Forever?

### 1. Can a chess game go on indefinitely?

No, the maximum number of moves in a chess game is 5,899.

While a chess game can theoretically go on forever, the 50-move rule helps prevent games from dragging on indefinitely.

If both players have made 50 consecutive moves without capturing a piece or moving a pawn, the game is declared a draw.

### 2. What happens if a chess game reaches the maximum number of moves?

If a chess game reaches the maximum number of moves without a checkmate or resignation, it is considered a draw according to the 50-move rule.

### 3. How many moves can a chess game have?

A chess game can have a maximum of 50 moves without capturing a piece or moving a pawn before it is declared a draw.

### 4. Are there any exceptions to the 50-move rule?

There are some exceptions to the 50-move rule. If a player can demonstrate that they have made progress towards checkmate in the last 50 moves, the game can continue.

Additionally, in certain endgame positions where checkmate is possible, the 50-move rule may not apply.

### 5. What is the purpose of the 50-move rule?

The purpose of the 50-move rule is to prevent games from dragging on indefinitely and to encourage players to make progress towards checkmate.

It ensures that games do not become endless and fruitless pursuits of victory.

### 6. Can a chess game end in a draw without reaching the maximum number of moves?

Yes, a chess game can end in a draw without reaching the maximum number of moves.

There are several ways a game can end in a draw, including stalemate, threefold repetition, insufficient material to checkmate, and agreement between the players.

### 7. How long can a chess game last?

The length of a chess game can vary greatly depending on various factors, including player skill, opening choice, time control, and position complexity.

Games can last anywhere from a few moves to several hundred moves.

### 8. Are there any strategies to end a game quickly?

While there is no guaranteed strategy to end a game quickly, certain opening choices and tactical play can increase the chances of a quick victory.

However, it is important to note that attempting to end a game quickly can also backfire if the opponent defends well.

### 9. Can a chess game go on forever in online play?

In online chess, the 50-move rule is typically enforced by the platform or software used for playing.

Therefore, even in online play, a chess game cannot go on forever and will be declared a draw if the maximum number of moves is reached without a checkmate.

### 10. Are there any records for the longest chess games?

Yes, there are records for the longest chess games.

One of the longest-recorded games in chess history lasted for 269 moves between Ivan Nikolic and Goran Arsovic in 1989.

### 11. Can a chess game go on forever if both players refuse to make progress?

If both players refuse to make progress and continuously repeat the same moves, the game can end in a draw due to threefold repetition.

Threefold repetition occurs when the same position occurs on the board three times with the same player to move.

### 12. Can a chess game go on forever if both players have infinite time?

If both players have infinite time, a chess game can theoretically go on forever.

However, in practical play, time controls are set to ensure that games have a reasonable duration.

### 13. Can a chess game go on forever if both players have perfect play?

If both players have perfect play, a chess game would likely end in a draw due to the nature of the game.

With optimal play from both sides, it becomes extremely difficult to create imbalances and opportunities for a decisive victory.

### 14. Can a chess game go on forever in correspondence chess?

In correspondence chess, players have an extended period to make their moves, often days or weeks.

While the 50-move rule still applies, the longer time control allows for more complex positions to be analyzed, potentially resulting in longer games.

### 15. Can a chess game go on forever in professional tournaments?

In professional tournaments, games are typically played with a specific time control.

While the time control ensures that games do not go on forever, it also allows for sufficient time for players to make strategic decisions, potentially resulting in longer games.

## Summary – Can a Chess Game Go on Forever? (Maximum Number of Moves)

While a chess game can theoretically go on forever, the 50-move rule helps prevent games from dragging on indefinitely.

If both players have made 50 consecutive moves without capturing a piece or moving a pawn, the game is declared a draw.

Checkmate and stalemate can also end the game.

A player running out of time is another (though is not relevant to the theoretical number of moves that can be played).

However, there have been instances where games have lasted exceptionally long, with hundreds of moves played.

The length of a chess game is influenced by various factors, including player skill, opening choice, time control, and position complexity.

Highly skilled players, tactical openings, shorter time controls, and simpler positions tend to result in shorter games, while less experienced players, strategic openings, longer time controls, and complex positions can prolong the game.