Stalemate

Stalemate is a draw in chess where one of the players cannot make a move. Typically this occurs where one player has only a King left, but the opponent has other pieces that block all of the squares for the King.

The position of stalemate is a draw. To some people this seems odd, since one player can be massively ahead on material and still only get a draw. But this is the official rule: itís a draw.

It is a legal requirement by the rules of chess for a player to make a move. There is no ďpassĒ move in regular chess. Hence, if one player cannot move because there are zero legal moves, then it is either stalemate or checkmate.

The specific requirements for stalemate are:

  • Zero legal moves
  • Not in check. (If itís check, then itís checkmate not stalemate.)
  • No piece can move. No pawns can move. Itís not just the king. There must be absolutely zero legal moves at all.
  • The player whoís turn it is to move. Itís not (yet) stalemate if the other player cannot move but itís not their turn to move.

Common mistakes that beginners make regarding stalemate include:

  • Giving stalemate. The biggest mistake of all! So many beginner games end in stalemate, despite one player been a Queen ahead (or more). To avoid giving stalemate, either ensure the King always has two free squares, or otherwise you can start checking the King with your extra pieces.
  • Other pieces or pawns can still move. If the King cannot move, itís still not stalemate if there is any other of your pieces or pawns that can move. And if they cannot move because thatíd be check, itís probably checkmate.
  • Stalemate is the wrong term for other types of draws. Beginners will often use the term ďstalemateĒ to describe the situation where both players have only a King. Yes, correct, itís a draw, but strictly speaking, itís not stalemate. Itís actually a draw by inadequate mating material (or some similar terminology).

The effect of stalemate on the theory of chess includes:

  • Drawish endgames: There are numerous endgames that are drawn despite one player having a material advantage.
  • Stalemate combinations: Sometimes there are tactical combinations where one player will intentionally lose all of their pawns and pieces to try to get themselves into stalemate (and escape with a draw).

Some of the drawish endgames that rely on a stalemate defence include:

With so many draws resulting from stalemate, chess would probably be a more exciting game if a stalemate was a win. But it isnít, thatís just the rules.

Related Chess Tactics

Read more about these related chess strategies: