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Stalemate vs Checkmate: Rules of Stalemate in Chess

Stalemating—either a huge disappointment or huge relief, depending on how well you were doing beforehand. If you’re confused about stalemate in chess, this article should cover your question.

Rules of Stalemate

There are only 3 conditions for a position to be a stalemate:

  • It is a player’s turn to move
  • That player is not in check
  • That player has no legal move

These 3 conditions result in a position where any move a player makes would place their king in check, which is not allowed.

Stalemate vs Checkmate

In a stalemate, a player can’t move but is not in check, resulting in a draw.

In checkmate, a player is in check and has no way of escaping it on their next move, resulting in a loss.

How to Avoid Stalemate

If you have an advantage, the last thing you want is for your nearly beaten opponent to find a way to draw. Fortunately, it’s fairly simple to avoid stalemate because it most often happens when a lot of the pieces have been removed from the board.

Before you move, be sure that your opponent will have at least 1 legal move afterward. Confining the enemy king to a corner, unnecessarily limiting its movement, makes it more likely you’ll give up a chance for a stalemate. So you can make it easier on yourself by giving the enemy king a bit of room until you’re ready to move in for the checkmate.

Conversely, if you’re losing, keep alert for an opportunity to stalemate your opponent and salvage a draw. People aren’t always cautious about avoiding stalemate, moving without much thought when they have a material advantage. You might be able to get your king into a tight situation where your opponent would have to play carefully to avoid stalemate.

Is a Stalemate a Win?

No. A stalemate is a tie, regardless of anything else on the board.

Stalemate vs Draw

All stalemates are draws, but not all draws are stalemates. A stalemate is only one way of drawing a game of chess. The others are:

  • Threefold repetition—the position on the board has been exactly repeated 3 times (the draw isn’t automatic; a player must claim the draw)
  • Fivefold repetition—if the board position is exactly the same 5 different times a draw is automatic.
  • The fifty-move rule—no captures have been made and no pawns have been moved in the past 50 moves (not automatic; draw must be claimed)
  • The seventy-five-move rule—if no captures have been made and no pawns have been moved in the past 75 moves the draw is automatic.
  • A dead position, meaning it’s impossible for either side to win, usually because of insufficient material.
  • Both players agree to a draw.

How Many Moves Until Stalemate is Declared

Stalemate is never reached because a certain amount of moves have been made. See above section for declaring a draw after 50 or 75 moves.

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