Sensing Stalemate From a Mile

Sensing Stalemate From a Mile

CM AdviceCabinet

When most chess players hear that stalemate has occurred on the board, they will most likely think that one side played the ending carelessly. However, as we will see in this article, stalemate is a key defensive resource that can be deployed even at the highest level when facing an imminent loss.

What may be new to you is that there are not one, but two, types of stalemates. One leads to an immediate draw (which I will refer to as pure stalemates), and the other is semi-stalemates. I will describe the latter in the next half of the article.

Pure stalemates

Sometimes in endings where there are very few to no pieces left on the board, the weaker side can rush to trap himself with his own pieces to create a stalemate refuge and force a draw. This idea is best illustrated with the following simple example.

In the next position, it seems as though c5 will inevitably fall. What should you do?

Using this newly learnt stalemate pattern, we can now easily find the solution to the next puzzle, which is taken from a game between Chigorin, playing with the white pieces, and Tarrasch. White did not manage to save the game, but I am sure you can now.

It is interesting to note that if the same position were to occur one rank lower, the stalemate trick still works, but it is important that it is done via a different move order.

It is not just in pawn endings, but also in endings with pieces, that stalemates are possible. Here are two simple puzzles to test your understanding.

So, if we ever find ourselves losing with very few legal moves, we should find ways to jettison our pieces and cramp our king, in order to force a draw by stalemate.


These refer to positions where one side only has no legal moves with his king, and as such can only move whatever few pieces are left on board (usually pawns or a single piece). This is often a very delicate situation as the attacker will enjoy freedom and activity, but at the same time, will have to look out for pure stalemate tricks. With my own experience, the most common semi-stalemate positions that occur in praxis have the king trapped in one of two ways.

Since you already know the tactical motifs the following puzzles are going to involve, I will give you more complex ones.

I hope that this article has inspired you to be even more resourceful in your games. If you have any questions, feel free to drop it in the comments.

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