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Depending on which side you are playing (stalemater or stalematee–are those even words?), this peculiar type of draw in chess can be super fun or very, very annoying.
So, what is stalemate in chess?
Well, the Mirrian-Webster online dictionary defines it as:
A drawing position in chess in which a player is not in checkmate but has no legal move to play.
OK, that’s great. But let’s look more closely at stalemate so we can gain a deeper understanding of what, exactly, it encompasses.
For the most part (but not always!), stalemate occurs in beginner games.
Normally, the losing player is the one going for a stalemate in chess.
If the king is not in check or checkmate, and nothing on the board (pieces, pawns, or the king) can move, stalemate is present.
And stalemate, friends, is officially a draw.
This is why it’s so bad for the winning side. They literally blow the win—oops!
A stalemate in chess likely happens far more frequently in quick games, such as blitz and bullet, than in longer games.
This is because with ample time on the clock, the winning side has better chances of spotting what the losing player is trying to do, which is force a draw!
If you have ever been on a king hunt in a time scramble and stalemated your opponent, then you know this pain.
Some Quick Examples of Stalemate
Let’s take a look at a few instances in which stalemate is present on the chess board.
We have even set up a stalemate study here for practice!
The following position isn’t stalemate—yet! It’s White to move, though, and they had better be careful.
The white queen is, at the moment, preventing the black king from moving anywhere. If things stayed just as they are, black is stalemated.
So, where should White move?
Well for starters, it might surprise you to learn that there are five ways to checkmate from here!
Qa7, Qb7, Qc8, Qd8, and Qe8 all checkmate Black because the king would be in check with nowhere to move, thanks to White’s king placement.
There are also several mates in two; see if you can find them!
The most obvious stalemate here is the move Qc7. White’s king would not be in check, but also would not be able to move. Draw!
Qd6 would be stalemate for the same reason—the white king has no access to dark squares and, therefore, cannot move!
Any other move leads to checkmate, assuming White sees the stalemate squares and does not play any of the five checkmates available at the time.
Below is another extremely common draw situation with stalemate a possibility.
Black has done very well to get a pawn so far advanced on the chess board.
However, there is no way to queen the thing!
His king position is wrong. He needs to be in front of the pawn, not behind it.
There are two ways to draw here.
Either Black can let White eat the pawn and, with no way for either side to win, the game is a draw.
Or, Black can play d2 after white plays Kd1 and there is no choice but to step away from the pawn or play Kd3, drawing the game instantly.
White has nowhere to go!
We recommend you watch the video below to better understand how to avoid stalemate when you are in a winning position:
Six Unbelievable Stalemate Games!
OK, now that we understand what stalemate in chess is, let’s check out a few games that ended in this wacky draw type!
As we will see, even top-tier grandmasters aren’t safe from stalemate!
Anatoly Karpov – Judit Polgar
We first visit 1998 for a real clash of titans: ex-world champion Anatoly Karpov vs. Judit Polgar, the world’s strongest female player!
This particular game is interesting for many reasons, as it was one heck of a struggle for both sides!
But White made an egregious error at the end: 75.Qf3??
The black king cannot move, and neither can the black a-pawn. The game is drawn. Ouch!
You know Anatoly Karpov was kicking himself after that one. He turned a relatively easy win into a draw in one move!
Stalemate in 12 Moves! Jens Hohmeister – Tena Frank
The next game is tough to believe!
White has no legal moves! Everything is either pinned or blocked in. Amazing, right?
Once you’ve looked at the end position for a while, you’ll see it’s true—not a single white piece or pawn can move!
Ya gotta wonder if this was planned…
Viswanathan Anand – Alexey Dreev
Surely, world-champion-strength players are immune to stalemate in chess, right?
Next we see chess icon Viswanathan Anand become stalemated by strong GM Aleksey Dreev back in 1991.
After a very long, very sharp game that entered an extremely technical endgame, Dreev played 53…Bxa7?? drawing the game instantly.
The white king cannot move to any square and White’s single pawn on h2 is blocked in. Draw!
One can’t help but wonder if Black simply grew tired during the struggle and went for the stalemate on purpose.
If we had made it that far against Anand, we might do the same!
Henry Edward Bird – Berthold Englisch
Henry Bird, who is famous for many things including the Bird’s Opening (1.f4), even got caught up in a stalemate situation in the 1880s.
After an intense battle coming out of a Giuoco Piano chess opening, Black found a slick way to ensure a drawn game by sacrificing both rooks when his king was otherwise stuck.
Interestingly, according to Stockfish, White had a huge edge in the middlegame to the tune of around +4—and then blew it!
Good grief, that has to be maddening!
Stalemate in the Center of the Board!
Now let’s look at a chess game in which the king gets stalemated—in the center!
The game took place in 1963 when White blundered with 54.Qxc1?? and the game is drawn.
Black’s king cannot move, and neither can any of the black pawns. Oops!
Vladimir F Titenko – Yacov Isaakovich Murey
As you can see in the image of the final position, White’s move effectively stopped black from going anywhere! Big mistake!
Or was it?
According to Stockfish, the game had been drawn for quite some time. Using stalemate ideas in chess, a player can force the draw when he or she is in fear of losing.
It’s easy to misstep in messy positions like this, so Black decided he wasn’t taking any chances!
Anatoly Karpov – Garry Kasparov
In this example, White clearly had the advantage with more pieces, but fumbled around and couldn’t find a checkmate!
Garry Kasparov was wise to the position and waited patiently for his moment to draw.
The game was played in 1991 at the 15th Interpolis tournament and arose out of a classic King’s Indian setup.
You might be thinking: But wait, can’t white move 115.Ke8 to avoid the draw?
And the answer is…
…NO! He most certainly cannot. Why? Well, the answer is invisible.
See, any move on the board besides capturing the rook, which results in an immediate stalemate, draws the game anyhow due to the 50-move rule!
Sometimes, a guy just can’t win.
Tips to Avoid Stalemate!
So, how do we avoid stalemating our opponents?
Sometimes, it isn’t possible, as we’ve seen here today.
But one good practice is to grid off the squares around the enemy king in your mind.
Be acutely aware which squares you control and which you do not so that your opponents can’t play for this trick.
For instance, in Chapter 9 of our study, we see that the black king is overwhelmed and White will surely win.
Sure, Black could maybe play Rg6 and hope for a blunder, but why when there’s…
…Rf6+!! and the draw is forced.
Either White loses the queen if the king moves, or White captures the rook and the black king is stuck—total draw!
It is difficult to see moves like these coming.
But keep practicing your tactics, keep playing slow games, and keep a vigilant eye on the enemy king and the squares around it.
Learn to draw arrows or lines like the ones shown on these boards, but in your mind as you play chess. This way, your chances of stumbling into a stalemate draw decrease significantly.
Well, that’s the idea, anyhow. Good luck in your games and if you’re losing, see if you can attempt to maneuver your king to a square which will render it unable to move.
Trust us, it’s a good tool to have in the ole box!
Wait! Before you go, check out these other interesting posts: