Stalemate in chess is a situation resulting in a draw of the game. This situation occurs once one side has no legal moves and their King is not in check. It can happen in various positions, but most likely in endgames where few pieces are left. It often arises once one side already has minimal options and the remaining moves are also restricted. Once the stalemate occurs, neither side wins, and the game ends peacefully.
1) It occurs once one player has to move but has no legal moves available, and their king is not in check.
2) When a stalemate position is reached, the game ends immediately. It is declared a draw, and neither player wins nor loses.
3) Once stalemate happens, players use the ‘=’ or “½-½” symbol in their note sheet to represent a draw in the game score.
The stalemates often occur in the endgames where only a handful of pieces remain on the board.
In the diagram above, the Black King on a8-square has nowhere to go. From the three possible (a7-b7-b8) squares, the Bishop covers b8, and the b6-King covers the a7 and b7-squares. For this to be a stalemate, Black shouldn’t be able to move any pieces legally. Bishop also cannot move due to the pin from the h8-Rook. Hence, this game is a stalemate. And this endgame (Rook vs Bishop) is a theoretical draw due to this stalemate.
Similar to the first example, the Black King resides on the a8-square. The enemy King covers the a7-b7 squares, and the a7-pawn covers the b8-square. Since it’s Black to move and they are not in check, the game is a draw by Stalemate. It’s important to note that even if this were White’s turn, Black would either capture the a7-pawn or be Stalemated. The a- and h- pawns in the King and Pawn endgames tend to be drawn if the defending King can cover the promotion square.
In the third example, the Black again in a situation where it cannot move legally. Normally, the a3-King has five possible squares: a4, a2, b2, b3, and b4. However, the c3-King takes all the squares in the b-file (b2, b3, and b4) and the two remaining squares are taken by the Knight and the Bishop. The c5-Knight covers the a4-square, and the d5-Bishop covers the a2-square. This also shows how Kings limit each other’s options once they are opposed.
The diagram above shows a more unusual stalemate. The reason is that there are many pieces on the board. However, all the White pawns are fixed, meaning that they cannot move due to another pawn in front of them. This leaves only the King to move. Normally, f7-King could go to eight squares nearby (e6, e7, e8, f8, g8, g7, g6, and g5). But here, the Queen covers five of these squares (e8, f8, g8, g7, and f6), the d7-pawn covers the e6-square, and the g6-Knight covers the e7-square. The g6-Knight could be taken as the only remaining option; luckily, it is covered by the h5-King. Hence, White has no legal moves.
How to Avoid Stalemate in Chess
Having a Stalemate in a completely winning position is quite frustrating. It often happens in fast time controls where both sides have seconds on the clock. The best way to handle these incidents is to raise awareness across the board. The player should always predict the opponent’s possible moves and possibilities. Once there are a few pieces on the board in an endgame, the calculation becomes easier to avoid. Also, if many pawns exist on the board, players should be wary of the pawn structure. The fixed pawns often indicate some Stalemate tricks or checkmate patterns. If the opponent’s King is left alone, giving enough room to the King before creating the checkmate threat is vital. Also, a combination of checks could be utilized to deliver the checkmate if possible.
How to Force Stalemate: Tactics and Tricks
In a completely losing position in an endgame, the best way to set up a Stalemate is to fix all the pawns so that you have no legal moves with the pawns. Then, the players can put their King into a square that can be Stalemated. And at last, sacrificing the left-over material is a worthwhile trick to achieve a Stalemate.
Example Stalemate Trap
In the diagram above, we can see that White is down a ton of material. However, the g1-King has nowhere to go. If the Rook had vanished from this board, the game could have been a Stalemate. In times like these, we need to force our opponent to take. Rc1+ would not force our opponent and lose the game due to the many possible replies. Rd7+!, on the other hand, would either win the opponent’s Queen or draw the game. If the opponent runs out with with the King to c8, the rook could keep checking on c-file (Rd8+ Kc7, Rd7+ Kc6), after king moved to c6, there is a tactical Rc7+! (and it turns out that neither the Queen nor the King can take the rook due to stalemate, so White Rook just keeps checking the Black’s King.).
But if, after the Rd7+! move, the king decides to move on b6-square (Kb6), Rxb7+, and the game is a draw by Stalemate. If King doesn’t take on b7, Rook vs Rook and Knight is a theoretical draw.
Stalemate vs Checkmate: What’s the Difference?
The main difference is that Stalemate is a draw, and Checkmate is a win for one side.
Checkmate occurs by putting the enemy King in the check, and the enemy has no response to recover their King. On the other hand, Stalemate is where one side has no legal move, and their King is not under check. Checkmate happens when the opponent’s King’s salvation is not possible. The enemy may possess several pieces and pawns that could play in checkmate.
Hence, checkmate takes place in all phases of the game, whereas a Stalemate is likely to happen in the endgame.
Stalemate is a particular drawing condition where one side has to move but has no legal move to make and their King is not under check. Players might Stalemate their opponents in winning positions when they are low on time. Awareness of the enemy’s possibilities often avoids these pitfalls.