What is a Stalemate in Chess?

You probably are wondering, “What is a stalemate in chess?” Most likely, you have seen it happen in a game, or maybe it has even happened to you. It looks like one player is about to win, and then suddenly, the game is over, and it’s a draw. So, what is a stalemate in chess?

Today, we will answer that question and show you how to get a stalemate in chess. Read on to learn more!

Chess pieces

The World of Chess Draws

Draws is ordinary in chess. Every player must understand how ties occur, from saving you from a lost position to securing first place in a tournament.

A draw in chess occurs when neither player wins or loses—the game ends in a tie. Either player may request a draw, and each player receives half a point if the game is tied.

Draws are more common among higher-rated players, but even if you’re still a beginner or intermediate player, you should be familiar with all the drawing rules so that no one surprises you.

What is a Stalemate in Chess?

In the game of chess, a stalemate is another type of draw. This means that if a game reaches a stalemate, neither side wins or loses; the game ends in a draw.

A stalemate is a type of draw in chess that occurs when the chess player who has to move is not in check but cannot make any legal moves to a safe square. A stalemate typically results in a draw—neither player can win the game

A stalemate can also occur in an endgame scenario when only a few pieces remain on the board. It can also happen during the middlegame when each player has to move their king to safety and develop most of their major pieces.

A stalemate does not benefit the winning team in a game, but it can be an important defensive measure for the losing team, as the game can end with a half-point to the stalemating player rather than zero points. 

However, it is a contentious decision: for some players, a stalemate cannot be a draw because it forces zugzwang, a situation in which all variations on a player’s next move result in the loss of a piece.

Stalemate vs. Checkmate – The Difference

The main difference between stalemate and checkmate is that in a stalemate, the game ends in a draw, whereas, in a checkmate, the player who delivers the checkmate gets to win, and the opponent loses.

In other words, checkmate occurs when the king is under attack, and the player has no legal moves to save the king. As a result, the game is over, and the player who checkmates the opponent wins.

On the other hand, stalemate is a situation in which there is no attack on the king, but the player has no legal moves left to continue the game. As a result, the game ends in a tie. 

A stalemate is essentially a draw. In chess, whenever a draw occurs, the winning player receives half the points while the losing player receives none. It would help if you kept that in mind.

The Difference Between Stalemate and Checkmate

The player who delivers the checkmate wins, but the opponent loses.The game concludes with a draw.
One player must be in check.No player must be in check.
No more legal moves exist to save the king and continue the game.There are no legal moves left to play the game.
You get a whole point if you win and no points if you lose.You get a half-point.

How Many Moves Until Stalemate?

The most complicated way for a stalemate is when players execute the same moves too many times.

In chess, the specific amount of repetition required for a stalemate is threefold. This means the game is a stalemate if the board state repeats itself three times. To achieve the triple occurrence of all pieces’ positions, each player would have to move a piece back and forth two times.

The repetition of the board state does not have to happen in order. If players move pieces around, a game can end in a stalemate due to repetition after many more moves by each player than the minimum of four total moves.

The rule’s logic is that if the actual board state is achieved three times in a match, there isn’t enough progress for the match to continue, resulting in a draw.

Chess figures

Chess Stalemate Rules 

When the player has the turn to move but has no legal moves to make, and the king is not in check, the game ends in a draw; it is a stalemate.

The stalemate-producing move, however, must be a legal move that follows the rules of chess as specified by the FIDE laws of chess.

One crucial distinction is the difference between a stalemate and a draw. Remember that stalemate is only one of several ways for a game to end in a tie.

Several methods include

  • Drawing by agreement.
  • Drawing by insufficient mating material.
  • Drawing by the 50-move rule.
  • Drawing by threefold repetition.

Also, stalemate is not the same as checkmate.

Checkmate occurs when a player’s king is in check. The player’s king is not in check while the game is stalemate.

Furthermore, when a checkmate occurs, one side wins, and the other loses. However, in a stalemate, neither side wins or loses because the game ends in a draw.

How to Avoid Stalemate in Chess

A stalemate occurs when a player cannot move and forces a draw. Because it only yields a few points, you should avoid stalemates whenever possible. Fortunately, you can anticipate a potential stalemate and prevent it from occurring.

There are several ways to avoid ending a game in a tie:

1. Recognize the rules of stalemate: A stalemate occurs when a player cannot make legal moves to a safe square, not when only one or two trapped pieces are present. Even if their next move does not change the course of the game, you should still allow them to move and avoid a stalemate with no clear winner.

2. Pay attention to your opponent: Be aware of your opponent’s options if you are in a winning position. Can they make another legal move without jeopardizing their position? Consider their next moves to see how and when you can deliver a final check.

3. Allow your opponent space to move: The corner stalemate is one of the most common types of stalemate. A king is trapped in a corner by a queen or other piece two rows away and cannot make legal moves. Allowing them to move at least two legal spaces will give you time to bring in your second piece for check and avoid a stalemate.

4. Avoid concentrating on other aspects: New chess players may find themselves in a winning position and expend time and energy removing their opponent’s weaker pieces, such as a pawn or rook.

You can deprive yourself of a quick and decisive checkmate and even force your opponent into a stalemate situation where stalemate is the only option, preventing you from winning.

One Example of Chess Stalemate

One of the most famous and unique examples of a stalemate occurred during the fifth game of the 1978 World Chess Championship between grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov. The stalemate ensued on the 124th move, with a bishop endgame. 

Korchnoi’s white bishop could not attack or defend, and his white king could not force his opponent’s king into a position for victory, resulting in a stalemate. Before 2007, the game was the longest in a World Chess Championship final match and the only one to end in a draw.


What is a Draw by Stalemate in Chess?

When a player is not in check but has no legal moves to make, the game ends up as a draw by stalemate. This is common in beginner games; in such games, one player will frequently end up way ahead in material but not understand basic checkmating techniques. 

This often leads to a stalemate, as the stronger side fails to find a checkmate and instead traps the king without actually putting it into check.

Stalemates are more common among beginners than strong players, but they are not unheard of—even in high-level chess. Tactics that can force a stalemate can be a lifeline for a player who appears to be losing.

Chess rules state that you can declare the game as a draw when a stalemate occurs.

Is a Stalemate the Same as a Checkmate?

Stalemate and checkmate are not the same things. In a stalemate, the player’s king is not in check, but the player has no legal moves left to continue the game. The player’s king is in check while in checkmate, and the player has no legal moves left to save the king from the check.

Is it Wise to Put Yourself in a Stalemate to Avoid a Checkmate?

Yes, putting yourself in a stalemate to avoid a checkmate is beneficial because a stalemate earns you at least half a point because, in a stalemate, there is a draw. You will lose the game and earn no points if your opponent checkmates you.

Why Stalemate Rather than Checkmate?

You may have no legal moves left to play, and your king is not in check. This meets the criteria for stalemate rather than checkmate, so you may be in a stalemate situation.

Gold chess pieces

We’ve Got You Covered

Now that you know the answer to “What is a stalemate in chess?” you can use this tactic to your benefit. Trapping your opponent’s king without putting it into check can be a great way to end the game and earn at least half a point. 

Remember these tips the next time you’re playing:

  1. Pay attention to your king’s position.
  2. Use pawns and other pieces to control the center of the board.
  3. Look for ways to trap your opponent’s king.
  4. Be aware of your opponent’s escape routes.
  5. Don’t focus too much on other aspects of the game and sacrifice material.

With these guidelines in mind, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of the stalemate!

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