I think it is up for debate as to whether a stalemate should be a win or a draw. I agree stalemates make beginner chess more interesting but we rarely see games at international level end in stalemate. I guess viewing stalemates as a win would create more decisive games as even a 1 pawn advantage in the endgame can be converted into a win as the defender loses the advantage of themes like opposition. I also believe the value of pawns in the endgame will be higher compared to that of present day chess giving rise to less materialistic games and interesting piece sacrifices for better pawn advantages.

So my final question would be would chess be more interesting if we saw stalemates as checkmates


8 Answers 8


There are already many good answers here that address your question from a hypothetical point of view. I want to add to this discussion some empirical data coming from AI chess, based on the arXiv preprint Assessing Game Balance with AlphaZero: Exploring Alternative Rule Sets in Chess (2020) by Nenad Tomašev, Ulrich Paquet, Demis Hassabis and Vladimir Kramnik (link: https://arxiv.org/abs/2009.04374). The first three authors are from Google's DeepMind team that developed the AlphaZero chess engine, and Vldimir Kramnik is of course a former chess world champion.

The paper arose from a similar question: what chess would look like without castling, and whether this would lead to more interseting and/or decisive games. Since the AlphaZero chess engine is entirely based on self-learning, it can easily be used to address such questions: simply change the rule set in the program, and let it train against itself. After enough training, it will out-perform any human player on that chess variant.

The team uses this approach to compare classical chess with nine variants, including the variant where forcing stalemate is a win. As you can see in the paper, they analyse each variation in quite some depth. Your question about decisiveness of games under this rule change is addressed in Figure 2: in 10,000 games at 1 second per move, 10% ended in white victory and 86% in a draw, compared to 7.8% and 88% respecively for classical chess. In 1,000 games at 1 minute per move, 2.5% resulted in a victory for white and 97% in draw (classical: 1.8% and 98% respecively). So indeed, your proposed rule change leads to slightly more decisive games, but the difference is quite small.

Of course, this is computer chess, and human chess might be different.

  • 2
    A potentially interesting alternative that the paper doesn't explore would be to allow either player to "pass" (making no move) on their turn whenever not in check, giving one extra legal move for most board positions. One effect would be that current "stalemate" positions would allow for continued play - merely forcing your opponent to not make a move on their next turn.
    – Steve
    Jun 14, 2021 at 15:25
  • @Steve That would be interesting! But I think it would lead to more draws, since K+P v K endgame would be a draw if the defending king can reach the promotion square (just skip every turn after that), so I suspect that one would need to be at least two pawns up in most endgames to force a victory.
    – Marc
    Jun 14, 2021 at 15:40
  • +1. I came here for an answer involving this paper, and wasn't disappointed. The important takeaway is that this wouldn't actually make games much more decisive, since most draws aren't stalemates. Jun 14, 2021 at 19:22

Absolutely not. Making stalemate a win would be a sure way to make for less interesting chess. Any rule change which makes it easier to convert a small material advantage to a win, will ipso facto make it less attractive to sacrifice material for attacking chances. One of the things that makes gambits playable is the fact that, if the attack fails, the gambiteer still has chances to draw a pawn-down endgame. Your proposed change to the stalemate rule would result in more grubby materialistic chess.


The game would definitely become way less interesting, as many endgames that offer a chance to keep fighting would become hopeless.

There would be more games that end in a win (so yes, more decisive games), but not necessarely more attacks, as those hardly ever end in a stalemate. It's hard to make a valid prediction without trying it out, but it's reasonable to say that openings and middlegames would be quite similar to those we see today, only with most endgames being either a dead draw or an easy-ish win.


More decisive games? Certainly.

But that does make it a better game? (I.E. is it a satisfactory solution to the problem of high drawrate?) Stalemates can occur in positions which are not vastly advantageous endgames but more or less equal, just like checkmates can. But the point of chess is to look for checkmates. Having to watch out for stalemates in the same way would be regarded a perversion of the original game by many of its players, since there is really little in common between a stalemate (which precludes a check) and a checkmate (which necessitates a check).

In other words, the problem with the proposition isn't that it necessarily makes the game fundamentally less interesting to have two possible win conditions (checkmate or stalemate) but just fundamentally very different, since stalemate and checkmate are very independent. So the variant you suggest is less like standard chess and more like e.g., 3-Check or King of the Hill, both of which can be won by checkmate or with an alternative win condition (three checks / King on e4, d4, e5 or d5).


If stalemates were wins chess would be simpler and therefore less interesting to me. Many tense struggles would become simple wins. Many "study-like" endings would become trivial.

Would these be replaced with more hard-fought middle games? Perhaps. bailing out to drawn ending would be less common I suppose.

Endings and Transition to endings are my favorite part of Chess. I find bailing out to a drawn ending a wonderful feature of Chess.

Here is one of my favorite games. A hard fought messy game full of errors where I managed to draw. I do not want a chess that does not include this game.

[White "NN"]
[Black "Me"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A50"]
[ECOUrl "https://www.chess.com/openings/Indian-Game-2.c4"]
[Termination "Game drawn by agreement"]
[Link "https://www.chess.com/game/daily/89899147"]
[FEN ""]

1. c4 Nf6 2. d4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. d5 a5 8. h3 Na6 9. Bg5 h6 10. Be3 Nh5 11. Qd2 Nf4 12. Bxf4 exf4 13. Qxf4 Nc5 14. O-O-O Re8 15.Nd4 Bf6 16. h4 g5 17. Qe3 gxh4 18. g3 Qe7 19. gxh4 Bg7 20. Rdg1 Kh8 21. Bh5 Qe5 22. Bxf7 Re7 23. Nf3 Qf6 24. Bg6 a4 25. e5 Qf8 26. e6 a3 27. b3 Qf6 28. Kc2 c6 29. Nd2 cxd5 30. cxd5 Nxe6 31. Nde4 Nd4+ 32. Kb1 Bf5 33. Bxf5 Nxf5 34. Nxf6 Nxe3 35. Rg6 Rf8 36. fxe3 Rxf6 37. Rxf6 Bxf6 38. Nb5 Rxe3 39. Nxd6 Rd3 40. Kc2 Rxd5 41. Nxb7 Be7 42. Re1 Bxh4 43. Re6 Kg7 44. b4 Bg5 45. Kb3 Bc1 46. Re1 Bb2 47. Na5 Rd3+ 48. Ka4 Rd4 49. Nc6 Rc4 50. Ne5 Rd4 51. Rh1 Bc3 52. Nc6 Rc4 53. Kb5 Rxc6 54. Kxc6 Bxb4 55. Kd5 Kg6 56. Rh3 Kg5 57. Ke5 h5 58. Rg3+ Kh4 59. Rb3 Bf8 60.Kf5 Be7 61. Rb7 Bd6 62. Rh7 Bc5 63. Kg6 Kg4 64. Rxh5 Bd4 65. Ra5 Bb2 66. Rf5 Bc1 67. Kf6 Bb2+ 68. Ke6 Bc3 69. Rf7 Kg5 70. Kd5 Bb2 71. Kc4 Kg6 72. Rf1 Kg5 73. Kb4 Kg6 74. Rf3 Kg5 75. Rxa3 Bxa3+ 76. Kxa3 Kf5 77. Kb4 Ke6 78. Kb5 Kd7 79. a4 Kc7


  • 1
    It doesn't seem like your game ends in a stale mate, does it? Jun 13, 2021 at 21:18
  • 1
    @PaŭloEbermann it would if it continued. I can add that if it is not clear Jun 13, 2021 at 21:19
  • 1
    By playing with this simple rule: Always move the king towards the A column, and never moving it away from it, one is guaranteed to not lose as black, in this position.
    – Jeffrey
    Jun 14, 2021 at 13:13

I would argue that a stalemate can offer as decisive an outcome as a checkmate, and a more decisive outcome than a draw.

Chess is like a military battle in that it requires strategy and tactics, and has many interesting nuances like sacrifices, pins, and so forth which have real life correspondents. Of course the nice thing about chess is that the battle occurs solely in the mind without any actual bloodshed.

The idea of a stalemate is important and intriguing because it is most surprising and effective when one can produce it at a time when it seems most certain they face defeat, perhaps due to overconfidence by their opponent. For instance, if one is in a hopeless position, one's opponent has an insurmountable piece advantage, or even if checkmate seems imminent, stalemate provides a last ditch chance of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Because if one can turn an almost sure defeat into a draw, for the person who does this it can be a real victory despite not being an actual win.

What would making it an actual win accomplish? Just like in real life, a stalemate does not produce an actual victory for either side. One side was about to win, but was denied of that win. But the side doing denying did not earn a victory either. They came from behind and prevented a loss and evened the score, but it definitely cannot be counted as a true win. In a real battle, both sides would get to live to fight another day. In my opinion, that is the more interesting outcome.


I was unable to locate a question in the main text, so I'll answer the one from the title. Would there be more decisive games? - Absolutely yes, since your proposition effectively turns a lot of currently drawn positions into winning ones.


If stalemate were a loss for the player who couldn't move, a good player with the white pieces would be able to beat even the best possible player with the black pieces. The only reason that White's advantage isn't decisive is that black has substantial opportunities to steer the game into positions where White would be able to stalemate Black, but not able to checkmate.

Thus, a rule that classified a stalemate as a loss for the stalemated player would make games very dull unless it were combined with a rule that would offer black some counteracting advantage. If, for examaple, chess were to add a "pie rule" similar to that used in Hex, and provide that one player gets to choose the first move made by the white pieces, and the other player gets to then choose whether to take the black or white pieces, that might make the game more interesting, though it would be a substantially different game from the one now called "chess". In particular, the first player to move would need to make a move for the white pieces which would give White as small an advantage or disadvantage as possible. Very few chess openings would be played under such rules, since nearly all such openings feature a powerful first move by white, and a player who made a strong move with the white pieces would get stuck playing the black pieces.

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