Study Of The Month: Midboard stalemates

by Siegfried Hornecker
10/31/2023 – Chess stalemates in the middle games reveal the intricacy and beauty of this uncommon occurrence, offering various unique and engrossing endgame analyses. To show the variety of inventiveness and strategic nuance present in these unusual circumstances, Siegfried Hornecker presents a number of examples of midboard stalemates. These range from complex endgames to complicated compositions by well-known chess composers like Vladimir Bron and Emil Melnichenko. | Photo: Midjourney

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Midboard stalemates

by Siegfried Hornecker

Looking through the database, I found an interesting Bron ending, so I thought it might be fun just to look at midboard stalemates that are unusual. A selection follows.

It is not always easy to find a topic to write about (suggestions are always welcome), and sometimes a random study can spark an exploration. While looking through the database for ideas, I found the following endgame study.

Vladimir Bron, Shablinsky MT 1961, 4th prize.

White to move and draw.

1.d7 N:f4+ 2.Kg4 N:h4 3.d8Q e1Q leads to a series of checks. After 4.Nh6+! Kg7 5.Qg8+ K:h6 6.Qh8+/Qf8+ Kg6 7.Qg8+ Kf6 8.Qf8+ Ke5 9.Qh8+! Kd6 10.Qd8+ going to the queenside only repeats the position, but after walking there and back (now 14.-)Kc5 15.Qe7+! Q:e7 stalemate is a very unusual stalemate position.

Final position of the study:

White is stalemated

Emil Melnichenko, Maroc Echecs 2012, 3rd prize.

White to move and draw.

This study demonstrates the difficulties composers face when creating a midboard stalemate. The play is forced and linear, yet it seems to be among the best that can be done for this specific stalemate with four pinned pieces.

1.g8Q Q:g8 2.K:d3+ Q:d5+ 3.Nd4+ Kb1 4.Rb2+ Kc1 5.Rc2+ Kd1 6.Rd2+ Ke1 7.Nf3+ R:f3 8.R:e2+ Kd1 stalemate

Practical players will point out that Black’s final move is not possible as a dead position is reached, i.e. a position in which no legal series of moves can lead to a decided game, but in endgame studies for aesthetical reasons the rule is usually not applied that the game ends in this case.

Emil Melnichenko (* 1950) is a former guitar player in several bands. His family originated from Ukraine where his father fled Stalin’s reign of terror from Rostov-on-Don to pre-war Czechoslovakia, and again after the communist takeover of 1948, when he was forced into a displaced people camp in Hallein (Austria). Melničenko was, as we read further (in John Beasley’s British Endgame Study News of December 2010, itself referring to an article series in Šachová skladba), forcibly relocated to New Zealand, a country that by then might also have appeared safer than Europe. From what we understand, Melničenko and his family had nothing at all when arriving there (even the luggage was stolen before), although the article leaves it unclear who was part of that family, or if young Emil already was born by then. The Bures family, as they had renamed themselves shortly afterwards to not sound Russian, survived on hard farm labor. Emil discovered his family history by accident at 23 years old and decided to retake the name “Melnichenko”, now with the anglicized “ch” instead of the original spelling.

He is not to be confused with Victor Melnichenko. We add a bonus study (with another theme) to the replayable entries below.

Another study from the same composer shall demonstrate the more creative usage of midboard stalemate ideas.

Emil Melnichenko, NONA 2010, special honorable mention

The position almost looks like it could have happened in a game, but every chess player would be proud to end the game in the way the study does.

 1.Bf8 a3 2.Be7 B:e7 3.d:e7 a2

Such a setting with only kings and pawns on the board is called a “kindergarten” setting. As every new position in a study can be seen as a string of endgame studies, Melnichenko’s study also includes the endgame study that would start from this position, which would be aesthetically pleasing to coinnosseurs of endgame studies with only kings and pawns in their starting position.

4.d8Q a1Q+ 5.Qa5 Qf1+ 6.Ka7 Qg1+ 7.Ka8 Qh1

If White promotes on e8, either with 8.e8Q+ or even if he tries to be clever with 8.e8R, Black just can force a midboard stalemate with 8.-Kd6+ 9.Kb8 Qb7+ 10.K:b7 stalemate. Promotion to a bishop ends in a draw, as e6 is unprotected and Black can take instead on the ninth move. Correct is 8.e8N! where Black’s king is stalemated in the middle of the board again, but he loses because his queen still exists.

Of course, interesting endgame studies with a midboard stalemate don’t have to end with a knight promotion, they can start with one instead.

Tigran Gorgiev & Ernest Pogosyants, Shakhmaty v SSSR June 1977, commendation.

White to move and draw.

It appears that this kind of stalemate always takes two great composers. The solution is easy to follow after figuring out two things: 1.Qe2+ Kf6 2.Kb2 a:b6 wins for Black, and 1.b:a7 e1N+ is rather forced as 1.-e1Q 2a8Q easily draws. 2.Ka3 N:d3 3.K:a4 Nc8! 4.a8Q Nb6+ 5.Kb5 N:a8 leaves White with the endgame of king versus king and three knights, usually lost. However the trapped knight allows 6.Kc6 Nd6 stalemate.

Oleg Pervakov, Moscow Tourney 1992, 1st prize.

White to move and draw.

The results of the tourney were published in Shakhmatnaya kompozitsiya on 16 December 1992. You can see the sidelines of this study in the replayable entries below. The solution is 1.g6 Rf4+! 2.K:f4 Qh2+! 3.Kf5! Bd7 4.Kg5 c1Q+ 5.Re3+ Kh8 6.g7+ K:g7 7.Qf7+! K:f7 stalemate.

Such a stalemate without any pieces next to the king is called a “mirror stalemate”. I never understood the usage of the word “mirror” for checkmates and stalemates without bordering pieces.

Let us reiterate how forced engame study solutions can look natural, before we move on to pawn endgame stalemates.

Jan Rusinek, Tidskrift för Schack 1982, 2nd prize.

White to move and draw.

The material configuration looks good for White if Pb6 can be captured, so the threat of check on f3 and subsequent tactical ideas enforce the following play:

1.Kc6 b5! 2.K:b5 Rg2 3.Bd5 Rg5 4.Kc6 Be8+ 5.d7! B:d7+ 6.Kc5 Be6 7.Kd6 B:d5 8.Rc5 Ba3 9.b4 B:b4 stalemate, or 8.-Bd4 9.Rb5 draws (not 9.R:d5?? Rg6 mate).

For the next two endgame studies, we will look at a specific pawn stalemate that we showed before in this article series.

Julio César Saadi. Daniel Deletang MT 1960, 5th prize.

White to move and draw.

The knight on the eighth rank is doomed, but how to make the most of it? There are many ways to exchange the knight for a pawn, including 1.g5? K:d8 2.g:f6 Ke8 where Black wins. Only one of those ways, where time is won to activate the own king, is correct.

1.Nf7 Ke7 2.Nh6 g5! 3.Kg2 Kf8 4.Kf2 Kg7 5.Nf5+ e:f5 and a tough decision must be made. Will White retake with the e-pawn or the g-pawn? 6.g:f5? Kh6 7.Kg2 Kh5 8.Kh3 looks fine at first, but Black has the trick 8.-g4+! 9.f:g4+ Kg5 with deadly zugzwang.

6.e:f5! Kf7 7.Ke2 Ke7 8.Kd3 d5

The possibility 8.-Kd7 leads to the same position eventually as later in the main variation.

9.Kd4 Kd6

This is an important lesson: 10.Kd3 Kc5 11.Kc3 gains the opposition, but after 11.-d4+ 12.Kd3 Kd5 it is lost and Black can easily advance further, winning the endgame. This shows that not always getting the opposition is the best way to proceed, it might depend on other factors in the position, such as the pawn check that renders the opposition obsolete in this case. The saving grace is:

10.Kc3! Kc5 11.Kd3 d4 12.Ke4! Kc4 stalemate

Now that you saw this stalemate, the following endgame study should be solvable.

A. Davranyan & Mikhail Zinar. Toritzky MT 1986, 1st commendation.

White to move and draw.

It is interesting that a photograph of Davranyan is known (in EG 138, page 201) but there seems to be no information about his first name in sources your author can access. You can try to solve the study, or look at the solution in the replayable entries below.

Of course, among the variety of midboard stalemates in endgame studies, those in pawn endgames are rather uncommon but could likely be found in practical play with enough time to think. Such also is the case with the following idea.

Tigran Gorgiev, Magyar Sakkvilág December 1929, 6th/7th honorable mention.

White to move and draw.

The direct way will not succeed: 1.Kb3? f5 2.Kc3 f4 3.K:d3 f3 4.Ke3 f:g2 wins easily for Black. Thankfully Richard Réti showed a famous study a few years prior that contained the correct idea: 1.Kb5! f5 2.Kc6! Kd8 3.Kd5 K:d7 4.Kd4 f4! 5.Ke4! Kg5 6.Kf3 Kf5 stalemate

Richard Réti. Deutsch-österreichische Tageszeitung, 11 September 1921.

White to move and draw.

The pawn on h5 seems unstoppable, yet… 1.Kg7! h4 2.Kf6 Kb6 3.Ke5 K:c6 4.Kf4 h3 5.Kg3 draws because the pawn is caught, and also 3.-h3 4.Kd6 h2 5.c7 Kb7 6.Kd7 h1Q 7.c8Q+ draws.

As our readers are well aware of, Réti’s study served as inspiration for many others. As such we will not end with a midboard stalemate, but another pawn endgame stalemate, actually published prior to the both previous ones. And as such we end with a famous quote from the Bible, cited also in a famous play by Ben Akiba: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Alexey Selezniev, Deutsches Wochenschach 9 March 1919.

White to move and draw.

1.Kc6 Kd8 2.Kd5 K:d7 3.Ke4! Kd6 4.Kf3 Ke5 5.Kg4 Kf6 6.Kh5 K:f5 stalemate

Quod erat demonstrandum?


Siegfried (*1986) is a German chess composer and member of the World Federation for Chess Composition, subcommitee for endgame studies. His autobiographical book "Weltenfern" (in English only) can be found on the ARVES website. He presents an interesting endgame study with detailed explanation each month.
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