Perpetual Check in Chess – Advanced Chess Tactic Guide

Chess pawns

A perpetual check is one of those chess terms that beginners usually learn later on, one other example of these terms is en passant, a similar obscure rule that is also present in chess. There are even experienced players who have never made a perpetual check in any of the games, primarily because they don’t even consider it during gameplay.

This is such a shame since a perpetual check can literally save a losing position and make it a draw, it is an important consideration when playing. Today I will be answering many questions about perpetual checks in chess and other important contexts about it, keep on reading if you are interested.

What is perpetual check in chess?

A perpetual check refers to a situation in chess where a continuous check can be made within an infinite number of moves, this is forced and usually means that no progress can be made. Usually done by a queen that has entrapped a king, a piece delivers a continuous check on key squares which would be considered a draw.

If both sides continually move back and forth without any concession then no progress can be made, it is only right to consider this a draw. Since no checkmate has been made then a perpetual check is still drawn even if there are many checks, it is important to note that this is different from the threefold repetition.

The threefold repetition rule occurs when both sides have moved back and forth three times with any other piece that is not forced, usually there is a consent between both players to draw the game. A perpetual check is different, since the checks are made to the king it is forced and one of the players cannot choose to not draw the game.

Perpetual checks are basically positions where continuous checks can be made over and over again while the enemy king cannot escape the checks, this way, no progress can be made. The cases where perpetual checks occur are situations where the enemy king doesn’t have many squares to hide in, it doesn’t result in a checkmate nor a stalemate, instead a continuous barrage of checks.

Do perpetual checks occur often?

If you have been playing chess for some time then you might come to think that perpetual checks are rare, though they are not common they are not as uncommon as some people think. Mostly it has to do with the level of competition, the reason it doesn’t appear often in lower-rated games is because players don’t even know that it is possible.

In higher tiered chess tournaments perpetual checks tend to happen more frequently since people there can take advantage, which is why it is so obscure for some beginners, they rarely see it. The truth being that it is actually rare, however it is not so rare that it will only happen in 1 every 100 games.

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The reality is it happens in some 1 in every 20 games or even 1 in every 10 games depending on how competitive the tournament is going, in online chess I would agree that it is rarer than over the board. However the reason why online chess players tend to not perform perpetual checks is because they do not know it or cannot find the right moves, over the board players are more competitive in general.

Perpetual checks occur often in games where the players can take advantage of them, basically meaning that the stronger the competition the more likely it can occur. In lower rated games it doesn’t happen as often since the players are not aware that it is possible, in elite games it is a viable option.

How do you escape a perpetual check?

Some may think that there is a way to escape a perpetual check since they cannot imagine its nature, however if you have seen one then you would know that there is no escape. That is actually the point of perpetual check and why it is even called “perpetual” in the first place, meaning it is never ending or continuous.

There is no way to escape a perpetual check since it is continuous in nature, what a player can do is to prevent the perpetual from happening in the first place. Once a king is caught in a perpetual check the checking piece can force a draw by moving back and forth, once this is done it is a draw.

Believe it or not there are actually positions like this especially if the enemy king is limited to a few squares, this is because a checking piece only has to cover a limited number of squares. The perfect job for situations like this is the queen since it covers over three squares it is likely to trap the king in a perpetual state.

Now there are few situations where a rook + another piece can perform the perpetual check; however this is rare, usually the perpetual check is only made by the queen. Once the enemy king is trapped in an infinite loop of moving back and forth due to having limited squares it will be a perpetual, it is not a checkmate but close enough that it will be considered a draw.

Can a perpetual check be prevented?

This is actually the better answer than trying to escape a perpetual check (which is inescapable in nature), one just needs to set up their position in the way that a perpetual check is unlikely. Due to its infinite loop nature some may think that it cannot be prevented, though you cannot escape once it happens it can be prevented before it happens.

A perpetual check can absolutely be prevented if the player has the right awareness, which is why it doesn’t happen in every single game. In most games actually there are not a lot of perpetual checks since the players know how to avoid it, it needs a specific setup in order to work.

For one it needs a position where the king is limited enough that it is unlikely to run away, usually when the castled king has only opened limited squares for an escape route. There are also others that are a result of a wacky combination where a player needs their king to be secured, the end of the combination entails a king that is in an awkward limited situation.

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Whatever the case it is important to secure the king but not make it too secure that it is prone to perpetual checks, there should be enough breathing room or near defenders that can prevent the perpetual. Another thing is you should absolutely prevent it when you spot it (mostly by adding defenders that can block the check), this will take some analysis to the perpetual pattern which players learn over time.

Why are perpetual checks considered a draw?

Since a perpetual check involves an actual “check” some people may question why it is a draw to begin with, I mean trapping the enemy king without any means of escape is a resounding victory in war. And yet chess, which has been noted to be remodeled after concepts of warfare, seems to think that trapping the enemy king should only be considered a draw.

As I stated earlier, perpetual checks are considered a draw since it doesn’t really violate any rule in chess, it is where a player forces their opponent to move the same piece back and forth. However even taking that in consideration shouldn’t we make it a win if one side manages to trap the enemy king? isn’t that considered victory in the times of war?

This wishful thinking has an end if you look deeply at the rules of chess, even a stalemate is only considered a draw even if one side actually manages to trap the enemy king. The false reality in this way of thinking is considering chess as an actual field of warfare, it may be modeled to war to such an extent but everything about it is not the same as in a “real war”.

In a stalemate there is not really a checkmate which is the objective of chess, it is only considered a draw since no moves can be made yet there is still no checkmate. This is the same with perpetual checks, the result is a stale situation where no progress can be made for both sides, it makes sense that this is considered a draw.

Is perpetual check cheating?

Since perpetual checks can be made in some positions where one side is completely losing, there are those that think it is cheating for it to be considered a draw. If you have been praying for hourz spending so much energy finding the right moves every time, only to fall for a perpetual check eventually then it is frustrating.

However we have to understand that it is the same with a very goal of the game itself, the checkmate, no matter how much material advantage you have it doesn’t matter if you have been checkmated. Imagine spending so much time and effort gaining material only to lose to a checkmate, it doesn’t feel good right?

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But this is considered fair play since the the game is literally about capturing the enemy king among all else, the material advantage is just one of the ways to ensure that goal. It is definitely a step in that direction but it is not the ultimate goal, this is the same reason why perpetual checks should be a draw, it is not really a checkmate yet the enemy king cannot escape.

A perpetual check is not cheating, it is a condition in chess that has no rules around it whatsoever which can prevent its usage. Another similar encounter is the threefold repetition that also results in a draw, since no progress can be made for both sides a draw is the only result.

Should we ban perpetual checks in chess?

A perpetual check technically does not violate any rule of chess hence why it is not forbidden, however some may think that it should actually be banned. This is because it is a cop out from losing positions that can ruin the game entirely, it is much easier to do than a stalemate that can only happen when there are fewer pieces left on the board.

Or is it? actually this is not true since a perpetual check is a much rarer occurrence than a simple stalemate, it require an accurate calculation in order to be made. Stalemates can occur even without calculation which proves its regularity, almost all perpetual checks are calculated several moves ahead.

A perpetual check is a hard thing to do and requires a complicated setup, I don’t think that it will ruin chess for the long term. I can even argue that perpetual checks are so beautiful that the player who have done it deserves a reward, and the just reward should be drawn game.

Why is perpetual check important in chess?

Despite some people might think, there is an underlying benefit in allowing the perpetual check to remain in chess, mainly that the losing side will still try to play the game. There are many chess players who give up after losing a certain amount of material, this is not good for competition since games can still be won even without the material advantage. 

A perpetual check is one of the few options a losing side has in order to draw the game, without it chess would be a game that only requires material advantage. Chess should be more complicated than that, this makes the game “less solvable” and enjoyable for everyone.

With the option of having a perpetual check, chess players are incentivized to continue struggling in order to have the probability of drawing. This makes for beautiful games that wouldn’t have occured if a player had resigned early, this makes for notable games that people can enjoy for all of time.

A perpetual check is an advanced tactic in chess that players can do in order to draw losing positions, it involves forcing the enemy king into a neverending array of checks. The setup of thos usually requires enemy king that is trapped in a limited amount of square, and a queen that can check the trapped king continuously without ever stopping.

The result is a neverending back and forth where no progress can be made, it is considered a draw and one of the reasons why losing players remain competitive. It is not only permissible but it actually helps chess blossom even more, thank you for reading.

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