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Suppose all the pieces are on the board. Does there exist a position such that

A) one of the players can't make any move (a stalemate)?

B) neither player can make any move (a double stalemate)?

  • Does a double stalemate make sense? Once you create it, the game is drawn. The other party won't have to make their next move. If white forces a stalemate because black can't move, it's irrelevant whether white is also in stalemate. – Mast Nov 17 at 19:10
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    @Mast: For purposes of a puzzle, what is relevant are the criteria solutions must satisfy. If a puzzle specifies that all white pieces must be on white squares, then any solution must have all pieces on white squares regardless of whether the rules of the game would require that. – supercat Nov 17 at 19:42
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    By "double stalemate," I think OP means a position that is stalemate with either side to move. It's true that it doesn't really make sense in a real game, although OP did not actually mention that the position had to be reachable from the starting position - only that it contained all thirty-two chessmen. – Bladewood Nov 18 at 0:58
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Disclaimer: This solution is not reachable from the starting position, and is not reachable in a game of Chess960 (thanks Rewan!).

 [FEN "3bBNRN/2pPpPKQ/2P1P1PR/7P/p7/rp1p1p2/qkpPpP2/nrnbB3 w - - 0 1"]

Why does the solution here not work?

This is clearly not reachable from the starting position (because of the bishops stuck on the first rank), but the question does not state the position must be legal.

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    By the way, if anyone can insert a board for me as an edit please do so; I am new to this stack exchange and don't know how (oops). Much appreciated! – im_so_meta_even_this_acronym Nov 17 at 0:19
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    Done and done my friend! See here on how to put a diagram in. Welcome to CSE as well! – Rewan Demontay Nov 17 at 0:23
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    You're welcome! ;D And no problem, we all are blind at times! – Rewan Demontay Nov 17 at 1:51
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    Upvoting. I'm not convinced that this is the best answer. But when I hover over the vote icon, the hovertext says "This answer is useful". And I think this may be able to be played with, as a starting point. So even if this answer is not 100% what we would dream for, it is definitely useful. – TOOGAM Nov 17 at 9:29
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    I think that it’s possible to change this position so the bishops are all on plausible starting squares. But there’s still the problem of the pawns getting to the files we find them on, with no captures available – Laska Nov 17 at 11:10
50

Here is an example of a 12-move game after which White (to move) is stalemated. All 32 units (pieces and pawns) are still on the board. The original version of this concept game was created by Charles Henry Wheeler, and published in Sunny South in 1887, according to Edward Winter's C.N. 3679. Samuel Loyd is often, and wrongly, given credit.

[Title ""]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.d4 e5 2.Qd2 e4 3.Qf4 f5 4.h3 Bb4+ 5.Nd2 d6 6.Qh2 Be6 7.a4 Qh4 8.Ra3 c5 9.Rg3 f4 10.f3 Bb3 11.d5 Ba5 12.c4 e3 1/2-1/2
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    Thank you so much, the first part of the question is complete now. – Sharlotta Neimor Nov 15 at 9:23
  • We can presume that this game has never actually been played? It seems incredibly unlikely. – J... Nov 18 at 15:31
  • This game is usually credited to Samuel Loyd, but I read somewhere that Loyd actually popularized a composition by someone else, whose name I cannot remember. – Evargalo Nov 19 at 7:24
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    @Evargalo Found the composer and added the name in. – Rewan Demontay Nov 20 at 15:01
  • Sam Loyd found a double-stalemate which can be reached in only a few moves, but the proof game involves captures. I don't know of any stalemate he found with all 32 units on the board. – Rosie F Nov 21 at 8:00
8

To answer the second part of your question:

Suppose all figures are on the board. Does there exist a transposition of figures such that both of the opponents can't do any move (a stalemate)?

No, this is not possible. Pieces are simply too mobile for this, so for a stalemate you need to hem them in (like the white queen in @RosieF's answer) or pin them on the king. You cannot use pins for a double stalemate, since that would imply the pinning piece can move and it's not stalemate for the other player. (That piece could be pinned itself, but there's no way to make a circular pin.)

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    You seem very sure about this! Can you justify your claim? @RewanDemontay's answer comes tantalisingly close, after all. – TonyK Nov 15 at 19:28
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    It's going to be very hard to prove it mathematically, I agree. – Glorfindel Nov 15 at 19:33
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    That's a downvote from me, then. – TonyK Nov 15 at 20:17
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    @TonyK I have fixed my answer and conceded my claim (mostly.) You can remove your downvote now/ – Rewan Demontay Nov 17 at 22:53
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    The rooks can capture each other. I should have said 'circular unbreakable pin', I guess ... – Glorfindel Nov 18 at 14:02
8

The question has two parts to it, and Rosie F perfectly answers the first part. Regarding only the second part, the question asks for any possible position where all 32 pieces are stalemated, disregarding legality of such positions. @im_so_meta_even_this_acronym's wonderful answer proves that it indeed possible. However, I want to focus specifically on only legal positions just for fun. I thank @TonyK and many others for helping contribute to the quality of my answer.

Speaking specifically about legal positions the best possible answer is that 32 pieces cannot be stalemated. The known maximum number of pieces that can be legally stalemated is 30. I have two examples. Remember, these are just records, with the ability to be improved upon. Please do try to understand that I am not contradicting any other answers-I am delving into a single area that no other answer covers (i.e. I am speaking of only mutual legal stalemates. Illegal positions with 32 pieces have been proven to exist in another answer.)

I found the below first position here.

[Title "30 Stalemated Pieces, Gustavus Charles Reichhelm Brentano's Monthly 01/1882"]
[FEN "rqrb4/nbk1p3/p1p1P3/PpP3p1/1P3pPp/3p1P1P/3P1KBN/4BRQR w - - 0 1"]

@Laska also found another legal position that has 30 stalemated pieces, with a promoted piece.

[FEN "brnbKRRN/qnk1pBN1/rb1pPpPp/p1pP1P1P/PpP5/1P6/8/8 w - - 0 1"]

I do suppose that it would need to proven that 30 it is the maximum under the particular condition that I have chosen. I have two ""semi-proofs" that illustrate that it just might be the limit.

Firstly, all pawns must be spread across the board, facing each other through the 2nd to 7th ranks. The only way to really block pieces in is to use the king, and the pawn arrangements that can be used to block the king and the pieces is very limited. The 1882 position does this extremely well.

Take a look at the two following positions.


[Title "Edgar Fielder, British Chess Magazine, 1938, Only 1 Out Of 32 Pieces Can Move"]
[FEN "brn1BRRB/qknQpKNp/rb1pPp1N/p1pP1PpP/P1P3P1/1p6/1P6/8 w - - 0 1"]

[Title "Thomas R. Dawson, The Chess Amateur 1923, Only Two Possible Moves For All 32 Pieces"]
[FEN "qrrb2n1/nbk1p3/p1p1Pp1p/PpP2P1P/1P1p4/BK1P2p1/QRB3P1/NRN5 w - - 0 1"]

These two problems show just how constrained possible pawn structures can be. Finding one that prevents all possible moves is a tough task. The 1882 position does this very nicely, with only two knights left out of the fun. While it is not definitive, it almost certainly shows that 30 is the limit for a legal position.

Secondly, if you want an authoritative source for 30 for the record, as late as 2013, even Anatoly Karpov gave the the 1882 as the record in his book Finding The Right Plan.

He does give this nice proof game for it.

[FEN ""]

1. Nf3 Nc6 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nb5 Ng4 4. h3 a6 5. Na7 Nh2 6. Rxh2 Rxa7 7. g4 b5 8. Bg2 Bb7 9. e4 d5 10. Ke2 Kd7 11. Qg1 Qb8 12. b4 g5 13. Bb2 Bg7 14. Rf1 Rc8 15.  Bd4 Be5 16. Rh1 Ra8 17. Nh2 Na7 18. f3 c6 19. Bf2 Bc7 20. Be1 Bd8 21. Kf2 Kc7  22. a4 h5 23. a5 h4 24. c4 f5 25. c5 f4 26. e5 d4 27. e6 d3 

Feel free to tell my of any more "semi-proof/proof" that can be added to this list.

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    Can you justify your claim that a 32-piece mutual stalemate is impossible? – TonyK Nov 16 at 17:05
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    It's been 15 hours with no edit. Also, when you make assertions in your answer, the burden of proof is on you. You can't just make a claim and leave supporting it as an exercise for the reader. – user2357112 supports Monica Nov 17 at 9:16
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    Yeah, and if you can't even prove it, can you find some evidence or resources that share your position? Especially since you seem adamant enough to roll back edits to your post. As is, this is just a stranger on the internet's opinion. – user45266 Nov 17 at 20:17
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    "I have conceded my claim now": No you haven't! "While it is impossible to stalemate all 32 pieces...": Why do you insist on claiming this, when the only evidence you have for it is that nobody has thought of a counterexample? Do you know what a proof is? – TonyK Nov 18 at 0:47
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    An incorrect answer that only corrects itself later in a section that starts with "EDIT" is not how we do things on StackExchange. Edit your answer to say what you want future readers to read. Don't force them to wade through a series of wrong claims and corrections. If you want to include a section to discuss wrong stuff that was in a previous version of your answer (e.g. to explain existence of comments, and/or explain why it's wrong if it's interesting to talk about at all), that's fine. But don't leave known-wrong things in your answer! Edit into what it should have been originally. – Peter Cordes Nov 18 at 1:02

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