Sunday, February 25, 2007

Examples of Underpromotion

chess diagram
Cole-NN, USATE 2007
White to play and win.
Play continued 1.Rf8!? Rxf8 ...

At the Kenilworth Chess Club the other night, I spoke with Jim Cole about his experience as captain of the Kenilworth CC Rookies at the US Amateur Teams East. It was his first rated tournament, so a lot was new and exciting to him. But he had one rather awkward experience that he was still having trouble digesting.

During one of his games, he reached the position in the diagram above as White against a young opponent. Seeing a quick way to Queen his pawn, Jim naturally played 1.Rf8!? and the game continued 1....Rxf8 2.gxf8, at which point Jim reached for and grasped the Queen that was sitting beside the board.

His opponent jumped up and declared, "Stalemate!"

"But I haven't even completed my move," Jim protested, just now realizing that a Queen on f8 would make an immediate draw.

"It doesn't matter," his young opponent declared with complete confidence. "Touch move rule! You touched your Queen! Stalemate!"

I assured Jim that his opponent was mistaken, and that he was allowed to touch any piece that was off the board without being forced to place it on the queening square. We analyzed the position a bit and it was clear that making a Bishop would win very quickly. I realized later that even a Knight would work. But the fact was past and, as a practical matter, it had been settled as soon as he shook his opponent's hand and signed the scoresheet--even if his move was never completed on the board.

When I got home that night, I immediately took out my rule book and looked it up. According to Rule 10H of the USCF's Official Rules, 5th edition, "There is no penalty for touching a piece that is off the board. A player who advances a pawn to the last rank and then touches a piece off the board is not obligated to promote the pawn to the piece touched until that piece has been released on the promotion square" (pp. 22-23). Jim was right to be upset.

But then I realized that, even if he had known the rule, Jim would have had a lot of trouble putting down his Queen and picking up a Bishop. Being an honest fellow, Jim would have had to admit that he had fully intended to place a Queen on f8 before his opponent had intervened by declaring "Stalemate!" Therefore to change his move would be unethical, practically like receiving "unsolicited advice" from others during a game (see 20E ff.)--even if the advice came from his opponent!

Best to just accept it as a lesson learned--and motivation for actually sitting down to read the Rules in full!

As I was puzzling over the position, I remembered an article by John Nunn on underpromotion that I had stumbled upon the other day in one of my chess files. I had torn it out of a magazine (likely New in Chess circa 1985-1986), so I can't give you the specific citation. It featured several fascinating tactical endings and a discussion of how rare it is to see a position where a player must underpromote in order to win. Having said that, he also gave the following interesting position, which I cover in my article.

chess diagram
Branimir Vujic - Marjia Petrovic
Yugoslav Ladies' Championship, Kula 1985
White to play and win.


Malcolm Tredinnick said...


You wrote "it had been settled as soon as he shook his opponent's hand and signed the scoresheet".

In international play, at least, only the signing of the scoresheet really determines the result -- shaking hands is not a deciding factor. This has been tested a number of times, since it's not an unknown mistake/hustle, apparently.

Now, I'm not sure what the usual USCF interpretation is, since the USCF doesn't seem to make it's rules available, even to members, without payment. However, I did play in a US tournament last year (the American Open) and a dispute along these lines broke out in one of the lower section where player A announced mate, hands were shaken and then player B realised it wasn't mate after all (and he was, in fact, just winning). After a stand-up shouting match, the TD, Randy Hough, finally managed to restore calm and ruled play must continue. Not sure if this would be a consistent result across the country, by Randy's pretty experienced at this and his ruling certainly matched my understanding of what would happen under FIDE rules, too.

Tom Chivers said...

Announced mates still happen!? Goodness. How silly.

Michael, you might like this study, if you've not seen it before. Herbstman 1934. A classic on this theme. White to play and win. 5rk1/3qPb2/8/7P/8/3B4/8/1K1R4 w - - 0 1

Michael Goeller said...

Malcolm -- Thanks for the interesting note about when a game is officially over. That itself is an interesting question. I'm sure speech act theory would be of some aid in all these discussions.

Tom -- Underpromotion is an important puzzle theme--even if rare in practice. I like the Knight fork in the one you give.

Tom Chivers said...

Indeed it is - but I think the theme of the one above (white has to be ready for all three under-promotions) is really quite rare?

Joe Renna said...

I (unrated) just played a game against Greg Tomkovich (1759) where he had to Underpromote in order to avoid stalemate, a Bishop would have done it also. It was really all I could hope for and I played the few previous moves towards the chance. Of course , he was too slick to slip up, even though I feigned nonchalance at the prospect. Inside I was brain was doing backflips at the the thought of drawing. It was great while it lasted. Here's the game:
Greg Tomkovich - Joe Renna
white - black
1. d4, d5. 2. c4, e6. 3. Nc3, Bb4. 4. Nf3, Nc6. 5, Bg5, Nf6. 6. e3, O-O. 7. Bd3, dxc4. 8. Bxc4, e5. 9. dxe5, Qxd1. 10. Rxd1, Ne4. 11. O-O, Nxc3. 12. bxc3, Bxc3. 13. Bf4, Bg4. 14. Rc1, Ba5. 15. Bd5, Bd7. 16. Rfd1, Nd8. 17. Bxb7, Nxb7. 18. Rxd7, Nd8. 19. Nd4, Rb1. 20. e6, fxe6. 21. Bxc7, Rb7. 22. Rxd8, Rxd8. 23, Bxd8, Bxd8. 24. Nxc6, Rb8. 25. Nxd8, Rxd8. 26. Kf1, h6. 27. Ke2, Kh7. 28. Rc7, a5. 29. Ra7, Rd5. 30. e4, Rb5. 31. Ke3, Rh5. 32. h3, Rg5. 33. g4, Rc5. 34. Kd3, h5. 35. f4, Rb5. 36. e5, hxg4. 37. hxg4, Rd5+. 38. Kc4, Rd2. 39. Rxa5, Rf2. 40. f5, Re2. 41. e6, Re4+. 42. Kd5, Rxg4. 43. e7, Rg5. 44. Ke6, Rg6+. 45. fxg6, Kh6. 46. e8 (Rook), Kxg6. 47. Rf8, Kh6. 48. Kf5, g6+. 49. Kf6, Kh7. 50. Ra7+, Kh6. 51. Rh8++. 1-0