It is well known that the fastest stalemate is in 19 ply. But what is the fastest possible if all pieces, not pawns, may be shuffled at will on their first ranks? This will be difficult since there is much to consider, but 19 ply is certainly beatable.
What rearrangent of the starting position's pieces, in any manner, has the fastest stalemate?
Down another ply to 17 (stalemate after White's 9th move):
[Result "1/2-1/2"] [FEN "brqnkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBRKBNQ w - - 0 1"] 1. h4 h5 2. g3 f6 3. Qxb7 Kf7 4. Qxc7 Be4 5. Qxd7 Rh6 6. Qxa7 Bh7 7. Qxb8 Kg6 8. Qxc8 Ne6 9. Qxe6 1/2-1/2
I don't know if this is the fastest, but I managed to shave one ply off of the standard chess example by moving the queen to a better starting square. This allows the side giving stalemate to start capturing one move sooner, resulting in stalemate in 18 ply instead of 19.
[Result "1/2-1/2"] [FEN "rnbnqbkr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQ - 0 1"] 1. a4 d6 2. Ra3 Qxa4 3. h4 h5 4. Rah3 Qxc2 5. f3 Qxd2+ 6. Kf2 Qxb2 7. Qxd6 Qxb1 8. Qh2 Qxc1 9. Kg3 Qe3 1/2-1/2
1I couldn't figure out how to avoid moving the a-pawn. It seems unnecessary since it's just going to be captured right away, but the side getting stalemated runs out of useful non-blocking moves otherwise. For example, you can't move the f-pawn until the queenside rook gets to the kingside.– D MApr 11, 2020 at 17:14