If you are leading a game, is it ethical to capture your opponent's pieces one by one or go straight for checkmate?

  • 13
    Have you ever seen a cat torture a mouse? Just for fun? Like, the hunt is over, the mouse is screwed, but the cat just keeps toying with it - tossing it back up in the air, making it scurry, then jumping on it again... just for its own amusement. Ask yourself if you're doing that to you opponent. If you are, you're being a jerk. If you're not, then don't worry about it. You generally need to seriously outclass your opponent for this opportunity to present itself.
    – J...
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 15:11
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    That's silly, @J... The chess-playing mouse has the option of resigning, after all.
    – TonyK
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 21:22
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    @TonyK Well, for the whole thing to work the mouse has to be unaware of the fact that they're being toyed with - that it's not just a genuine, desperate contest for survival. Like I said, you generally need to seriously outclass your opponent for this opportunity to present itself. OP is describing a situation where the aggressor takes a circuitous route to victory (in poor taste?) in order to flex that they can pick off their opponent's pieces at will, exploiting mistake after mistake and deliberately drawing out the game into an embarrassment of progressive attrition for the loser.
    – J...
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 21:59
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    @J if you read the answers the most common cited example is players in time trouble choosing the brute force approach to avoid having to think.
    – Taemyr
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 10:27
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    Ignoring the ethical aspect, there is an important tactical aspect: If you are certain you force a checkmate you usually should, because the longer the game goes on the more opportunities there are for you to make a mistake and lose your advantage. Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 12:37

7 Answers 7


There is no rule or law that says that you have to try and checkmate in as few moves as possible and so there is no ethical requirement either.

In fact, if there are just a few pieces left on the board and you are very short of time it makes a lot of sense to take all the opponent's pieces as quickly as possible and only then worry about how you are going to checkmate.

Otherwise if you run out of time while your opponent still has some material left then you are going to lose on time. If your flag falls after you have taken all their pieces then you still get a draw.

  • 11
    Similarly if I'm in serious time trouble I'm never going to try to find a shorter mate with one queen if I can just easily push a pawn down the board and then do a thoughtless mate with two queens. Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 20:22
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    In that situation I would even promote to rook, as I found mating with rook and queen even simpler and safer. Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 12:36

It depends.

The USCF Code of Ethics states that the following is unethical:

Deliberately failing to play at one's best in a game, in any manner inconsistent with the principles of good sportsmanship, honesty, or fair play.

I would take this to mean that if you have a mate in 1 and you see it but purposely don't play it, you're being unethical. However, I would not take this to mean that you cannot take your opponent's pieces if this is a legitimate attempt to win (or prevent losing on time.)

  • 11
    That's a bit dodging the question, isn't it? Because the code doesn't say failing to play at ones best is always unethical -- it says it's unethical if it is inconsistent with the principles of good sportsmanship. But this qualification is exactly what the OP is asking about! Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 8:56
  • 5
    That's about throwing the match, not toying with your opponent. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 11:05
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica The ethical rules say what they say. All I can do is quote them and give my opinion. People here are using terms like "toying with" or "torturing" to describe the behavior in question. I think that if someone is "deliberately failing to play at one's best in a game" to "toy with" or "torture" their opponent, what they are doing is "inconsistent with the principles of good sportsmanship".
    – D M
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 21:48

If a football game was lopsided at halftime, wouldn't it be ethical to call the game?

Since chess has a resigning option, I don't consider any move as unethical. I consider an opponent who doesn't resign in a hopeless position as someone who deserves to be tortured, and it allows me to practice technique. So promote to all knights and practice the unusual mate.

  • 6
    Be careful with the 50 move rule though
    – jf328
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 1:38
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    @jf328 And accidental stalemate Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 23:31
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    My opponent promoting to knights would make me feel it was the correct decision not to resign and play for a slip-up. Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 6:21
  • 1
    Why would someone call a football game at halftime? At least give the losing team some more playing experience.
    – mbomb007
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 22:36
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    What's typically frowned upon is running up the score with your first teamers.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 17:25

It depends on level of play and seriousness. If this game is a tournament game but lower rated, I would be happy if my opponent was playing around. This would allow more stalemating chances.

If I seriously didn't want to endure it, I could always resign. If this was a grandmaster game or just a high rated game that was taken seriously, it may be seen as disrespectful and unsportsmanlike to do so.

Just like how there are no real rules against offering a draw, it could be seen as rude to offer a draw when you're clearly losing.

Of course if you're playing a casual game, you can do whatever you want. When I play with my friends I would often give up all my pieces and underpromote some pawns to do fun checkmates like 3 knights and whatnot.

  • 7
    "When I play with my friends I would often give up all my pieces and underpromote some pawns to do fun checkmates like 3 knights and whatnot." -- and your friends still play with you? Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 23:45
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    @JohnColeman: I was losing a game, so I sacrificed my last piece to ensure the game ended in KBB vs K. My opponent said I should resign. I said he couldn't win. He couldn't.
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 5:30
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    @JohnColeman: I know this situation from my youth days. If your friends no longer play with you (remember, they started the "insult" by not resigning), they never were your friends in the first place. This falls under the same rules as "flyting" during banter blitz: promote to ten knights with an evil grin on your face and in the next game you are bestest buddies again. Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 9:15
  • 3
    If I gain the upper hand, I prefer to capture and exchange as many pieces as possible, even if there's a possibility of checkmate sooner. This is so I can clear the board and get down to a simpler end-game. If there are lots of pieces still in play, I'm always worried I miss something and make a mistake. Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 13:18
  • 8
    @OscarBravo There is a huge difference between realizing your advantage in a way that prevents counterplay and simply toying with your opponent in a won position. The shortest mating sequence might involve piece sacrifices, and refraining from going that route because of the danger of miscalculation isn't poor sportsmanship. Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 13:53

Why would you choose to not choose to checkmate right away? You are wasting both your time and your opponent's time by not doing so. Tournaments take place in short periods of time, so using that time to keep up your ability to play is important. Unless there is a time constraint, and you are trying to ensure that you will not lose by running out of time, you should checkmate in as few moves as possible.

  • 2
    Indeed, the reasoning why is the key behind it. That being said, I don't think OP is talking about a mate-in-1 situation. I believe OP means something more like bringing pieces into attack mode and gunning for a win. But such maneuvers can of course be risky, especially in short time scenarios!
    – corsiKa
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 2:09
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    "Why would you choose to not choose to checkmate right away?" → You may be winning, and you may be fairly sure that a checkmate in X is possible if you play your moves perfectly. You can try and go for it; but you also have the option to capture a couple more pieces, simplify the position, and then be absolutely sure that a checkmate in X is possible and go for it. There's nothing unethical in that.
    – walen
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 10:34

It doesn't hurt to ask your opponent if they'd like to resign or keep playing. I beat a number of better players when they got well ahead and made mistakes, and I lost many games the same way.

Also, weak players don't get to really study desperate endgames if they're always resigning. One of my chess partners used to consistently draw me into a stalemate when I was well ahead, instead of resigning. If he'd just resigned, or if I'd just wiped him out, I would have never grokked that option.


Your opponent has the option to resign.

Personally I feel it depends on the motive. If you deliberately ignoring simple forced mates it seems a bit rude but if you are simply trading pieces to go for a longer/less aggressive and far more certain win that is fine (probably a good idea too).

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