Can I Undo a Move in Chess?

Chess is a place where every move matters, every decision carries weight, and strategy unfolds with each piece’s placement. Making moves is the obvious part of the game, but what about undoing these moves?

You can’t undo a move in official chess games. Once you physically release a piece or press the clock, you can’t undo a move. In casual or online games, some platforms may allow “takebacks” by mutual agreement if no piece was captured, and there were no pawn moves. This is not a formal rule.

Let’s delve into this question and figure out the scenarios where you can and can not undo a move in chess.

Can I Undo a Move in Chess?

Every move in the game of chess is vital, and once made, it usually stands. When a player physically releases a piece, lets go, or presses the clock in an official chess game, the move is generally considered to be final and cannot be undone.

Chess movements are permanent, which increases the strain and intensity of the game because players must carefully weigh their options before making a move. Since actions have consequences in chess, the strategy changes depending on the movements performed by both players.

Why Do Players Sometimes Want to Undo a Move in Chess?

Chess players can wish to reverse a move for a variety of reasons, such as enjoyment, the desire to get better, the rules of the game, and player dynamics.

It is uncommon in organized chess tournaments, but it is used in casual and friendly matches, demonstrating how adaptable and versatile chess is as a game of competition and study. Why would you want to do it in the first place?

  1. Mistakes and Oversights: Even skilled players make mistakes in the precision-based game of chess. An unintentional action, a mistake, or failure to see an opponent’s threat can make you want to fix the error right away.
  2. Learning and Improvement: Undoing a move offers a chance to learn from errors, especially for novices. Players can improve their grasp of the game by examining what went wrong and trying something new.
  3. Casual Play: In friendly or casual games, players often prioritize enjoyment and learning over strict adherence to rules. Allowing takebacks can create a more relaxed atmosphere and encourage social play. Mistakes happen, right?
  4. Experimental Play: Some players enjoy experimenting with various approaches and techniques. They can examine multiple options without suffering permanent effects by undoing a step.
  1. Sportsmanship: When they believe their opponent made a genuine error or lost focus, players may offer an undo in the spirit of sportsmanship. This demonstrates respect for the rival and a desire for a level playing field.
  2. Online Play: Many online chess platforms incorporate the option for takebacks, recognizing the diverse motivations of players and allowing them to tailor the experience to their preferences.
  3. Teaching and Coaching: Chess instructors may use undoing moves as a pedagogical tool to guide students, providing insights into alternative strategies and reinforcing lessons.

What Is the “Touch-Move” Rule?

The “touch-move” rule in chess is a fundamental and widely recognized rule that dictates a player’s obligation when touching a piece on the chessboard during their turn. It helps maintain the integrity of the game by ensuring that players do not manipulate pieces without consequence and that they commit to their chosen moves. 

Here’s how the rule works:

  1. Touching a Piece: Any time a player touches one of their pieces (intentionally or unintentionally) during their turn, as long as that piece has a valid move, they are usually required to move that piece.
  2. Touching an Opponent’s Piece: If a player touches one of their opponent’s pieces during their turn, they are typically not required to move that piece. This is known as the “J’adoube” rule, and it allows a player to adjust the position of their opponent’s piece if it’s off-center or improperly placed on its square.
  3. Touching Both a Piece and a Square: In general, if a player touches a piece and a square at the same time, they must move the piece to the touched square if a move is legal. This helps players from moving pieces around without making a commitment.
  4. Touching a Piece without Legal Moves: Due to chess regulations, if a player touches a piece they are unable to legally move, they have the option to touch another piece or, if it is possible, make any legal move with the first piece they touched.

How Do Tournament Rules Handle Accidental or Illegal Moves?

You would think that professional players in chess who are qualified to join tournaments wouldn’t make “accidental” or illegal moves. Despite it being a rare occasion, it can happen. That’s why there are sets of rules for these types of situations:

Illegal Moves

An illegal move is one that is not permitted by the chess rules, such as moving a piece in a manner that is inconsistent with its typical movement pattern. The following can take place in the case of an illegal move:

  1. Immediate Correction: If the illegal move is noticed immediately by either a player or an official, it is corrected by returning the moved piece to its original square, and the player must make a legal move instead.
  2. Penalties: In some tournaments, making an illegal move may result in penalties, such as a time penalty (deduction from the player’s remaining game time) or, in severe cases, forfeiture of the game.

Accidental Touch

The touch-move rule usually applies when a player unintentionally touches a piece. If one of their pieces is touched, they are required to move it if a lawful move is available. They are not required to move an opponent’s piece if they touch it, but if it is not properly positioned on its square, they can adjust it (often by stating “J’adoube,” which translates to “I adjust” in French).

Clock Management

Tournament games are often played with chess clocks, which measure each player’s thinking time. If a player runs out of time before making a legal move or if the player’s flag (the small flag on the clock) falls, they usually lose the game, regardless of the position on the board.


In cases of disputes or confusion over moves, tournament directors or arbiters are called upon to make rulings. Their decisions are typically final and are based on the rules and regulations of the tournament.

Recording Moves

Players are generally required to record their moves on a scoresheet, which serves as a backup in case of disputes. This recording helps recreate the game’s history and resolve issues regarding move sequences.

Appeals Process

Players can challenge decisions made by arbiters or directors in many tournaments thanks to the appeals procedures that are in place. A panel of authorities usually hears appeals, which must be filed promptly.

It’s important to remember that the application of these regulations varies based on the particular tournament and the difficulty of the tournament. While the regulations may be more flexible in less formal or amateur events, they are rigidly enforced in high-level tournaments. Yet, maintaining order and fair play while obeying the chess rules is always the objective.

An Arbiter is an official responsible for ensuring that the game is played according to the rules and regulations of chess. The role of an arbiter is to maintain order during chess tournaments and to make decisions in cases of disputes or rule violations.

Can Players Undo Moves in Casual Games of Chess?

In casual and friendly games of chess, the decision to undo moves, often referred to as “takebacks,” is generally a matter of mutual agreement between the players. Unlike official tournament games, where the touch-move rule is strictly enforced, casual games offer more flexibility and prioritize enjoyment and learning over strict adherence to rules.

Can I Undo a Move in a Live Chess Game?

While you can undo moves in online chess games, you can’t do that in live ones. You can take back on online chess platforms but only if you are playing an unrated game in daily chess with the take-back option enabled.

How Can I Ask to Undo a Move in a Chess Game?

Asking for a takeback in a casual game of chess should be done politely and with respect for your opponent’s preferences. Note that players have the freedom to grant or deny takebacks based on their preferences. A denied takeback is a part of the game’s dynamics, and how you handle it reflects your maturity and sportsmanship as a chess player.

Here are steps to correctly ask for a takeback:

  1. Ensure It’s a Casual Game: Takebacks are generally acceptable in casual, friendly games but not in formal tournament settings. Confirm that both you and your opponent are playing casually and that you both understand the rules and expectations.
  2. Be Respectful: Approach the request with politeness and sportsmanship. It’s important to maintain a friendly atmosphere during the game.
  3. Clearly Express Your Request: Politely state that you would like to make a takeback and specify which move you wish to retract. For example, you can say, “Would you mind if I take back my last move?” or “Is it okay if I undo my move to move my bishop here instead?
  4. Respect Their Decision: Remember that your opponent has the authority to approve or reject your request. In case they accept the takeback, thank them. Respect their decision and carry on with the game if they decline.
  5. Set Guidelines in Advance: You can go over takeback rules before the game to prevent ambiguity. You may, for instance, decide to cap the amount of takebacks each player is allowed to make or state that they are only permitted for actions that are obviously accidental or mouse slips.

Remember that the primary goal in casual chess games is to enjoy the experience and learn from the game. Being considerate and respectful when asking for a takeback helps maintain a positive atmosphere and fosters good sportsmanship during your chess matches.

How Many Times Can I Undo a Move in One Game?

The number of times you can undo a move in one chess game is not fixed by formal rules; it is typically a matter of mutual agreement between you and your opponent in casual, friendly games. Both players should discuss and establish their own guidelines or limits regarding takebacks before the game begins.

Some players may agree to allow unlimited takebacks, meaning that either player can request a takeback at any point during the game. Others may choose to limit the number of takebacks allowed per player. For example, you might decide on a specific number, such as three takebacks each, for the entire game.

Takebacks that are conditional are more precise. You can decide to let takebacks only for blatantly mistaken actions or mouse slips, rather than for tactical changes of heart. In order to limit the number of takeback requests in challenging middlegame or endgame positions, some players could choose to only permit takebacks during the beginning phase of the game.


To wrap up this question “Can I undo a move in chess?”, in official chess tournaments, the answer is a resounding “no.” The touch-move rule is unyielding evidence of the dedication to integrity and rigid devotion to the regulations. The move is usually finalized as a player releases a piece or taps the clock, and there is usually no option for revision.

Yet, the narrative changes in the more relaxed, friendly setting of chess. The age-old custom of offering and accepting takebacks is frequently used by players. Mutual consent drives this unofficial procedure, which embraces the values of learning and fellowship. 

If a player notices that their opponent made an unintentional action or experienced a brief lapse in judgment, they may generously offer a takeback. It’s essential to discuss and agree on the rules for take-backs with your opponent before starting the game. 

Clear communication and mutual understanding help maintain a fair and enjoyable chess experience for both players. 

Harikrishnan A

I am an International Fide Rated player with 10+ years of experience. Played many International Chess Tournaments and Commonwealth games.

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