AskDefine | Define stalemate

Dictionary Definition



1 a situation in which no progress can be made or no advancement is possible; "reached an impasse on the negotiations" [syn: deadlock, dead end, impasse, standstill]
2 drawing position in chess: any of a player's possible moves would place his king in check v : subject to a stalemate

User Contributed Dictionary



stale + mate "checkmate"


  1. In the context of "chess": The state in which the player to move is not in check but has no legal moves, resulting in a draw.
  2. Any situation that has no obvious possible movement, but does not involve any personal loss.

Related terms


chess term
blocked situation without personal loss


  1. In the context of "chess|transitive": To bring about a state in which the player to move is not in check but has no legal moves.

See also

Extensive Definition

Stalemate is a situation in chess where the player whose turn it is to move has no legal moves but is not in check. Stalemate ends the game, with the result a draw. Often during the endgame the player who is behind in material seeks stalemate in order to avoid losing the game.
In certain chess variants, such as suicide chess, stalemate is not necessarily a draw. Depending on the variant, stalemate can be a win for either the player with fewer pieces (a draw results if the players have the same number of pieces) or for the stalemated player.
Stalemate has become a widely used metaphor for other situations where there is a conflict or contest between two parties, such as war or political negotiations, and neither side is able to achieve victory, resulting in what is also called a dead heat, standoff, or deadlock. Unlike in chess, this usage allows for the situation to be a temporary one and thus ultimately resolved, even if it seems currently intractable.
The remainder of this article is about stalemate in chess.

Simple examples

With Black to move, the black king is stalemated in each of the four positions in the diagram at the right. Stalemate is an important factor in the endgame — the endgame set-up in the top-right of this diagram, for example, quite frequently is relevant in play, and the position in the bottom-left is an example of a pawn drawing against a queen. Stalemates of this sort can often save a player from losing an apparently hopeless position.
In the bottom left position, even if it were White's move, there is no way to avoid this stalemate without allowing Black's pawn to promote. (White may be able to win the resulting queen versus queen ending, however, if the white king is close enough).

Examples from games

In this game between Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik from the 2007 World Chess Championship, Black must capture the pawn on f5, causing stalemate . (Any other move loses.)


An intentional stalemate occurred on the 124th move of the first game of the 1978 World Championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi . The game had been a theoretical draw for many moves . (Even if White wins the black pawn, the black king can get to the a8 corner and set up a fortress. See fortress (chess)#Fortress in a corner.) However the players were not on speaking terms so neither would offer a draw by agreement. Korchnoi said that it gave him pleasure to stalemate Karpov and that it was slightly humiliating . (Incidently, as of 2008 this is the longest game played in a World Chess Championship final match, and also the only World Championship game to end in stalemate.)


Stalemate can also occur with more pieces on the board. The position at right occurred in Gelfand-Kramnik, FIDE Candidates match, game 6, Sanghi Nagar 1994. Kramnik (Black), down two pawns and on the defensive, would be very happy with a draw. Gelfand (White) has just played 67. Re7? (from e4), a strong-looking move that threatens 68. Qxf6, winning a third pawn, or 68.Rc7, further constricting Black. Black responded 67... Qc1! If White takes Black's undefended rook with 68. Qxd8, Black draws with 68... Qh1+ 69. Kg3 Qh2+!, forcing 70. Kxh2 stalemate. If White avoids the stalemate with 68. Rxg7+ Kxg7 69. Qxd8, Black draws by perpetual check with 69... Qh1+ 70. Kg3 Qg1+ 71. Kf4 Qc1+! 72. Ke4 Qc6+! 73. Kd3!? (73. d5 Qc4+; 73. Qd5 Qc2+) Qxf3+! 74. Kd2 Qg2+! 75. Kc3 Qc6+ 76. Kb4 Qb5+ 77. Ka3 Qd3+. Gelfand played 68. d5 instead, but still only drew.


Sometimes a surprise stalemate saves a game. In the game between Ossip Bernstein and Vasily Smyslov, Black should win by sacrificing the f-pawn and using the king to support the b-pawn. However, Smyslov thought it was good to advance the b-pawn, because of the skewer of the rook if it captures the pawn once it is on b2. Play went:
  • 1... b2??
  • 2. Rxb2!
Now if 2... Rh2+ 3. Kf3! Rxb2 is stalemate. Smyslov moved 2... Kg4 and the game was drawn after 3. Kf1 (see rook and pawn versus rook endgame) .


In the Bernstein-Smyslov game, the possibility of stalemate arose because of a blunder. It can arise without a blunder, as in the game Milan Matulović-Nikolay Minev (at right). Play continued:
  • 1. Rc6 Kg5
  • 2. Kh3 Kh5
  • 3. f4 (hoping for 3... Ra3+?, with a win for White)
  • 3....Rxa6!
and now 4. Rxa6 would be stalemate. White played 4. Rc5+ instead, and the game was drawn several moves later .


In Williams-Harrwitz (diagram at right), Black was up a knight and a pawn in an endgame. This would normally be a decisive material advantage, but Black could find no way to make progress because of various stalemate resources available to White. The game continued 72...Ra8 73.Rc1 (avoiding the threatened 73...Nc2+) Ke3 74.Rc4 Ra4 75.Rc1 Kd2 76.Rc4 Kd3 (76...Nc2+ 77.Rxc2+! Kxc2 is stalemate) 77.Rc3+! Kd4 (77...Kxc3 is stalemate) 78.Rc1 Ra3 79.Rd1+ Kc5 (79...Rd3 80.Rxd3+! leaves Black with insufficient material to win after 80...Nxd3 81.Kxa2, or a standard fortress in a corner draw after 80...Kxd3) 80.Rc1+ Kb5 81.Rc7 Nd5 82.Rc2 Nc3 83.Rb2+ Kc4 84.Rb3! (diagram at right). Now the players agreed to a draw, since 84...Kxb3 or 84...Rxb3 is stalemate, as is 84...Ra8 85.Rxc3+! Kxc3.

The desperado

A piece that is offered as a sacrifice to bring about stalemate is sometimes termed a desperado. Many draws have been saved this way—one of the best known examples being the game Pilnick versus Reshevsky, U.S. Championship 1942 (see diagram at right). In Pilnick-Reshevsky, after 1... g4?? 2. Qf2! the white queen is a desperado piece: Black will lose if he doesn't capture it, but its capture results in stalemate. Another of the best-known examples involves a game by Larry Evans versus Reshevsky. Evans sacrificed his queen on move 49 and offered his rook on move 50. White's rook has been called the eternal rook. Capturing it results in stalemate, but otherwise it stays on the seventh rank and checks Black's king ad infinitum. Either a draw by agreement will occur or a draw by threefold repetition or the fifty move rule can eventually be claimed .
  • 47. h4! Re2+
  • 48. Kh1 Qxg3?? (48...Qf6!, and if 49. gxf4 Qxh4+, wins easily)
  • 49. Qg8+ Kxg8
  • 50. Rxg7+

Stalemate in studies

Stalemate is a frequent theme in endgame studies and other chess compositions. An example is the "White to Play and Draw" problem at left, which was composed by the American master Frederick Rhine in 2005 and published in "Benko's Bafflers" in the May 2006 issue of Chess Life magazine. White saves a draw with 1.Ne5+! Black wins after 1.Nb4+? Kb5! or 1.Qe8+? Bxe8 2.Ne5+ Kb5! 3.Rxb2+ Nb3. Bxe5 After 1...Kb5? 2.Rxb2+ Nb3 3.Rxc4! Qxe3 (best; 3...Qb8+ 4.Kd7 Qxh8 5.Rxb3+ forces checkmate) 4.Rxb3+! Qxb3 5.Qh1! Bf5+ 6.Kd8! Qxc4 (best) 7.Nxc4 Kxc4 8.Qf3, White will easily draw at least. According to endgame databases, with perfect play by both sides White wins in 62 more moves. 2.Qe8+! 2.Qxe5? Qb7+ 3.Kd8 Qd7#. Bxe8 3.Rh6+ Bd6 3...Kb5 4.Rxb6+ Kxb6 5.Nxc4+ also leads to a drawn endgame. Not 5.Rxb2+? Bxb2 6.Nc4+ Kb5 7.Nxb2 Bh5! trapping White's knight. 4.Rxd6+! Kxd6 5.Nxc4+! Nxc4 6.Rxb6+ Nxb6+ Moving the king is actually a better try, but the resulting endgame of two knights and a bishop against a rook has long been recognized as a theoretical draw . This is illustrated by Karpov-Kasparov, Tilburg 1991 (see Pawnless chess endgames) and confirmed by the Shredder six-piece database. 7.Kd8! (diagram at right) Black is three pieces ahead, but if White is allowed to take the bishop, the two knights are insufficient to force checkmate. The only way to save the bishop is to move it, resulting in stalemate. A similar idea occasionally enables the inferior side to save a draw in the ending of bishop, knight, and king versus lone king.
At left is a remarkable composition by A.J. Roycroft. White draws with 1.c7! Ka1 (if 1...g5 2.c8(R)!! Ng6 3.Rc1+ forces Black to capture, stalemating White) 2.c8(R)!! g5 (2...b1(Q) 3.Rc2!!, and now 3...Qxc2 or 3...g5 is stalemate, while otherwise White will sacrifice his rook on a2) 3.Rc2!! (not 3.Rc1+?? b1(Q)+! 4.Rxb1+ Bxb1#; now White threatens 4.Rxb2 and 5.Rxa2+, forcing stalemate or perpetual check) Bc4 (trying to get in a check; 3...b1(Q), 3...b1(B), and 3...Bb1 are all stalemate; 3...Ng6 4.Rc1+!) 4.Rc1+ Ka2 5.Ra1+ Kb3 6.Ra3+ Kc2 7.Rc3+ Kd2 8.Rc2+ (diagram at right). As in Evans-Reshevsky, Black cannot escape the "eternal rook."

Stalemate in problems

Some chess problems require "White to move and stalemate black in n moves" (rather than the more common "White to move and checkmate black in n moves").
Problemists have also tried to construct the shortest possible game ending in stalemate: Sam Loyd devised one just ten moves long (1.e3 a5 2.Qh5 Ra6 3.Qxa5 h5 4.Qxc7 Rah6 5.h4 f6 6.Qxd7+ Kf7 7.Qxb7 Qd3 8.Qxb8 Qh7 9.Qxc8 Kg6 10.Qe6 — see diagram at left below). A similar stalemate is reached after 1.d4 c5 2.dxc5 f6 3.Qxd7+ Kf7 4.Qxd8 Bf5 5.Qxb8 h5 6.Qxa8 Rh6 7.Qxb7 a6 8.Qxa6 Bh7 9.h4 Kg6 10.Qe6 (Frederick Rhine). Loyd also demonstrated that stalemate can occur with all the pieces on the board (1.d4 d6 2.Qd2 e5 3.a4 e4 4.Qf4 f5 5.h3 Be7 6.Qh2 Be6 7.Ra3 c5 8.Rg3 Qa5+ 9.Nd2 Bh4 10.f3 Bb3 11.d5 e3 12.c4 f4 — see diagram at right below).

Double stalemate

There are peculiar chess compositions featuring double stalemate. At left and at right are double stalemate positions, in which neither side has a legal move. Such positions are not seen in practical play. There is also a bizarre chess variant, Patt-schach, that begins from a double stalemate position.
The fastest known reaching of a position of double stalemate was discovered by Enzo Minerva and published in the chess column of the Italian newspaper l'Unità on 14 August, 2007: 1.c4 d5 2.Qb3 Bh3 3.gxh3 f5 4.Qxb7 Kf7 5.Qxa7 Kg6 6.f3 c5 7.Qxe7 Rxa2 8.Kf2 Rxb2 9.Qxg7+ Kh5 10.Qxg8 Rxb1 11.Rxb1 Kh4 12.Qxh8 h5 13.Qh6 Bxh6 14.Rxb8 Be3+ 15.dxe3 Qxb8 16.Kg2 Qf4 17.exf4 d4 18.Be3 dxe3 double stalemate (36 ply). This beats the previous record, published in the book Schachmatij i Matematika (Moscow, 1983) of 37 ply.

History of the stalemate rule

The stalemate rule has a somewhat convoluted history. In the forerunners to modern chess, such as shatranj, stalemate was a win for the side administering it, and this rule persisted for a while in chess, although when playing for money, a win by stalemate sometimes only won half the stake. According to H. J. R. Murray's A History of Chess (Oxford University Press, 1913), the rule for a time in England was that stalemate was a loss for the player administering it. The modern rule that stalemate is a draw became universally adopted only in the 19th century.
Assume that Black's king is stalemated. Throughout history, a stalemate has at various times been , :
  • A win for White (10th century Arabia)
  • A half-win for White (18th century Spain)
  • A win for Black (17th century Russia and in Great Britain into the 19th century)
  • Not allowed. If White made a move that would stalemate Black, he had to retract it and make a different move (Eastern Asia until the early 20th century)
  • The forfeiture of Black's turn to move (medieval France)
  • A draw (started in 14th century Italy and spread through Europe, not adopted in England until the 19th century)
There have been calls to make a stalemate a win for the side causing the stalemate. The effect of such a rule would be a greater emphasis on the material on the board. An extra pawn would be a much greater advantage than it is today, e.g. the king and pawn versus king endgame would always be a win unless the defending king is able to capture the pawn. (See the next section.)

Effect of stalemate on endgame theory

If stalemate were a loss for the player unable to move, then the outcome of some endgames would be affected. This is usually in situations where a stalemate can be forced by the attacking player, but it is also sometimes a defensive technique.
  • The endgame of king and pawn versus king would be a win unless the pawn can be captured. If the pawn can't be captured or promoted, the defending king can be forced into a stalemate (see diagram).
  • Two knights and a king can stalemate a king, so that ending would no longer be a draw (see Two knights endgame).
  • A rook pawn plus a bishop on the color opposite the pawn's queening square would be a win instead of a draw, because the defending king can be forced into stalemate (see diagram).
  • A king and rook versus a king and bishop would be a win for the side with the rook because of a forced stalemate. (The same is not true for a rook versus knight.)
  • If the defending king is cornered, a single bishop or knight may be able to stalemate the king, although these can't be forced in general.
  • The defensive drawing techniques with a bishop pawn or rook pawn on the seventh rank with its king nearby versus a queen would not work, because they involve stalemate. See Queen versus pawn endgame.



External links

stalemate in Czech: Pat
stalemate in Danish: Pat (skak)
stalemate in German: Patt
stalemate in Estonian: Patt (male)
stalemate in Modern Greek (1453-): Πατ
stalemate in Spanish: Ahogado (ajedrez)
stalemate in Faroese: Patt
stalemate in French: Pat
stalemate in Italian: Stallo (giochi)
stalemate in Lithuanian: Patas (šachmatai)
stalemate in Dutch: Patstelling
stalemate in Japanese: ステイルメイト
stalemate in Norwegian: Patt
stalemate in Polish: Pat
stalemate in Russian: Пат
stalemate in Slovak: Pat (šach)
stalemate in Slovenian: Pat (šah)
stalemate in Finnish: Patti
stalemate in Swedish: Patt
stalemate in Turkish: Pat

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Tweedledum and Tweedledee, arrest, bell, blind alley, block, box, brake, bring to, bring up short, check, checkmate, corner, cul-de-sac, cut short, cutoff, dam, dead end, dead heat, dead stop, dead-end street, deadlock, draw, draw rein, end, endgame, ending, even break, extremity, fair shake, final whistle, freeze, full stop, grinding halt, gun, halt, hole, impasse, knotted score, lockout, mate, neck-and-neck race, photo finish, pull up, put paid to, sit-down strike, stall, stand, stand-off, standoff, standstill, stay, stem, stem the tide, stop, stop cold, stop dead, stop short, stoppage, strike, the same, tie, walkout, work stoppage
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