FIDE Rule 10.2 (the ‘2-minute rule’)

This rule is one of the most controversial – and misunderstood – rules in chess.   There are many people who would like to see it scrapped; indeed, if you play with increments, eg Fischer timing with, say, 15 seconds added each move, then there is no need for this rule.  Perhaps in time, when digital clocks are the norm, we will move to Fischer timing for all graded games and the problem will disappear.   In the Bury Area League, Fischer timing is an option, but has only been used a few times by consenting players.

This is the full FIDE rule:

If the player, having the move, has less than two minutes left on his clock, he may claim a draw before his flag falls. He shall summon the arbiter and may stop the clocks.

a.  If the arbiter agrees the opponent is making no effort to win the game by normal means, or that it is not possible to win by normal means, then he shall declare the game drawn.  Otherwise he shall postpone his decision or reject the claim.

b.  If the arbiter postpones his decision, the opponent may be awarded two extra minutes and the game shall continue, if possible in the presence of an arbiter.  The arbiter shall declare the final result later in the game or as soon as possible after a flag has fallen. He shall declare the game drawn if he agrees that the final position cannot be won by normal means, or that the opponent was not making sufficient attempts to win by normal means.

c.  If the arbiter has rejected the claim, the opponent shall be awarded two extra minutes time.

d.  The decision of the arbiter shall be final relating to (a), (b) and (c).

The obvious problem in League or County matches is that there is no arbiter.   The League rules attempt to get round that problem by advising (Rule 51a): “If their own games have been completed the two captains may jointly arbitrate in this matter and if necessary should allow the game to continue until flag fall in order properly to evaluate the claim.”

The trouble is, are the two captains sufficiently knowledgeable of the rules to be able to ‘properly evaluate’ the claim?   I’ll deal with that later!

Let’s get back to basics.   Firstly, when should a claim be made, and why?   The rule can be invoked in standard-play or rapidplay games, but not in Blitz (less than 15 minutes each on the clock).

The rarer occasion is when the opponent cannot win by normal means.   This should be clear to the players, and certainly to the arbiter/captains.   In this case, the draw would be immediately awarded (if not accepted by the opponent).

The more common occasion is if you are the player with less than two minutes remaining on your clock, and therefore in some danger of losing on time, but you feel that your opponent is not trying to win by normal means, i.e. just shuffling the pieces around in order to waste time.   Then you can stop the clocks and claim a draw.   It’s important to appreciate that this claim of a draw is also equivalent to an offer of a draw, and therefore the opponent can immediately accept.   However, if he declines and is happy to continue, then he does stand a chance of losing the game, either by checkmate or on time.

A word of advice here.   If you wait until there are only a few seconds remaining before claiming the draw, you are not giving sufficient time for the arbiter/captains to decide if your opponent is trying to win by normal means.   There was a good example only last Wednesday in Cambridge, when Ian Wallis‘s opponent claimed a draw with just 20 seconds remaining.   The game continued with the two captains watching.   Ian made a move and his opponent then thought for the whole of the 20 seconds, when his flag fell.   The only evidence available was that one move by Ian, which is clearly insufficient.   The verdict was that Ian’s opponent had lost on time.

Ideally, therefore, if you intend to claim a draw, do so as soon as your clock shows under two minutes remaining (easier with digitals!).   Assuming the arbiter/captains ask for the game to continue, it is then up to your opponent to demonstrate that he is trying to win.   Before your clock runs out, your opponent will need to make a reasonable number of moves in order to prove his intentions.   If he were to make, say, only one or two moves in that time, then the draw will probably be awarded (provided you, the claimant, have played your moves sufficiently quickly to allow your opponent enough time).

When a claim is made, it is usual practice for the arbiter/captains to postpone their decision and allow the game to continue.   On rare occasions, usually if the claim is clearly frivolous, the claim can be immediately rejected, in which case the opponent will be awarded two extra minutes and the game continues.

So, having postponed the decision and allowed the game to continue, what then happens at flag-fall?   The arbiter/captains have to make a decision.   By the way, they could make a decision before flag-fall, if it is completely obvious that either no attempt is being made, or is being made, but almost always they will wait until a flag falls. They should then not allow others in the room to contribute their thoughts, nor should they attempt to analyse the final position.   Any winning possibilities as at the final position are not relevant.   Their main consideration is, during that last part of the game when they were observing, was the opponent attempting to win by normal means?   If so, then the opponent wins; if not, then it’s a draw.   In some cases it may be necessary to re-trace the game’s progress before the claim was made, in which case the scoresheets can be used to play through the game.

Some further advice for arbiters/joint captains:   At no point should they make any comment, such as “Play on, because Black has a passed pawn and can win”.   Simply decide if the game should continue, and if so, say so without further comment, other than explaining if neceesary that you will make a decision later or at flag-fall.  If the opponent has more than five minutes remaining, he must maintain the game score.   If he has less than five minutes remaining, the arbiter/captains should write down the moves played, using a separate scoresheet.   Because of the possibility that they may be called upon to make a decision under 10.2, team captains should make themselves fully conversant with this rule.

Also, the award of two additional minutes under rule b. above, is very rare.   It might be given if the arbiter/captains felt that the claimant was simply trying to gain some extra thinking time (during the hiatus that usually occurs when such a claim is made), but that the claim nevertheless had some degree of validity.

It’s important to note that the arbiter’s decision is final, so there is no recourse to appeal.

Rule 10.2 always seems to provoke reactions, so let’s see some comments below, or even some examples of when you claimed, or had a claim made by your opponent.   If you would like to see some more examples of Rule 10.2, with Chairman of the FIDE Rules Committee Geurt Gijssen‘s comments, click here.

5 thoughts on “FIDE Rule 10.2 (the ‘2-minute rule’)
  1. I'll bite. "Cannot be won by normal means" is deeply ambigous, as is "making no effort" to win by such means.

    The former could simply mean "doesn't have mating material" and nothing more. But that leaves wide open cases where a game is drawn "with best play". Normal practice seems to be that the defending player needs to demonstrate that they know how to defend the position, but while this is normal practice (and in my view quite proper), it doesn't seem to be any part of the rule itself.

    And effort is of course difficult to assess. Morever, what if the efforts, while genuine, are completely ineffectual? Is genuine but ineffectual effort sufficient to undermine the claim of a draw? The way the rule is stated would suggest that it is, but my experience suggests that normally players have to demonstrate some form of "progress". However, that once more doesn't seem to be any part of the rule itself.

    I think I quite like the way the rule is typically applied, but the application seems so distant from the rule itself that I'd like to see it reworked.

    Also, you've said that "Any winning possibilities as at the final position are not relevant" but the rule states that the arbiter "shall declare the game drawn if he agrees that the final position cannot be won by normal means". Am I missing something here?

    1. To take your final point first – I think you are missing something. I said that "any winning possibilities .. are not relevant". That assumes that there MAY BE winning possibilities. But if at flag-fall the game CANNOT be won by normal means, then it's a cut and dried draw, because it's IMPOSSIBLE to win.

      I agree that the wording elsewhere is somewhat imprecise. One of the problems is of the use of the English language when rules are being set by an international committee. I would like to see draft rules reviewed before they are voted on so as to turn them into correct and unambiguous English. The Plain English Campaign could do the job.

      Clearly the arbiter/captains need to have some understanding of the game, in order to judge for themselves if the opponent is 'making no effort'. It IS subjective, which is a pity, because different arbiters could come to different decisions. Perhaps that's why there's no option to appeal.

    2. To make sure I understand … I think you're saying that while an arbiter should not take the presence of winning possibilities (for the player claimed against) as sufficient reason for rejecting a draw claim, an arbiter should take the lack of such possibilities as sufficient reason for accepting one.

      That seems fine (in both parts) if by winning possibilities we mean simply "having (or lacking) mating material". If we mean anything more, then the same vagueness that vitiates "normal means" will also be in play here.

      I like the idea of involving the Plain English Campaign!

    3. Yes, I think you've got it, almost. It's not the 'lack' of winning possibilities (that implies there may be 'some') but the impossibility of winning by normal means.

  2. Yes, by "lack" of winning possibilities, I didn't mean having fewer chances than one might hope for, but rather a "complete lack" or "total absence" of winning possibilities. My formulation did rather leave that open to interpretation.

    Such are the difficulties of framing rules!

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