Many of my chess games ended up in draws. During the initial learning stage, I used to end up in lots of stalemate positions. Some of you may think – what is stalemate and how to avoid stalemate positions.
In chess, when the player to move has no legal move and his king is not in check, it is called a stalemate. In a stalemate position, the game is declared immediately as a draw.
At a beginner’s level, stalemate usually happens by mistake when the clearly winning player tragically ends the game in a draw. However, at the advanced level, stalemate can be used as a brilliant tool to save the game.
In this post, you will understand everything you need to know about avoiding stalemate by mistake. You will also get some exercise to understand the concept well.
How does stalemate work in chess?
Stalemate is a special kind of draw which occurs when one player moves in such a way that the opponent has no legal moves left but his king is not in check. A player in a stalemate position can claim the position as drawn by a stalemate.
Consider the position below. White wants to checkmate black’s king. But he needs to bring his king to help the queen checkmate black’s king.
Now, if white plays 1.Qc7, black’s king will have no legal moves. All three squares (a7, b7, and b8) become covered by white’s queen. Also, his king is not in check. Thus it is black to move but he has no possible legal moves.
All he can do is shout in excitement “Stalemate!!!”
Consider the position below. We have added a few more pieces. But none of them, including the black’s bishop, has a legal move if white plays 1.Qc7. The game will be drawn by stalemate.
Here are two more examples showing stalemate.
In above position, white’s queen is under-attack. Now, if white moves his queen anywhere on the 8th rank, black’s knight will get pinned. Black’s a7 pawn and King has no legal moves. Thus the game will be drawn by stalemate.
It is black to move in above position. If black becomes greedy and captures a pawn with 1…Kxe4, suddenly you realize that white has no legal moves left. The game will end in draw by stalemate.
Hopefully, you understand by now how important it is to avoid the trap of stalemate in winning positions..
Why stalemate is not a win in chess?
Stalemate is not a win in chess because there is no check to the enemy king and the result will be a draw. Both the white and black side will get the half points since the result is a draw.
If stalemate were a win, it would take away a lot of fun that the game of chess offers. Because there is no checkmate, it is not a win!
How to avoid a stalemate in chess?
Here are the steps to avoid stalemate:
- Keep at least 2 squares free for the opponent’s king to move
- Allow the opponent king a room to move in a restricted area while you build up a checkmating net.
With a little bit of attention, it is very easy to avoid stalemate by mistake. If you are clearly winning, keep your attention on the game till it ends in checkmate or till the opponent resigns.
There is a saying in chess that ‘winning games are hardest to win”. Don’t let your guard down and always keep looking for tricks that your opponent can play.
Is stalemate good in chess?
Stalemate is not good for the winning side in chess, but it can be a good defensive resource for the losing side.
The winning side must try to avoid stalemate because it concedes half of his well-earned point. On the other hand, stalemate is a possible tool for defending a hopeless game.
Take for example the position below.
It is white to move. Black is clearly winning right? He has a queen for a rook and two extra pawns. But there is a possibility of a brilliant stalemate. If you notice, white’s king can’t move. He is already in a stalemate position. All white has to do is to give away his rook. Can you see how white can do that?
1.Rd7+!!. Now if black takes the rook with 1…Kxd7, the game will end in draw by stalemate. But if black moves his king, white will keep giving checks with the rook. For example, 1…Ke8 2.Re7+ 2…Kf8 3.Rf7+ Kg8 Rg7+ and it will go on endlessly because black’s king can’t escape the 8th rank without capturing the rook.
Hope you have understood well the concept of stalemate. Here are some exercises for you to find a draw by stalemate. Answers are given at the end of this post.
Exercise-1. White to move and draw by stalemate.
Exercise-2 1.Qf4+ , white’s queen can sacrifice herself because white’s king has no legal moves. But in this diagram, black can move his king away. White can still keep giving checks, but be careful not to step on e3, f2 or g3 squares. For example 1…Kd3 2.Qd4+ Kd2 3 Qd3+ (But not 3 Qe3+?? Because of 3…Nxe3 and it frees up d6 square for white king to move) 3…Kf2 4.Qf1+ Kg3 5.Qh3+ Kf4 6.Qg4+ Kd3 7.Qd4+…etc.
Exercise-2. Black to move, find a tactical resource black has to immediately get a draw by stalemate.
1…Qc8!!, Black sacrifices his queen and pins the opponent’s queen, forcing him to accept the sacrifice with 2.Qxc8, Stalemate.
Is it a stalemate If only the king is left?
Stalemate can happen even if there are pieces or pawns left on the chess board and these pieces and pawns should not have any legal moves.
Here as you can see even though white has got 2 pawns on the board, the game ends up in a stalemate position since the white king has got no squares to move and white pawns don’t have any legal moves.
In this post, we covered everything that you need to know about stalemate. When in a winning position, always be careful to notice that game doesn’t end in draw by stalemate. Always keep room for the opponent’s king when there is no harm in doing so. When in a losing position, many times stalemate can be the last resource of a hopeless position. Sometimes by an opponent’s mistake or by your brilliant composition, you can save a losing position by creating a stalemate.