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I am very much a beginner to chess and have been clueless in my past matches. I feel like I'm either making a move just to protect any of my pieces at that moment or make a move to simply knock my opponent's piece; which is certainly not the right way to play chess.

I recently played a match in Lichess which ended up being a stalemate. I have a couple of questions with this...

[fen "5k2/6p1/6p1/r2p4/4p3/1K2n3/3q4/8 b - - 0 1"]

I was playing with the black pieces and this was how it ended:

i) How exactly is the match concluded to be a stalemate?

ii) Being a beginner, I obviously find it difficult to checkmate the opponent... even though in this particular match, I seemed to have the upper hand with so many of my pieces in the board. At this particular step which I have attached below, my mind tells me that I could have somehow used the rook and knight to give a checkmate. What are some moves to give checkmate as I'm having a tough time figuring it out myself?

[fen "5k2/6p1/3p2p1/7r/1K2p3/4n3/3q4/8 b - - 0 1"]
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    Stalemates like this are very common among beginners, particularly when you have a lot of pieces on the board against a lone king. In such a position, there's no risk of losing, and you'd still have a winning position even if you blundered most of your pieces away, so avoiding stalemate should be your primary concern. The simplest way to avoid stalemate in endgames like this is to put the enemy's king in check with every move--or at least, if you're going to play a move that isn't check, make sure the king will have a safe square to move to so that it's not stalemate. Jul 31 at 21:10
  • With a rook and queen (or two rooks) the most typical checkmating pattern is called "ladder mate". I'll let you google it for yourself, but basically you alternate the two pieces to drive the king to the edge of the board. Here, you have a textbook ladder mate if you first play Rh1 and then follow with Rc1, Qb1, Ra1 - checkmate. White has no option but to go one file towards the edge with each move.
    – CompuChip
    Aug 1 at 7:17
  • @RaviFernando: Have to tell an incident from Linkes-Rechtes Alsterufer (the giant youth tournament in my city). A little girl was chasing the enemy king with three queens, always checking. Any random checking move would have been mate, except the one she chose. For twenty moves or so. Then she finally changed her strategy and of course the first non-check was stalemate. Spectators (lulz were had) desperately kept a deadpan face for to not heap insult onto injury. And her trainer surely will have tought her the "Treppenmatt" on the next occasion. Aug 1 at 8:25

3 Answers 3

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i) How exactly is the match concluded to be a stalemate?

  1. The white king is not in check
  2. The squares a2, b2, c2, c3, b4 are covered by the queen. The king may not move there.
  3. The squares a3, a4 are covered by the rook. The king may not move there.
  4. The square c4 is covered by the knight. The king may not move there.

Hence the king is not in check and white has no legal moves. That is the definition of stalemate.

Could somebody suggest some moves to give checkmate?

Far and away the most important area for you to study as a beginner is simple endgames. Unless your opponent is kind enough to resign then that knowledge is the only way you are going to win games unless you stumble upon checkmate by chance.

Probably the simplest simple endgame is when two major pieces (rooks and queens are major pieces) combine to drive the opponent's king to the side of the board to give checkmate.

This is how it would look in the position you give -

[fen "5k2/6p1/3p2p1/7r/1K2p3/4n3/3q4/8 w - - 0 1"]
[Startflipped "1"]

1. Kb3 Rc5 2. Ka3 Qa5+ 3. Kb3 Qb6+ 4. Ka3 Ra5#

If you know these simple mates then you will know exactly what you are trying to do and will waste time going round in circles making pointless moves, risking stalemate in these kind of positions.

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    Indeed. In fact, maybe practice first with rook-and-rook against king (nothing else on the board): it is easier to accidentally stalemate a lone king with queen-and-rook. After seeing how the RR vs K is easy, then of course QR vs K should be easier, since the Q can get to relevant squares in fewer moves than a rook, but there is more risk of accidental stalemate for the same reason. Jul 31 at 16:01
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    Wouldn't 1. Kb3 Rb5 2. Ka3 (or Ka4) Qa5# be a faster mate? Aug 1 at 9:45
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The best advice anyone can give a beginner is that when you are hunting the King like this, make sure that he is either in check, or that you're absolutely positive he has a square he can move too. A good drill I used to do as a beginner was to highlight all the squares covered by my pieces. This was both helpful for avoiding unfortunate stalemates and it trained me to be faster at seeing these things over the board where you can't highlight the squares.

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When you have two major pieces (the major pieces are rooks and queen, so two major pieces would be two rooks or a rook and a queen), the basic checkmate pattern is called "ladder mate". This is where you force the king to the side of the board by taking away more and more space. In the second position that you posted, a good first move is to move your rook to c5. Once you do this, the king can't more to the left or below your rook because those spaces are attacked by your rook, and it can't take your rook because it's protected by the pawn. So once you do this, the king has only twelve spaces it can move two, and only three files.

Once you've done that, you can take away more files from the king, and once none are left, it's checkmate. In ladder mate, keeping your pieces away from the king makes it simpler, both because it keeps the king from threatening your pieces, and because it makes it harder to inadvertently cover the spaces around the king and give stalemate. In the stalemate position you give, both of your major pieces are just a knight's move away from the king, which means that they are covering a lot of spaces near it. They are also on opposite sides of the king, which makes it worse. You should try to keep your pieces on the same side of the king. That way, not only do they protect each other, but there is more overlap between the squares they are attacking, which means the total distinct squares attacked is lower.

Going back to the Rc5 move, once you've done this, you can move your queen to d5 and then to b2. Now the king can't stay on the b file, and it can't move to the c file because of the rook, so it has to move to the a file. You can then move your rook to c1 and then a1. This will be checkmate because the rook is taking away the a file and the queen is taking away the b file. This isn't the fastest checkmate, but it's one that can be found with simple rules.

If you let the enemy king get among your material, then it can use them to block attacks, and they get in the way of your major pieces, making ladder mates more difficult. For instance, if your knight weren't there, there'd be a simpler mate of Qd4, Rc3, Qf2, Rc1. If this happens, your options are to just let the king take the material, try to move the material away, or try to force the king away. In the case of pawns, you can just push them, and either the king will capture them, giving less cover, or eventually you'll promote them, giving you more pieces to deliver mate with. Just be careful that when you promote a piece, it doesn't create a stalemate.

If you were to promote all four of your pawns to queens, you'd have five queens, and at that point you'd have enough pieces that you could easily follow another tactic to avoid stalemates: make sure that all of your moves are checks, but don't give away material.

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