Understanding Dead Reckoning - Hard DRexit versus Soft DRexit


Dead reckoning has been with us since a few decades after FIDE decided to introduce the dead rule in game chess in a make-up I rate as Hard DRexit:

(Hard DRexit) article 5.2.2: The game is drawn when a position has arisen in which neither player can checkmate the opponent’s king with any series of legal moves. The game is said to end in a ‘dead position’. This immediately ends the game.

"Dead reckoning" is the associated term in the composition field to designate all evaluations to determine if positions are dead. The purpose of the dead rule was to prevent aimless manoeuvering until closure by 50M(oves) or 3R(epetitions) claims without the possibility of checkmates on either side. Simple example:



However, there was an unintended while harmless side-effect of the dead-rule related to stalemates. Occasionally a position would end in a "dead" draw one or a few moves before a stalemate occurred. That was uncalled for since the rule was only introduced to abort the senseless move series which might follow the preceding diagram and not the few moves before manifesting a stalemate such as in the diagram below:



Then another thing happened. Two new rules were introduced to make draws automatic after 5 repetitions and 75-moves (without pawn move or capture). And they proved to be new places where the dead rule could terminate a game before it was due. Example:



This position is dead as no move sequence exists that allows a checkmate before the 75-move forced draw kicks in. Since the premature draws only shortens the duration of the game and do not change the outcome, the game issues are mostly theoretical.

Outside the game domain there were more serious issues. Already in existence were many composed problems based on stalemate draws but also on automatic 3R and 50M terminations. The dead rule provided many opportunities for new creations but also appeared to destroy a number of existing problems (amongst which one of my own best), especially those with duration numbers on them like "=3" (forced draw in 3 moves). They were now flawed beyond repair because the dead rule shortened parts of their solutions. The Composition Federation tackled this with a new article which has many drawbacks of its own but which is not the subject of the present comment.

What I want to suggest here that there is another way for FIDE to define dead positions by returning to the original concept and bypassing the collisions of deadness with the other drawing rules. This approach which I named Soft DRexit would not terminate positions close to drawing borders but still perform its duty as eliminator of senseless prolongations of drawn games (as in the first diagram).

(Soft DRexit) article 5.2.2: The game is drawn immediately when a position has arisen in which neither player can checkmate the opponent’s king within 1 billion moves and there is no certain stalemate within 1 billion moves - under the basic rules of play,

[Note: I argued in another post that a billion-move rule should be added to complete the basic rules of play which makes the formulation of Soft article 5.2.2 logical; there are however alternative criteria to achieve the same]

This article effectively says that - without changing the rules of play - you should make your DR-analysis by assuming that 3R and 50M and 5R and 75M do not exist because they are not in the basic rule set while stalemate is explicitly ignored! As said, I am convinced this is in line with the orginal intent of article 5.2.2.

Does this mean that we must abolish the Hard DRexit article 5.2.2 which exists now? No of course not. Some problem composers will love to use it alongside the Soft DRexit version I described!

Another discussion is which version of article 5.2.2 should be activated by default in which composition category (like endgame study, orthodox problem, retro problem). Whatever we pick, my prediction is that we'll still end up with both DRexit versions in use in several categories. Both have their plusses and minuses!

[Note: Letting the dead rule ignore 3R, 5R, 50M and 75M is not strange. These rules were themselves carefully designed to ignore one another! Imagine that a position repetition would require that you are at the same move count of a 50M series. Would effectively destroy the repetition draws!]


Update 14/11: first version was unclear; now extensively edited.


Well written my friend!


Thnx! It is tough to write about a subject which people hardly ever address on purpose, but they nevertheless stumble over when composing chess problems. And those who really target the DR theme are a small specialist group with a low profile on this site. Except for the king of DR, Andrew Buchanan, who occasionally visits us!