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I was participating in a FIDE-rated blitz tournament a while back (15+0, if it matters for the rules), and had finished my match, and was watching another board. White had about 10 seconds remaining on the clock when black moved a pawn which put the board into position of a stalemate (blocking the forward progress of white's only free-to-move pawn). The white player failed to realize in the 10 seconds that they didn't have a move (there were still a few pieces on the board, some pinned, others just blocked, so it wasn't immediately apparent).

I saw the position was a stalemate right away, but neither player recognized it, and since white's time ran out, black took the victory and reported it. In this scenario, should I have:

  1. Notified the arbiter of the discrepancy
  2. Accept the fact that white effectively surrendered by shaking hands and accepted the defeat
  3. Notify the players directly (before anything is reported) and let them resolve it themselves?

As well, would the stalemate stand even if the timeout was hit, or must the players acknowledge a stalemate for it to count (regardless of white's inability to move).

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    Note that 15+0 is rapid under FIDE rules, not blitz. The answer by Brian Towers is still correct nonetheless. – kamekura Feb 24 at 7:49
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There are three articles in the FIDE Laws of Chess which are relevant here:

5.2.1 The game is drawn when the player to move has no legal move and his king is not in check. The game is said to end in ‘stalemate’. This immediately ends the game, provided that the move producing the stalemate position was in accordance with Article 3 and Articles 4.2 – 4.7

and

6.8 A flag is considered to have fallen when the arbiter observes the fact or when either player has made a valid claim to that effect.

and

12.7 If someone observes an irregularity, he may inform only the arbiter. Players in other games must not to speak about or otherwise interfere in a game. Spectators are not allowed to interfere in a game. The arbiter may expel offenders from the playing venue

In this case the game was over and ended in a draw the moment the stalemate was on the board (5.2.1) provided the flag hadn't fallen. The flag hadn't fallen until either the arbiter or one of the players noticed (6.8). Black played the stalemating move and pressed the clock while there was time on both clocks hence the stalemate decided the game.

Having said all that once the players didn't notice and handed in the wrong result that wrong result became very difficult to overturn once the draw had been made for the next round. Before that, it would have been straightforward for the arbiter to correct if the error had been pointed out and verified. Without recording of the moves verification would be difficult once the pieces were reset.

What would have been the best thing for you to do in the circumstances?

Strictly speaking, according to 12.7, you should immediately inform the arbiter and strictly speaking, only the arbiter. However I suspect that you would not have been punished had you told the players although the player who "won" might not have been happy.

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This was undoubtedly a draw. FIDE rules, emphasis mine:

5.2.1 The game is drawn when the player to move has no legal move and his king is not in check. The game is said to end in ‘stalemate’. This immediately ends the game, provided that the move producing the stalemate position was in accordance with Article 3 and Articles 4.2 – 4.7.

So the game was over, and it was a draw. No player needs to claim or acknowledge or anything. That the clock was still ticking and everything else was irrelevant as far as the rules were concerned.

(there is also another rule that would apply, a flag fall is only a win for the opponent if he has a series of legal moves that lead to checkmate, and here he clearly didn't -- but it's moot because if you don't notice the stalemate, you don't notice this either)

Now, the problem is that no player noticed the stalemate, so they didn't realize what the actual result of their game was. So of course they didn't ask an arbiter either.

What you, as a spectator can do is always very hard to say. As far as the rules are concerned, you hardly exist, and if you do the rules only want you to stop interfering.

But in this case, the game was over. There was no danger that you would distract the players, nor was there any way for you to influence the result anymore. In my personal opinion, it was fine for you to walk up to them and point out the stalemate, to prevent the wrong result from being reported. Or alert an arbiter. But maybe others disagree.

One thing that is not the answer is "accept the fact that white effectively surrendered by shaking hands and accepted the defeat". That happened after the game already finished, so shouldn't influence the result.

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    I love this answer, except that observers of my level will do best if we refrain from talking to the players until the players start acting as if they consider the game ended, too. Too often have I seen fellow observers disrupt a game (especially a kid's game rich in irregularities) through honest misinterpretations of fact or law. Talking directly to the players is irreversible and it invites other observers to interfere, too. – Jirka Hanika Feb 24 at 15:23
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That's an easy one: stalemate ends the game automatically. FIDE 5.2.1. rule. Neither flag, nor handshaking, nor signing the scoresheet change this. What to do: 1. Play safe, inform an official. 3., while no felony, may get you in trouble when someone official is very anal-retentive minded, or even with the player to whose disadvantage it is. I'd do that only conditionally (e.g. a kids tournament I accompany as a trainer).

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