Features Jul 19, 2014 | 1:54 PMby IM Georgios Souleidis

7 stalemates every chess player needs to know

For our latest “7th Rank” column we’d like to show you some basic stalemate patterns that every chess player should be familiar with. In this case it’s not about memorising particular moves, but grasping some crucial ideas. If you do it’ll make a big difference to your practical results when you sit down at the chessboard!


1. King + pawn vs. king


This is a standard motif (or pattern) in pawn endings. It’s Black to move, but there are no squares he can move his king. It’s also not check, so the game ends in a draw by stalemate.

If you’re a pawn down you should always strive to reach this position, and the key to doing so is to know something about the “opposition”. This is a crucial idea that can get complicated, but we’ll stick to a straightforward example:


In the diagram position Black has taken the opposition to the white king (the kings face off against each other, with one square between them, and it’s White to move). If White plays, for example, 1.Ke5, Black will keep the opposition with 1…Ke7. If White pushes the pawn then the black king will stand in front of the pawn until the white king moves. At that point Black must again take the opposition. If Black observes these rules he can force the position in the first diagram.

1. King + rook pawn vs. king (variation)


This is an important variation on the previous examples, this time dealing with a pawn on a rook (a or h) file. In this case the player who’s a pawn down simply has to put his king in the corner and move to and fro until the stronger side finally puts his pawn on the 7th rank. Then we get this stalemate position, which can be mirrored in any corner of the board. The difference between this and the first example is that the weaker side doesn’t have to worry about the opposition.

2. The wrong bishop


Although white has a big material advantage (more pieces) he has no way of winning this position, since the bishop can’t control the h8-square where the pawn would be able to queen. There’s therefore no way of driving the black king out of that corner. The defence for the weaker side is very simple. Black, as before, puts his king in the corner and then moves between the h8 and g8-squares until White forces the stalemate position.

3. King + rook pawn vs. queen


Another standard motif you should be aware of: a king and rook pawn can draw against a queen that isn’t supported by its king. In this position Black can give an endless series of checks, but he can’t force the king out of the corner. The defence is extremely simple. White puts his pawn on the 7th rank and his king in the corner.

The following diagram shows when the endgame of king + rook pawn vs. queen is won for the stronger side:


In this example the black king must be within the green zone, and it must also, of course, be Black to move. The basic rule is that the black king must be able to reach the mating square g6 in two moves, or the mating squares e6 or e7 in one move. In that case Black can force mate, even if White queens the pawn.

3. King + bishop pawn vs. queen (variation)


The endgame of king + bishop pawn vs. a queen unsupported by its king is a draw. In this position Black has no better move – White is threatening to promote the pawn to a queen – than to take the pawn with 1...Qxf7, which is stalemate. 1…Qh6+ changes nothing. After 2.Kg8 White is again threatening to queen the pawn, so Black must repeat moves.

As before there are also zones where the king needs to be so that the stronger side wins. It’s more complicated, though, and depends on the position of the defending king. The basic rule here as well is that the attacking king must be able to reach a mating square in a single move.

4. Rook vs. bishop (and king in the corner)


Radjabov,Teimour - Ivanchuk, Vassily (2011 World Cup): position after 118...Bg3

White is up the exchange, but it’s not enough to win. Black, as the defending side, must run with his king to either a8 or h1 and put his bishop on the appropriate diagonal so it can be used to block a check. In this position Black must move the bishop back and forth on the h2-b8 diagonal. If the white king was on c8, with the idea of giving mate with the rook on the a-file, then Black would have to put his bishop on the g1-a7 diagonal. If Black had a light-squared bishop then he’d have to put his king on either h8 or a1. In this position play might have continued 119.Rh8+ Bb8 120.Rc8 (or any other square on the 8th rank) stalemate.

5. Second rank defence in rook + bishop vs. rook endings


The endgame of rook + bishop vs. rook is theoretically drawn, but in practice the stronger side often wins. A very important defensive idea is the second rank defence. In this example White, as the weaker side, puts his rook on the “second rank” (the board has been rotated) – and sacrifices it as soon as Black threatens mate. In this example Black is threatening 1…Rh2#, but White secures the draw with 1.Rg6+! If Black takes with 1…Bxg6 we have another stalemate.

6. The wrong bishop (variation)


Hoolt, Sarah - Hirneise, Tobias (Schachbundesliga 2011/12): Position after 63.Ka1

Black has a big material advantage but is unable to win, since the white king can’t be forced out of the corner and his bishop can’t attack any of his opponent’s pawns. White moves her king to and fro between a1 and b1 until a draw by stalemate is forced. The evaluation of the position wouldn't change if you took away White's c-pawn.

7. Trapped king on the edge of the board in a pawn ending


Nikolaevsky, Yuri - Taimanov, Mark (Tbilisi 1966): Position after 54.Kd5

The situation looks bad for Black since he can’t prevent the loss of the c5-pawn, but Mark Taimanov nevertheless managed to secure a draw using the following stalemate motif: 1…Ka5! 2.Kxc5 White has nothing better – he has to take the pawn on c5 at some point and force the stalemate. This is a very basic pattern that’s worth memorising.

Trapped king on the edge of the board in a pawn ending (variation)


Anand,Viswanathan - Kramnik,Vladimir (2007 World Championship, Mexico): Position after 64...Ke4

This is a variation on the previous example. White saves himself by going to the edge of the board with his king. 65. Kh5 Kxf5 Black has to take the pawn on f5 and the stalemate is forced, since White is threatening to capture the g7-pawn with 66.Kg6 and then win with his passed pawn on the h-file.

It may seem tough at first, but learning such key positions will make your life much easier in your own games!

See also:


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