Stalemate is an annoying condition to draw some really unfavorable situations. It could either be the best thing in the world for you or a horrible nightmare depending on your experiences.
A completely won game no matter the material advantage can fall victim to a stalemate making it a draw. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you so here are the things that I would share.
To avoid a stalemate in chess the following practices are recommended:
- Leave 1-3 squares for the opponent King to move.
- Leave 1-2 pawns that the opponent can move if their King has no legal moves.
- Ensure that every move comes with a check.
- Implement the easiest checkmate patterns such as the ladder checkmate.
- Leave a piece for the opponent that they can move (if there is an overwhelming material advantage).
- Keep the enemy King away from the corner.
- Keep the enemy King in the center.
- Remove pins that will not allow the opponent’s pieces to move.
- Don’t promote too many queens that it makes prevention of stalemate complicated.
To avoid a stalemate in winning positions the player should leave 1-3 squares for the King to move before setting a checkmate. They should also ensure that every move comes with a check, or even leave a piece/pawn for the opponent to move.
This actually is not as complicated as what most people make it out to be, it’s usually fairly simple. It’s just that some folks don’t have the proper understanding in avoiding such that makes them fall for it.
Let’s discuss it then.
What conditions cause a stalemate?
Knowledge of condition are more important than you think, a lot of beginners don’t really have a proper understanding of the stalemate’s nature. Of course it would be significantly harder to prevent if we don’t know what it is.
There are three conditions for a stalemate to occur, (1) it is the said player’s turn to move, (2) there are no available pawn/pieces that can move, and (3) every legal move with the king leads to a check.
This is a thing that got me when I don’t have sufficient knowledge about this rule yet, that if another pawn/piece can move the game goes on. I want to remind you that this rule absolutely exists but a lot of people just gloss over it.
For someone who is not that adept yet you need to squeeze and learn everything about this rule first. Then it will be easier for you to formulate helpful ideas that even I have not provided.
When do Stalemates mostly occur?
There’s a recurring pattern for most games that have witnessed a stalemate that gives us an idea of how to actually prevent it. It usually only happens on a limited amount of patterns positionally, which is a piece of great knowledge to take advantage of.
Stalemates usually occur when the king is in the corner, a Queen is close to the enemy king, and when there are too many pieces for a simple checkmate.
Stalemates are rarely seen in the center of the board due to the amount of space that the area has. The corner really limits its ability to move, making it likely to trigger the draw.
This is why you should be careful when the king is in the corner or around the edges. The king in itself has a limited amount of options there, it can use that to cause a stalemate.
Consequently, another thing I’ve learned is the queen really plays a dangerous relationship in this problem. If the queen’s movement does not cause a check, there’s always a possibility of it being the progenitor of a draw.
My advice is to not keep the queen too close to the enemy king unless it causes a direct checkmate, since it’s just too risky. Especially in a fast-paced game (time trouble) you may not notice that the king is no longer able to move.
Here’s an illustration to get your mind going:
This perfectly demonstrates the idea mentioned above, the nature of the queen to stalemate especially in the corner. By implementing this idea, the amount of stalemates should somewhat decrease.
Another advice that I can give you is to avoid checkmating with more pieces than you need since that causes some complications. Basic may not look flashy but it is simple enough to get the job done.
When there are too many pieces the chances of you actually making a mistake rises. If you can achieve something with fewer pieces when some people need more, then I think that is a wonderful thing
Lastly I want to state the obvious but incredibly helpful fact, the King can only be stalemated when it is the only piece that can move. This is why you should stay extra alert when this condition actually comes by, since this is when the devil appears.
Just by paying extra attention it would significantly reduce your likelihood of causing an unintentional draw.
What are the ways to completely avert the chances of stalemate?
As I’ve said there are limited conditions when the stalemate can actually resolve. But do you know that there is a 100% foolproof way to completely prevent it?
To completely prevent the chances of delivering an unintentional stalemate you should always move with check, leave the opponent with a pawn/piece that can move, or at least leave 1-3 free squares for the King.
If every move comes with the check it would literally be impossible to deliver a stalemate, there can only be checkmate. In fact this is what I do in completely winning positions, and is why I rarely faced this issue.
You don’t really need to think that much since the game will end all the same, just continue checking (it will eventually be a checkmate just slightly longer).
Leaving the opponent with an extra piece/pawn that can move is extremely helpful too. This is another condition that would snap the chances of a stalemate completely.
If you’re really that winning anyway I don’t think you should worry that much for that extra enemy bishop. It is just a completely dead game at that point.
Another is preventing the king from any escape but leaving it with 1-3 tiles that it can move back and forth with. You can slowly maneuver into the position until there is a striking range for a checkmate.
Again, one of those things that will definitely ensure a seal in the stalemate department. I personally don’t like this approach since it just makes the game longer (it works though).
How fast should you play to avoid a stalemate?
This is another factor that is mostly overlooked but plays a vital role in this issue. That is the cause of time, I think this is the reason why most people actually fall for this draw.
Typically, using 1-3 seconds of your time to be aware of the enemy king’s position will generally reduce your chances of committing a stalemate.
Whenever in time trouble we generally tend to play instant moves without giving much thought. Usually this works if the player has a good intuitional value but sometimes it can backfire of course.
That is why I suggest using at least 1-3 seconds to just get a general feel of the position even in low time (especially if there is an increment). Basically I’m telling you to slow down to see the position better (if possible).
This would save you a lot of headaches if implemented correctly, take some experience to learn this though (control of time).
What improvements can you do to minimize stalemates?
Ok, we’re already talked about how to completely shut down the idea of committing stalemates. But rather than only the techniques, I believe that the player’s general mindset and skills matter too.
There are definitely things within yourself as a player that could be improved to solve this.
To minimize the chances of turning a winning position into a drawn stalemate you should improve general checkmate visualization, and avoid overconfidence on winning positions.
Improving checkmate visualization is incredibly important since that is what you will be doing instead of the stalemate. A lot of people fall for this since they just are not that good at finding checkmates.
I’m not even talking about really complicated hard to spot mates, just something like the ladder checkmate should help. If you can mate in very simple fashions (again, like the ladder checkmate) then you would rarely draw a winning position.
To add to that, you should avoid having a surge of overconfidence in theoretically won positions. This is why winning positions are occasionally harder to convert since we tend to play less seriously in such.
You should suppress the emotions of arrogance during these situations in the game. Remind yourself that the game is not over until the king has fallen or the opponent has resigned.
It would limit your leniency in committing mistakes at critical moments. Don’t underestimate this advice, it might be more useful than you think.
Do you now know how to avoid stalemates?
Did I answer the entirety of your question? I sure hope so, since these really are just all the things you need to avoid falling for this draw. Don’t worry though it is ok, I had troubles with these too as a beginner.
Just apply all these concepts and you should be fairly ready. I’ve really enjoyed making this article since a lot of people are frustrated in facing this issue (means more people I can help).
Just reading a couple of forums from chess.com surprised me with the severity of this problem. I sure hope you’re not one of them after this, sleep well and play chess.