It is so difficult to force stalemate and sometimes unintentional too, so why is stalemate a draw?

As the opponent doesn't have a further move, why is it not considered a win?

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    While I don't have an answer for the historical why, I'm glad it is a draw. It's exciting to watch someone claw back from a lost position with a clever stalemate. – Christopher Berman Oct 11 '12 at 18:43
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    A little while back Matt Bishop wrote an article on chessbase.com which advocated abolishing stalemate. I don't agree with this sentiment but the article did include some history of the rule as well as the only two games in a world championship to end in stalemate. – Morgan Sherman Oct 12 '12 at 3:53
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    How can the accepted answer begin with "Stalemate isn't always a draw"? Stalemate is a draw by the current rules and has been for more than 100 years. This sort of answer seems confusing to me. – Rauan Sagit Dec 17 '13 at 15:40
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    Incidentally, in Shatranj, stalemate was a win. – Andrew Latham Dec 24 '13 at 16:42
  • As an amateur player and victim to a very lopsided stalemate today, I respect the fact that it is a draw. My opponent had nothing but his king and I too many to name and yet through sloppy play, I put him in stalemate and he did not lose. Seems fitting. I will know better next time. – user7211 Apr 15 '15 at 0:55

10 Answers 10


Stalemate is a draw in classical chess yet there are other chess variants both historical and modern where stalemate is not a draw.

Very early versions of Chess, such as Shatranj Chess (props to Andrew Latham) declare the player causing stalemate the winner and even today there are callings to return to that rule.

for example:

Larry Kaufman Chess Life Sept. 2009 writes:

"calling stalemate a draw is totally illogical, since it represents the ultimate zugzwang, where any move would get your king taken"

A typical counter to this point is that Chess tradition dictates that a stalemate cannot result in a win for the stalemating player because it would require a suicidal move from the stalemated player (moving your king into check is, in most forms of chess, an illegal move). If there are no moves on the board that you are able to make (other then resigning) then in making the stalemating move your opponent has effectively ended the game without a definitive result (capture of the king) and is judged to have not won the game.

So.. "In Classical Chess what is the probable origin of stalemate being considered a draw?"

The earliest reference I can find to Stalemate being a draw in formalised chess rules is 13th century Italy where the version of Chess played declared that a game could only be won by checkmate or resignation. Stalemate, under those terms, describes a state where a player cannot make a legal move. In effect the game has stalled in a state where neither player can achieve Checkmate and is drawn.

Stalemate as a draw then spread to Germany (1400s), Spain (1600s) and throughout Europe by 19th Century when the formal rules of what we know as classical chess were put in place.

England was one of the final adopters of Stalemate as a draw in the 1800s (up until that point the stalemated player had actually been declared the winner).


Yes tradition does favors the player in stalemate but it has been that way for a very long time. The flipping of that advantage to the stalemating player would greatly change the nature of the endgame (and thus the game of chess and a huge amount of chess theory), which is probably why such arguments have not recieved too much traction.

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    A stalemate is draw (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalemate). Zugzwang is when you run out of useful moves and are forced to make a non useful move (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zugzwang). I think it is not accurate to mark this answer as the correct answer to the question. -1 on this answer for being misleading. – Rauan Sagit Dec 15 '13 at 0:46
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    I have edited the punctuation to make it clearer. The answer provided has nothing to do with Zugzwang because there are no legal moves on the board. However Stalemate could be confusing if the form of chess you play allows you to move the king into check (a suicidal move). In this instance there can never be Stalemate, only Zugzwang. Hope this clears up any confusion. – Totero Jan 9 '14 at 12:33
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    @Totero the answer still begins with a completely erroneous statement "stalemate isn't always a draw". In classical chess, it is a draw by definition. Also, I don't really see what is so great about this answer in general. It sounds more like an opinion. – Rauan Sagit Jan 9 '14 at 14:09
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    @FM Rauan Sagit From your own link (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalemate) "stalemate may or may not be treated as a draw." There is no indication anywhere that the question only applies to Classical Chess. Hence I have provided an answer which encompasses all types of chess which is qualified in the very next sentence. – Totero Jan 9 '14 at 15:27
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    @Totero Chess variants and (classical) chess are two different things. I think it is important to focus on classical chess in first hand when answering questions. After all, most people connect chess with classical chess. Therefore, the structure of your answer can be misleading for someone who is relatively new to chess. – Rauan Sagit Jan 10 '14 at 11:18

As Totero notes, changing stalemate in this fashion would drastically change endgame play. Currently, one must learn how to recognize different King/Pawn endings, and how other pieces interact with these endings. Opposite- vs same-color Bishops, Knight/Pawn vs Knight, Rook/Pawn vs Rook, and other basic variations.

Changing stalemate to a win would throw much of that out the window. Who cares whether White or Black has the opposition? Just run that Pawn down the board. Rook/Pawn vs Rook? No worries, just force a trade, and the win is guaranteed. It might not be fair to say that this would trivialize endgame play in reducing it to mindless exchanges from material superiority, but it would be a drastic change.

Put another way, it takes more skill to calculate and remember ending positions than it does to march one's way to a stalemate, and the stalemate rule is intended to recognize that fact.

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  • In general it would make the game sharper, harder, not neccessarily a bad thing. You're looking at it as if the game was played with the current rules and then in the endgame they suddenly changed to stalemate=win. Also endgames with pawn imbalance are not all of them. It gets interesting when you consider others, like KvNN (7K/8/8/8/8/8/8/1N1k3N b - - 0 1 white can force stalemate), KvB, KvBB (same colored) and many others. It would ADD diversity and skill to endgames. – Sopel Aug 13 '19 at 11:33

I think stalemate is a draw for the same reason that dropping the white ball when potting black is a loss in 8-ball pool - it gives the losing player a granule of hope until the very end, and it ensures that the winner must be clinical in securing his win.

With regards to whether this flows logically from the other rules of the game - chess is, after all, a human made game, not a form of mathematics, so a rule does not have to be logically consistent with all other aspects of the game. If we all agree that a specific rule is good for the game, then we don't need to justify this rule against the logic of other rules (en passant and castling are similar).

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I remember reading somewhere once which advocated that stalemate should be (could be) 3/4 point. Unfortunately, a quick google search turned up nothing.

The idea is interesting. It seems that you gained more by stalemating your opponent than you gain if the position is completely equal. By similar logic, the stalemated side seems to have not lost as badly as he would have if he had been checkmated.

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    According to wikipedia, that basic idea was in use in 18th century Spain; in terms of betting, a stalemate was considered a "half-win" for the stalemater. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalemate#History_of_the_stalemate_rule – ETD Oct 18 '12 at 20:07
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    @EdDean that is interesting – iMeMyself Oct 19 '12 at 3:15
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    Actually. If a stalemate would bring more points than a draw, then the fraction of games that end in a draw by agreement might drop! An exciting thought! – Rauan Sagit Jan 15 '14 at 16:36

There would definitely be some logic in considering Stalemate a win (after all, the opponent's King has to move and and will be captured on next move, so that should be a win).

However, this would have a huge impact on the whole Chess game. The reason is that, if Stalemate wins, now all King+pawn VS King endings are winning. Thus being one pawn ahead, exchanging all the pieces leads to a trivial win. I am not saying it would be bad, just that it would change the game more than you imagine.

For more details on the Stalemate (and on the key position in K+P VS K endings), you can have a look at the following blog post I wrote.

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  • Even without a stalemate, not ALL endgames K+P vs K would be winning, but in fact almost all. – Peter Mar 19 '15 at 20:13
  • To be precise, the endgame K+P vs K would be won, if the pawn cannot be captured. – Peter Mar 19 '15 at 20:20
  • Furthermore, K+Q vs K+R would become far easier to win. And there would be no "wrong" bishop in the endgame K+B+P vs K. – Peter Mar 19 '15 at 20:20
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    And there would even be positions where a king could win against a king and a pawn. This should be a good reason not to play without the stalemate-rule. – Peter Mar 19 '15 at 20:23
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    @hkBst No. It is easy to construct a position with a king against a king and a pawn, where the player with the king can stalemate the opponent, having a king and a pawn. In this case, the opponent only having a king would win, which would be absurd. – Peter Mar 11 '16 at 12:12

Simple reason - you cannot kill the king in his current place and the king is dead if he moves. So they maintain status quo till eternity, meaning stalemate.

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  • Maybe just allow 'nothing' to be a legal chess move then? – Thomas Ahle Mar 4 '14 at 12:59
  • Update: I guess that would make chess unwinnable for black though :/ – Thomas Ahle Mar 4 '14 at 13:01
  • Although in a timed match, a player can only maintain the status quo until their time runs out; at which point they lose. – martin Jan 24 '18 at 2:49

The objective of the game is to achieve a checkmate. If you leave your opponent no legal moves, then he/she is not in check, is not checkmated, yet can't move. It speaks to the ability of the player to recognize the possibility of stalemate, and avoid it while playing for the checkmate (or opponent resignation).

You haven't achieved the objective of the game, hence, a draw.

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    I think the intended question is, why is that the only objective? For what reasons is stalemate not included with checkmate as a winning objective? For instance, there have been points in the evolution of the game when stalemate has actually been considered a win, so why have the rules settled the way that they have? – ETD Oct 11 '12 at 15:02
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    Good point. I had not considered that. – JohnP Oct 11 '12 at 17:22
  • I know it's wiki, but even they are unsure of the "why" :en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalemate#History_of_the_stalemate_rule – JohnP Oct 11 '12 at 17:25

Stalemate is a draw by definition. Why is it a draw? Because this is the rule that was agreed upon in the 19th century. Before the 19th century, the stalemate rule was not standardized. By defining stalemate as a draw, winning has become more difficult. Stalemate is an important resource to hold a draw. For example, many rook endgames are drawn because the defending side sacrifices their rook to create a stalemate. The stalemate also offers escape from clearly lost positions where the opponent loses focus and allows the stalemate to happen. My view is that the stalemate adds flavor to chess.

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Big flaw in the classic chess game. The logic thing would be for the stalled player to pass the move back as in other boardgames where you are not able to move. If no player can move, then its a draw.

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Because the king is not under attack. Attacks are the single most salient feature of the game of chess. How could you win without an attack? Can you capture material without an attack? Similarly.

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  • "Can you capture material without an attack?" - If there's zugzwang, sure. – D M Dec 1 '17 at 19:07

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