You’re playing chess online. You’ve trapped the opponent’s king! But then, draw? Why is a stalemate not a win?
I feel like this has happened to everyone at least once.
Why is a Stalemate Not a Win?
A stalemate is a draw and not a win because the king is not in check. For checkmate to happen, your opponent’s king must be in check with no legal moves available.
The video below details how stalemates happen very, very well.
Even if you have a clear material advantage with many more pieces than your opponent, if your opponent has no legal moves to make, the game ends in a draw!
How Stalemates Can Happen
While a checkmate can happen very early in a game, stalemates can only occur deep into a game.
You don’t have to be down to just your king for a stalemate to happen. In fact, each side could have a handful of pieces left.
The video above shows several examples of this.
The most common occurrence of stalemate, though, happens when one side is down to either just their king, or maybe a king and one or two other pieces, and the opponent still has several pieces left.
How to Avoid Stalemate If You’re Dominating
The worst feeling in the world is ending the game in a draw when you CLEARLY dominated your opponent and were a move or two away from checkmate.
To avoid a stalemate, either find a move that immediately places your opponent in check (or even better, checkmate), or if that’s not possible, backtrack a bit and allow your opponent to have at least 1 legal move to make.
This at the very least allows the game to continue so you can hopefully find a way to place them in checkmate in the next few moves.
Many times when you’re racing against the clock (maybe while playing bullet chess or blitz) and clearly dominating you can rush your way into a stalemate.
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When your opponent is being absolutely dominated, they very well may try to create a stalemate! A draw is better than a loss from their perspective, so be aware of this!
Using Stalemate to Your Advantage If You’re Losing
If you are the one being dominated in a game, a stalemate could very well be your only course of action.
Even though your opponent may “feel” like they won, a draw is not a win.
If you’re down to just your king, do your best to trap yourself into a corner. Or if you still have pawns left, move them so they can’t move forward anymore.
If you’re about to put in checkmate, and you can’t see any way out of it, consider if there is any possible way to create a stalemate.
This can happen even if you still have a major piece left like a queen or rook.
The video above shows a great example of this at the 1:11 mark.
Let’s take a look at a position where white is absolutely dominating.
In this position, black appears to be DOOMED!
Down to just a king and a queen, black is one move away from being put in checkmate by white’s queen.
White has so many pieces left, is there any way out of this mess?
There is! And the way out is for black to FORCE a stalemate.
Notice that black’s king has no legal moves. It can’t move to any other square without putting itself in check.
So, if black’s queen disappeared from the board, the game would end in a stalemate.
With black to move, can you see the one move that can be made which will ultimately force a stalemate?
Here it is: moving black’s queen from h7 to h2.
Moving black’s queen from h7 to h2 places white in check. The only move available to white to get out of check is to take black’s queen.
This IMMEDIATELY leaves black with only their king and no legal moves. White has lost its MASSIVE positional advantage and the game ends in a stalemate with no winner!
Just as disappointing as it is to stalemate with an opponent you’re dominating, it is equally satisfying to stalemate with an opponent who easily should have beaten you!
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Should a Stalemate Be a Win for the Player With Material Advantage?
In my opinion, stalemates should never be considered a win for the player with material advantage. It is a MASSIVE BLUNDER to allow a stalemate to happen when you’re dominating. You cannot reward a player for making a blunder.
The definition of material advantage in chess is having a greater value of pieces left on the board.
You can see a chart with the value of chess pieces here.
So in the example above, where white clearly had material advantage over black, it was a clear blunder by white to not end the game earlier.
Also, by the rules of chess, you cannot force your opponent to make an illegal move. So with no moves to make, a stalemate happens and the game ends instantly in a draw.
Are All Draws Stalemates and Vice Versa?
While every stalemate is a draw, not every draw is a stalemate. A draw can occur when there is no possible way for either side to put the other in checkmate.
The most common occurrence of this happening is when both sides are down to just their kings. Neither king would be able to put the other king in check without putting itself in check.
This moment both sides are left with just their kings, the game ends immediately in a draw.
When a stalemate happens, no matter if one side has a clear material advantage over the other, NOBODY WINS. It is a major blunder for the dominating side.
How do you feel about a stalemate ending in a draw? Has this ever happened to you?
Have you been playing with someone live and thought when a stalemate happened that the player with the material advantage won?
Have you ever escaped a sure loss by creating a stalemate and forcing a draw?
Let me know how you feel in the comments section below. If you have any questions, feel free to ask away.
I always reply and I look forward to hearing from you!