I came up with this rather amusing and bizarre stalemate where Black stalemates itself by self-smothering.

  [FEN "8/8/8/8/8/3p4/pp6/krb1K3 b - - 0 1"]

  1...d2+?? 2. Kd1

The peculiar feature of this stalemate is that Black is unable to move not because moving a piece would put its king into check, but moving a piece would require it to capture its own piece, which is disallowed. This is an example of a single self-smothered stalemate.

The question is, is it possible to have a double self-smothered mate, such that both sides do not have any moves at all because the moves would require capturing of the side's own pieces?

One possibility suggested by the user supercat is the following -

      [FEN "KN1b/RPpPp/P1P/4P/8/3p1p1p/3PpPpr/4B1nk w - - 0 1"]

      1. e6

And both sides are stalemated. However, this position cannot occur in practice, because you cannot have a Black bishop trapped on d8 with the c7 or e7 pawns still on their original squares.

  • How did the black pawn move backwards? – irisjay Feb 27 '14 at 10:33
  • @namehere it did not. The board is placed with Black facing forward. – Wes Feb 27 '14 at 15:00
  • ...about this situation, black shouldn't have done that. "committing" a stalemate is only good when you're in a situation where you can never win. – Mina Michael Feb 27 '14 at 17:47
  • I have seen lines where a bad move allows the weaker side to sacrifice remaining pieces, leaving himself stalemated... or winning. Of course, I can't produce the game. – Tony Ennis Feb 28 '14 at 13:17
  • 2
    The term "self-mate" refers to a category of puzzle in which one player forces the other player to impose checkmate; a mate which requires the cooperation of both players is a "helpmate". The fact that the smothered stalemate is reciprocal would imply cooperation by both players, so a "help-" suffix would be redundant. BTW, with regard to your earlier question, are you familiar with Sam Lloyd's 10- and 12-move stalemates? See anusha.com/samloyd.htm and search "stalemate". – supercat Mar 17 '14 at 15:09
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I think I found a double-self-smothered-stalemate that could occur via sequence of legal moves from the normal starting position.

 [FEN "5bnk/4ppbp/4P2p/5P1P/p1p/P2p/PBPP/KNB w - - 0 1"]

  1. c3 f6

Each player has seven pawns and two dark-square bishops, so one pawn from each player must have been promoted. Once White's b pawn has captured to a3 and Black's g pawn has captured to h6, White's g pawn and Black's b pawn can promote without any other pawn having to leave its file. I haven't worked out the exact "game", but I see no reason to believe it wouldn't be relatively trivial, particularly if one isn't worried about achieving the position with a minimal number of moves.

  • Nice one! Ya, the g-pawn will probably promote to a bishop on f8 or h8. – Wes Mar 17 '14 at 2:33

Here's a simpler mutual smothered stalemate (9 men on a side, no promoted pieces):

[Title "Mutual smothered stalemate"]
[fen "5brk/4p1pb/4P1p1/6P1/1p6/1P1p4/BP1P4/KRB5 w - - 0 0"] 

Reduce number of units from Noam's record of 18 to a new record of 15.
(8+7 units, no promoted units necessarily on the board, pawn captures all achievable):

[Title "Mutual smothered stalemate"]
[fen "5brk/4p1pb/4P1p1/6P1/6PB/6PK/6PP/8 w - - 0 0"]

Is this the best possible?

It's interesting that this solution is asymmetric. If you wrap both kings with pawns on opposite flanks, it requires 16 units.

EDIT: Inspired by a comment, I want to show more deeply that the position is legal. And if fact prove that, despite appearances at least one promotion took place in the history of the game. Assume first that no promotions happened.

White c-h pawns could have reached their files with 8 captures, which is OK since Black has 7 units left.

What about the Black pawns? All but 1 Black unit were captured by White c-h pawns. BfP ("Black f pawn") captured to g6, as this pawn couldn't have come from h7. Most efficient if BhP captured to g file, to be captured in its turn.

White pawns made 1,2,2,3 captures on files d,e,f,g respectively. So Black b,c,d pawns would have to make a total of 5 captures to get far enough (to d & e files). Together with the 2 captures onto the g file, Black made at least 7 pawn captures. This is making the most efficient assumption that BaP was the one missing Black unit not captured by a WP.

Black made 7 pawn captures, and White has 8 units remaining, so at first it looks OK. But none of these captures were on files a or b, where WaP & WbP began. One of those two WPs must have also got hit by a BP, but how? The only capture possible is of BaP.

Therefore, we have proved our original assumption wrong: at least one promotion happened in the course of the game. That might have been White or Black. E.g. WbP promotes on b1, or e.g. BbP captures only once, and promotes on c1.

  • If I didn't miscount, the white pawns need to capture 10 times (f2xg3, e2xf3xg4, d2xe3xf4xg5, a2xb3xc4xd5xe6), but there are only 9 black pieces missing (five pawns, two knights, one rook and the queen). – Annatar Apr 26 at 14:02
  • @Annatar: thanks for your interest. 8 White captures are required, not 10. The a pawn doesn't need to get engaged. It could be the c pawn instead: cxdxe. – Laska Apr 26 at 14:11
  • 1
    Ah, I see. Thanks for explaining. – Annatar Apr 26 at 14:15

In response to an your original question about whether anything interesting has been written about stalemates, it may be worth mentioning that puzzle creator Sam Lloyd is often credited with two interesting stalemate "games" (though see game 3679 at http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/winter08.html for information about that attribution); in the first, White stalemates Black on the tenth move, after having captured six black pieces:

[FEN ""]

1.e3 a5 2.Qh5 Ra6 3.Qxa5 h5 4.Qxc7 Rah6 5.h4 f6 6.Qxd7+ Kf7 7.Qxb7 Qd3 8.Qxb8 Qh7 9.Qxc8 Kg6 10.Qe6 

In the second, White is stalemated after Black's twelfth move, while all 32 chessmen are on the board:

[FEN ""]

1.d4 d6 2.Qd2 e5 3.a4 e4 4.Qf4 f5 5.h3 Be7 6.Qh2 Be6 7.Ra3 c5 8.Rg3 Qa5+ 9.Nd2 Bh4 10.f3 Bb3 11.d5 e3 12.c4 f4

In both of Sam Lloyd's positions, one side is stalemated while the other has many moves available. For both sides to be stalemated would probably take significantly more moves, and for both sides to be smother-stalemated would take more yet.

  • Note that the second game is often attributed to S.Loyd although he is not the original author. It was created by Wheeler in 1887. See item 3679 - Shortest stalemate games here : chesshistory.com/winter/winter08.html – Evargalo Oct 31 '17 at 17:24
  • 1
    @Evargalo: I updated the answer to include the link.\ – supercat Oct 31 '17 at 17:39

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