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Stalemate! The Most Aesthetic Swindle

Stalemate! The Most Aesthetic Swindle

May 3, 2015, 6:39 PM 9

I am constantly asked by students why stalemate is a draw and not a win. My answer (rightly or wrongly) is that chess is a better game because stalemate is a draw. Narrowly superior positions such as pawn up endings and even equal pawn endings often end in stalemate. If stalemate were a win, many positions in which progress is otherwise impossible would be won. GM and World Champion challenger Nigel Short has often argued that stalemate should be a win. Perhaps he is right. Acknowledging stalemate as a win would certainly increase the percentage of decisive games. Stalemate was a win in the chess predecessor Shatranj, and it is a win in Chinese Chess (AKA Xiangqi).

Perhaps the weakest, but most enjoyable, argument is that draws by stalemate are simply too attractive and surprising to omit them. Stalemate sometimes seems to be, almost by definition, a swindle; one player has so completely dominated the other he suddenly finds himself in the position of being TOO dominant. I recently came across the following astonishing stalemate combination, and I simply had to share it. The combination was from the 2013 TCEC championships. TCEC is the established championship for chess playing engines. This game was played in Stage 2b between Shredder and Gull. Gull had convincingly outplayed Shredder with a very nice positional exchange sacrifice, and it seemed to be well on it's way to victory in the diagram position. See if you can see what it had missed and Shredder had seen!

Shredder - Gull


The recent Gashimov Memorial also featured two desparate stalemating tricks lurking in the weeds. Both were seen in games of Carlsen, but Carlsen easily avoided these tricks that might easily have caught you or I.

Caruana - Carlsen


Carlsen - MVL


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