Who needs stalemate? Readers weigh in

by ChessBase
7/22/2012 – We recently published an article on stalemate in chess. Was is really necessary to finish the game one move earlier than the clear-cut goal of the game: the capture of the enemy king? Matt Bishop argued against that, and a large number of readers sent us their take on the subject – mostly disagreeing and pleading for retaining the rule. We bring you their feedback and a personal view.

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Reader feedback on the stalemate rule

Once again we have selected letters using a semi-automatic process. There were a particularly large number of submissions, and so this feedback page is particularly long. We have not, however, been able to resist adding our own opinion to this debate, which you will find at the bottom of the page. In addition, the chess historian Edward Winter has written a feature article entitled Stalemate.

James Lamb, Germantown, MD, USA
Mr. Bishop's "capture the king and you win" idea could lead to problems. Players could rig or throw tournament games in certain scenarios and easily pass off the loss as a blunder. It could be hard to prove that such a blunder was made purposefully, and could lead to shady practices in critical situations.

Andreas Kren, Vienna, Austria
Because it’s a sweety, a surprising element, a rule as every other rule. My personnel opinion is that we do not "have to consider" this or that, we simply like the paradox nature of the "stalemate draw" or not.

Didier Achermann, Physicist, Munich, Germany
For me the supreme elegance of chess is that the king is not captured, the head is not cut, you stop just before you kill. You put the sword on the throat, the other says "I've lost", and then you play again. It is the difference between a civilized game and a barbarous war. In chess you don't kill. Check mate means "beaten", not "dead". Therefore we should not abolish stalemate, because this would go against the supreme elegance of chess. If you must move and can't avoid the capture of the king, then the game cannot go on. This was realised just after the "siècle des Lumières", when reason started to win. Stalemate is a logical consequence of the highest beauty of chess. Capturing the king would transform a beautiful game into a bloody slaughter. Therefore we must maintain stalemate as a draw, all else is illogical.

Correct: the Persian phrase "Shah Mat" means literally "the king is helpless" or "ambushed", "defeated", "stumped", but not "dead". – Ed.

Peter Redmond, Bradford
Regarding the proposal that it should be legal to move into check thus ending the opportunity to draw by stalemate; I would say that the game of chess might benefit from each game being played with both sides having an equal number of moves at their disposal. Let’s say that White can capture Black’s king but in doing so discovers an attack on his own king in the process. Given that the game would be played allowing an equal number of moves, Black could remove White’s king on his turn and we still have a draw.

Kirk Sugars, Albuquerque, USA
I teach chess to children ages 5-10 years. Changing the rules to merely "capture the king" – removing the rule forbidding moving into check and making "stalemate" a forced loss for the weaker side – would make teaching chess to children enormously easier. I am all for it.

David Levy, London, England
This idea would change a vast amount of endgame knowledge, for example a rook's pawn and "wrong coloured" bishop would win against a lone king. For this reason it would be an unacceptable rule change.

Alexander Kure, ChessBase Openings book specialist, New York City
It was interesting to read Matt Bishop's proposal about abolishing the stalemate rule which under current rules results in a draw. He proposes to "simplify" the chess rules in a way that allows the capture of the opponent king, thus getting rid of the classical stalemate and checkmate rules altogether. Mr. Bishop suggests that the side to capture the opponent king should simply win. As a consequence it is necessary to allow the king to step into check. I am not sure whether Mr. Bishop is aware of all the consequences this would bring.

For example, it also include the case where a king captures the opponent king! Unfortunately, in Mr. Bishop's article there was also no mentioning the case when one side is in check and makes a move that does not get him out of check. Should this be allowed too? Or should there be a distinction between these two cases? If so, why should playing a move that exposes your king to check be allowed but playing a move that does not get your king out of check be not allowed?

What about the case that the side to move does not capture the king in check and decides to play another move instead? Take the simply ending of king and rook-pawn vs. king where the side with the pawn is stalemated (king is in front of the pawn blocked by the other king). The side with the pawn must move its king, stepping onto a square that's been controlled by the other king and the other king will capture the king that moved!

Let's pretend for a moment that it would be allowed to have your king in check no matter how that happened. This would lead to truly bizarre implications (besides king captures king).

To highlight this let's look at a simple position:

White plays 1.g7+. Under the current rules Black is checkmated. Under the new rules, assuming that having your king in check is okay, Black can play 1... Qd8+, now both sides being in check, which of course would be impossible under the current rules. Under the new rule White can now play pawn g7 captures black king with the white king still in check. True, the final result (White wins) is the same under the current and the proposed rule, but clearly the consequences of that are much worse than allowing a stalemate rule.

To summarize, under the proposed new rule the consequences are as follows:

  1. A king can be captured.
  2. A king can move into check. More generally, you can play any move that exposes your king to check.
  3. A king can attack a king.
  4. A king can capture a king.
  5. Castling rules don't apply anymore. A king can castle into check and the king can cross a square that's been attacked.

Consequences that are unclear and need to be clarified:

A. The side to move is in check and plays a move without getting out of check.
B. As a consequence of (A) both kings can end up being in check.

Final notes: As shown, the suggestions of Mr. Matt Bishop in order to abolish the case of stalemate by simply allowing the king to be captured lead to far-reaching consequences he did not seem to consider and which would fundamentally change the rules of chess in such a way that we would have to deal with a completely new chess variant.

We should acknowledge that stalemate creates a paradoxical situation which seems to contradict the rules of chess. There is nothing bad about it. As such, it is not some kind of abomination but should be viewed as a natural consequence of the rules of chess.

I think this situation in chess is comparable to the incompleteness of axiomatic systems in mathematics. Finding a complete and consistent set of axioms for all mathematics is impossible. There will be theorems that are true but impossible to prove under the given set of axioms or will lead to inconsistency otherwise. Interested readers are referred to Godel's incompleteness theorems.

C.C. Young, Phrae, Thailand
In Thai Chess, Makruk, which is far more closely aligned with original chess, the stalemating side wins.

Ilker Kalyoncu, Istanbul, Turkey
Abolishing stalemate would only serve to eliminate the beauty and the fineness of the endgames where the defending side saves the day by forcing a stalemate, because I cannot imagine an "artistic" way of winning by forcing a stalemate. There are many ways of winning artistically but the stalemate is the only artistic way of drawing!

Krishna Kumar, Thrissur, India
I agree with this article. If chess is seen as an on-board version of warring armies, then the king of one army, when surrounded by the enemy, cannot claim immunity by saying that he has no place to move (hide!). He has to move into the enemy's line of fire and get executed.

Diogo Ribeiro, Lisbon
I do not agree with the author's claim that rule of stalemate is illogical. A player that causes the opponent to have no legal move when there is no check to the king denies the opponent the right to play, and this cannot be a win. When a player is giving a check, it is necessary to think whether the opponent has a legal move. If there is no legal move, then it is checkmate. Similarly, when a player is surrounding an enemy king, it is necessary to think whether the opponent has a legal move. If there is no legal move, and there is no check, then the opponent has been denied the right to play. This is by convention a draw, and it seems to be right, since the player has brought the game to a forced end without achieving the main goal, which is to checkmate.

Adrian Prodi, Romania
I doubt FIDE will ever make such a major rule change. I think a bit of justice can be made by changing the scoring system, something like: 3-0 for victory, 1,5-1,5 for a draw and a 2-1 for a stalemate, that will be quite fair, in my opinion.

Paul Ruffle, Westgate on Sea
I think I could count up on both hands and have fingers left over, any instances where stalemate has cropped up in any of my games. Only the draws by 50 moves and three-fold repetition are scarcer in my experience. If all chess rules had to be logical we would have to scrap castling too. The object of the game is to checkmate your opponent, full stop. In the endgame this usually entails playing to win the opposition. If your opponent is wily enough to win the opposition and lead you down the road to stalemate then good luck to him. Incidentally when the very popular K+Q v K endgame is played wrongly it is quite easy to stalemate the lone king accidentally. For that reason I prefer K+R v K where the choice exists as an accidental stalemate is almost impossible.

Elmo Suikki, Joensuu, Finland
I've never put that much thought into this subject, but upon reading this article about abolishing stalemates, I must agree with it and I will advocate the change in the rules. I hope the rise of a community which would play chess with the new rules and perhaps eventually the old rules would be completely abolished, although I wouldn't hold my breath as people – especially chess players – are very thick-headed and conservative.

The new rules would of course include the rule that the game ends in a win not in checkmate, but the capture of the king. As of now, capturing the king is an illegal move and results a penalty for the capturer. I remember in a team blitz event my team mate captured his opponent's king in a position where he didn't notice that his king was in check. The kingless player called an illegal move and was awarded the win. Of course I agreed the result as I respect the rules, but I also thought that how illogical and paradoxical the thing is: you kill the enemy king and instead winning the glory, the enemy army celebrates, almost as if the aim of the game is to get rid of your own king!

Martin Jones, Leeds, UK
Yes, we have all had that horrible feeling where we were sure the win was ours but then the game ends suddenly with the dreaded stalemate. Learning to cope with that and avoid a repeat is just one of the many steps towards chess mastery. What is it with all these people who think removing all the wonderful nuances and complexities of chess will somehow improve it? If the game is too complicated for you, might I suggest Angry Birds?

Jorge Shinozaki, Tokyo, Japan
I disagree that stalemate should be abolished because it's exciting to see chess games where the player who is losing avoid defeat by forcing stalemate.

Khayot Khalimov, Frankfurt
The suggestion is practically allowing the king to be captured if the king is under check and it’s the turn of the player who is giving the check. This is already a reality in many blitz tournaments. I support implementing "capture the king" rule which logically should lead to treating the "stalemate" as a win. Consider also a situation when the losing side gives up the material in order to put himself into a stalemate and get half point. This is ridiculous. If compared to boxing it would be like beating up yourself and claiming a draw because you can't fight after that.

Laszlo Somlai, Budapest, Hungary
Is it April 1st today?

Paul Bailey, Sheffield, UK
First a grumble: I emailed this no stalemate idea to Chessbase three or four years ago and was met with complete silence. Why is it an interesting idea all of a sudden? Oh well, never mind. I think this idea should be tried in a tournament to see what the players make of it. Why not reprogram a handful of engines and get them to try it out?

Tsering Dawa Lama, Zell am See
The best way to describe or support the idea of stalemate is like abolishing capital punishment. The prosecutors want the terrorist or the serial killer dead, but caught in legal error that saves the criminal, who goes back to jail laughing.

Parag Samant, Mumbai, India
Stalemate occurs rarely and requires someone to think of ingenious moves, which are great fun to calculate. The author agrees that these can be artistic... but so can administering stalemates. I disagree. Just think of the several game analysis which point to stalemate options... administering a stalemate is just like administering a checkmate, the thrill is not different. I think the rule enhances the enjoyment of chess and, it should stay just for this reason. On the whole, I agree that it is not consistent with the objectives of chess.

Matt Goddard, Amherst, NH, USA
I agree wholeheartedly, and Matt Bishop's points in support of abolishing stalemate are right on target. I had heard, and usually offer as possible historical rationale for stalemate (and the current rule that the king never actually steps into danger or is captured) that practitioners were being careful not to offend monarchs. Whether true or not, culturally there are many in a symbolic position to restore the original, simple object of capturing the opponent's king. The restriction on castling through check would remain the same, not because the castling manoeuvre contains an illegal part where the king steps into check, but because the manoeuvre (like the two-stepping pawn) would deprive one's opponent a chance to capture.

Christer Pettersson, Rotebro, Sweden
I actually use this "capture the king and you win" when I’m teaching chess in schools for beginners. For them it’s absolutely normal to capture the king. I have never had a problem with a kid crying because his opponent claims a draw in a stalemate position. You only explain that exception. The real problem is all these kids that have been taught by their grandfather or someone else that "you are not allowed to capture the king" and if someone does that, all hell breaks loose. That’s the real problem. I know this is an off topic for some people. Most of them don’t care about teaching chess to young people.

Albert Frank, International Arbiter, Brussels, Belgium
I was sad to see your "article" about stalemate: it is one of the worse articles I have seen in ChessBase. Stalemate is inherent to chess, this article comes obviously from someone who never had a real idea of what is chess.

Sorry, but did we not list the history of stalemate in the original article? In the history of the game stalemate was a win, a half-win, a win for the stalemated side, illegal, a forfeiture of the stalemated's turn to move, and most recently, a draw. – Ed.

Enrique Aviles, Orlando, FL USA
The stalemate rule should remain unchanged. The article seems to imply it only benefits the player that is stalemated because the other player can't get anything better than a draw. I also see it as penalizing the player that is supposed to win. Most stalemates are avoidable so if a player misses a chance to checkmate he should be penalized by just allowing him to draw. The comments on the Korchnoi-Karpov game indicate the game was a draw from move 70 so by ending with a stalemate it validated the fact that the game was drawn.

Maciej Psyk, London, UK
I agree that the stalemate rule is the most wired in the chess and seems to be outdated. I have proposed 0.6 points for administering a stalemate to the Polish Chess Federation some time ago. That 0.1 point would be enough to determine a winner of a tournament. For instance, the winner would have 5.6 points while the silver and bronze medallists both have 5.5. Essentially that could save the players from using tiebreak rules. But I have envisioned one more rule to reduce the number of draws - if the retrograde analysis would prove that the position agreed to be a draw was in fact winnable then it should be declared 0.6 points for the stronger side, even despite that he was unable to find the winning continuation.

Daniel Alfredo Sottile, Argentina
I think Matt missed an important point: allowing the king to step into check does not unlock all stalemate situations. Consider the following position with Black to move:

There would still be a necessity to give a result in such situations, and I am sure that's why the stalemate rule was actually devised for.

Stevechess, Cambridge, USA
The stalemate motif is good, we need it. It's educational. The players have to consider this possibility of messing up a win by carelessly forcing stalemate. This is the point. Chess is a game of consideration, thinking, planning ahead. Do it or: stalemate.

Christos Gitsis, Volos, Greece
I would advise people who suggest such drastic changes to the rules of the game to go ahead and try to organize games and tournaments with their new rules. I wish that they enjoy their new game and that they leave the rest of us continue playing the game we love.

Alan O'Brien, Mitcham UK
Stalemate seems exclusive to chess and we should protect it. Other sports don't have it. Imagine if a tennis player refused to move and the match was called a draw!?

Manuel Lopez, Mexico city
Stalemate is part of the game and a rich resource in many positions. There are a lot of great studies with this concept. Competitive chess is not the only branch to take care about our wonderful game.

Bill, Ellicott City, USA
Sorry, there's no compelling argument offered in the article. It's a matter of taste/opinion. The second example (Anand-Kramnik) seems to offer a counterargument to the author's seeming position that control is involved: it's the stalematee (Anand) who forces the stalemater (Kramnik) to choose a move leading to stalemate, otherwise Kramnik loses. So who is forcing whom here? There may be examples in the praxis in which this kind of sequence goes even further back.

Carl Lumma, Berkeley, California
I found the suggestion that stalemate should be a win interesting. But its full ramifications are hard to see at once. I have a suggestion to clarify the situation: modify a top engine or two and have them play hundreds of engine-engine games in which stalemate is a win. The per-color win/draw/loss proportions could be measured and other subtleties observed.

Big Alex, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I didn't get it! What's is wrong with Stalemate? It is part of the rules of chess as the "en passant" capture for example. Every player must be aware of it and play accordingly to the rules. Please stop trying to cripple the fantastic ancient game called chess. As Boris has just said: "Chess is for people who want to make an intellectual effort". Please, make an intellectual effort before every move and this includes avoiding stalemate!

Ed Perkins, Bend, Oregon, USA
Mr. Bishop, while you're contemplating radical rule changes to improve the game, can you come up with some reasonable suggestions that might eliminate draws? Of course they'd have to be ones that, unlike Fischer Random Chess, didn't undermine all the opening to midgame preparation that players have invested in the game. For example, would restricting the kings to the back rank be a workable change that would eliminate draws? I'd be interested to read your thoughts in a ChessBase article.

Karl Gellert, Nashville, USA
I don't think the "correctness" of the stalemate rule is a matter of logic or illogic. Since throughout the history of chess stalemate has been a win, loss, and draw it is hard to argue that any of those is the more "natural" form of the game. I also think it is nonsense to call achieving a stalemate a "cheap trick" to avoid losing. I have blundered with king and queen versus king and stalemated my opponent. If I can't properly deliver checkmate, that's my fault, not his. Just so if you are many pieces up but bungle your attack; if your opponent escapes, the fault is yours, not his or the rule's. The stalemate rule is just one more complexity in a complex game. Both players know the rules, so if one of them is thwarted by stalemate it merely means he was outplayed.

Pedro Santiago, Bauang, La Union, Philippines
I think this is a brilliant argument. And I agree with the author. I want a victory chess, not a draw. Who wants to play for draw? Chess is a battle. The rules of stalemate showed be reviewed as this author puts. This should give us more colorful results and elegant play.

Benjamin Brandt, Saginaw, USA
I pretty much disagree with everything Mr. Bishop says in this article, so I will respond point by point:

  1. "You must move if it is your turn" is incorrect. In fact, the rule is: you must move if there is a legal move. Therefore, "if you cannot move, it's a draw" is not a contradiction but a logical outcome (although 'if you cannot move, you lose' would be equally logical).

  2. I don't see how "the king cannot move into check" is a silly technicality (if there is such a thing). Considering the rule that the king cannot be captured, this is a logical corollary.

  3. "The spirit of the game" is subjective. For example, to me 'the spirit' of chess includes cautious calculation, circumspection, well timed aggression and strategic planning. According to this view of the game, stalemate fits-in quite well: lack of foresight leads to throwing away the win. Not to mention it makes a memorable, if not painful, lesson for beginning players to learn about caution and circumspection, a skill that is useful in more than just stalemate situations.

  4. The statement "The whole plan and point of chess is to put an attack on the king" is just plain absurd! For one, there are other draws than stalemate and the player that is worse may have no intention to put an attack on the enemy king whatsoever! For example, if one player is playing for insufficient material, then attack on the king may not be the plan or the point. Further, if we ignore playing for draw, the plan and point of chess is to checkmate the king, not just attack it, something one cannot do if they have no legal moves!

  5. The ease or difficulty of endgames is again a subjective opinion. But I will leave this one up to the theorists.

  6. I disagree that "chess is drawish". Less than half of games played are drawn (31% according to my database). Besides, what's wrong with draws!? Is a draw not an indication of a well-played game by both sides?

  7. Are beginners the ones to ask about the logic of chess? I'm not so sure. There are many things in chess that seem counterintuitive at first. For example, the principle of 'the threat is greater than the execution' seemed illogical to me at first, but of course its correctness is not in doubt. I will concede that Capablanca, Reti, Lasker, Nimzowitsch have expert opinions, but these players were around in the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. Where are the elite players and theorists today who disagree with the stalemate rule? Of course, chess has changed somewhat since then.

  8. The statement that "rules change all the time in other games" is not a justification for changing the rules! Of course this is assuming that "all the time" is not to be taken literally. Although making up a new rule on every turn is an interesting one to think about.

  9. Again I will leave "artistic merit" up to the experts.

Finally, I don't see how stalemate is a problem at all. If someone has an overwhelming advantage and blunders stalemate then it is the result of a mistake, and well, chess is a game of mistakes. If stalemate happens due to reduced material, then it is a logical consequence of good defense.

Ewoud, Utrecht, Holland
I agree on the point that stalemate is illogical and with the conclusion of making capturing the king legal. But then I wonder about the castling rule not being permitted when ending up in check?

Paul Albert, South Salem, NY, USA
Being generally conservative, I am not an advocate of changing the laws of chess. However the article including the history of stalemate was interesting. That there is a certain illogic to stalemate and certain other consequences of chess laws, e.g.

  1. K and B or K and N vs K is a draw because one cannot mate
  2. K and 2 Ns can't force mate unless an enemy P is in certain locations, but not too far advanced, in which case forced mate is possible
  3. K and P with wrong color B, a draw provided opposing K can get to corner, is indisputable.

I believe Lasker advocated that baring be a win as well as stalemate. He was frustrated that one can win a piece, but not be able to win. To me these illogical defensive opportunities including stalemate provide greater opportunity for artistic brilliance, so I would leave the laws of chess unaltered.

Graeme Cree, Austin, TX, USA
This question comes up every few years, and the answer is always the same. First of all, there's nothing illogical or contradictory about stalemate. You're required to make a *legal* move, not to make ANY move. Moving into check is as illegal in a stalemate situation as it is in any other. Stalemate is a logical consequence of the rule that it's illegal to move into check *at any time*. The object of the game is to *capture* the king, not render it immobile.

Logically, to abolish stalemate, you must also abolish the rule against moving into (or remaining in) check. Perhaps Matt Bishop would be okay with that too. Being able to lose by not noticing you were in check would surely eliminate at least some draws without adding any. Unfortunately, the net effect would be to make chess more materialistic and defensive, and serve to tilt the game even farther in favour of the defense. Players would be less willing to sacrifice pawns and pieces for an attack knowing that if the attack fails, there's no chance of having enough play to hold the game (because without stalemate, EVERY K+P vs. K ending is a win).

My suggestion is this. Many chess servers have so-called "wild" variants, that include chess variants from Shatranj to Fischer Random, to Giveaway. Why not create a Wild Variant called "Stalemate Equals Win". Let people try it out and see if they really do like it better. At the low club level, they might (it would simplify endgame study, which seems to be unpopular at the lower levels anyway). At the higher levels, probably not.

Now let's look at Bishop's nine arguments, one by one:

  1. Already addressed. No contradiction. You must move if you can, but it still has to be a *Legal* move. This isn't rocket science.

  2. The requirement to make a legal move is hardly a "silly technicality". But Bishop is also engaging in circular reasoning here, arguing that stalemate avoids the legitimate outcome of the game by a technicality. That may be true in the case of the player who overlooks stalemate in a won position (but if a player blunders, why does he still deserve to win?). But, take the case of a position with White King b6, White pawn a6, Black King a8. Bishop wants it to be a won game, but in fact, it is not one. Bishop's argument consists of simply assuming that it ought to be, and then using that assumption to prove his conclusion that it ought to be, which is begging the question.

  3. Arguments about the "spirit" of the game are completely subjective. Saying that stalemate violates the spirit of the game is just another way of saying he doesn't like it, which we already know. The *object* of the game is to capture the King. So, this argument is irrelevant.

  4. Argument based on faulty premise. Stalemate does not involve attacking the king too well, it involves not attacking him at all. In an ending such as he describes, if you always check, it'll never be stalemate.

  5. I disagree with Bishop that endgame play would be harder overall, though he may be right in saying that there are some endings that would. My real objection still involves the effect that increasing the importance of material would have on the game as a whole, not just on a specific ending.

  6. Not sure what Bishop means by "cheap tricks". Either he's referring to players who blunder into stalemate in a winning position. (In that case, I have to ask again why someone who has just blundered horribly still deserves to win.) Or, if "cheap tricks" refers to any stalemate in general, we're simply begging the question again. Bishop does make clear that the object of abolishing the rule is to make the game less drawish, and I still maintain that it would actually make it more so.

  7. The top players Bishop names did argue for changes to the rules of chess, but not to the stalemate rule specifically. Even if they did, this would be an ad verecundiam fallacy. The other argument, based on the first impression of people just learning the game, is very odd. Even at the gut level, stalemate seems perfectly reasonable to me. It's a rule for the computer age, like a Divide by 0 error. When you're put into an impossible situation (having to make a move but being unable to), the program simply crashes. Call Tech Support. But if you want to win, don't create that impossible situation.

  8. Another circular argument. If we assume we ought to change the rule, then why don't we, he asks? If we wanted to, we would want to, obviously. But Bishop is quite mistaken in assuming that if you don't want to change the stalemate rule that you must not want to change ANY rule. That doesn't follow.

  9. This argument is not "wrong", simply irrelevant. I'm sure problemists would still be able to cook up some pretty artistic puzzles even if we did change the stalemate rule. But that's not the real objection to changing it in the first place.

Paul Lillebo, Oslo, Norway
The Anand-Kramnik stalemate was beautiful. Stalemate theme endgame problems are beautiful. The same rule suggestion has been made before. I used to make it myself when I was young, before I really grasped the complexity that the stalemate rule adds to the game. Without it, endgames become completely materialistic. We could forget the opposition and all the strategy that leads into that. I love that the player who's "ahead" still has to watch out for tricks, and can't just barge ahead. I love that the nearly-lost player still has a resource that just might work. We don't capture the king, out of old-fashioned respect for his Eminence. We shouldn't demand that he commit hara-kari.

Matt says the S/M rule (hm...) is an inconsistency, not in the spirit of chess. I disagree. It adds complexity to the game; it makes the attacker work, where he otherwise could just sleepwalk. I see nothing inconsistent. Every game or sport has its weird rules. We have ours. I agree that chess could use some refreshing. Random chess is one such. Others have suggested various rule changes, and I would love to see a "laboratory" series of rapid tournaments that would test out one proposed rule change in each tournament, to see how it affects the game and how it is received by the players. I think that would be a fun and perhaps useful exercise. Matt's idea could be tested there, too, of course.

Jean Bigras, Ottawa, Canada
Stalemate enriches chess and some stalemates are quite dramatic. So it should stay. A more interesting idea is to get rid of the repetition rule and have it scored a loss for the person who makes the third repeat.

David Palfreyman, Manchester, UK
It is possible to construct stalemate positions where the king is "boxed in" and the same side's other pieces have no moves available, including captures of the opponent's pieces. In these cases no move is available for the stalemated side and the king is not going to move to a square where he would be captured, so how could this stalemate position be a win for the "stalemeter."

Javier Araujo, Fort Worth, Texas USA
Mr. Bishop says "First look at why we should abolish stalemate", but then does not provide an answer to this very basic question. On a second part he talks about the "contradictory and obscure nature" of the rules. Let’s see:

  1. The goal in chess is to mate the opponent's king. It is because you can't pass on your turn that stalemate exists: neither player has reached the goal and the game cannot continue. I don't see any contradiction there.

  2. Nobody likes legal technicalities, but is not the "logical" outcome of a legal case that matters, but the "legal" outcome; and the technicalities are part of the law. The "legal" outcome of a game of chess depends solely in mating the King, either was done or was not.

  3. The "spirit" of the game is to checkmate the opposing King while avoiding getting checkmated. In a stalemate position both players have avoided being checkmated while none has been able to checkmate the opponent. I would argue that splitting the point is in the spirit of the game.

  4. The whole point in chess is not to attack the king, is to checkmate it. Attacking it is just a means to a goal. A mating attack that ends in stalemate is a failed attack, because it didn't succeed at checkmating, why should it be rewarded?

  5. It is irrelevant to the rule change how much harder or easier the endgames would be.

  6. "Cheap tricks"? Trying to force the opponent to stalemate you, or trying to stalemate a better army to obtain a draw is in no way an easy task. As drawish as chess is, most complaints are about fast draws not the artistic ones: like stalemate endings.

  7. They might have argued for the change, but there's a reason they were not taken seriously.

  8. Yes, rules change all the time, but there needs to be a reason for the change, and I stated earlier Mr. Bishop forgot to explain "why" we should change it, i.e. What problem would be solved by this change?

  9. I can agree with this.

Since I fail to see the contradiction in the rules and the author has not stated what problem is he trying to solve it seems to me that it would be only change for change's sake.

Harry O., Australia
This idea is not new. If you eliminate stalemate you cannot play risky pawn gambit ideas in the opening and mid game, because being a pawn down is too great a risk without the possibility of being able to engineer stalemate. The rule is there for a reason. If you want to save chess, play a couple of thousand games of Chess960 and then make a comment about Chess960, but not before then.

Alec Goudreau, Canada
Sorry the rules of chess should be left as they are first draw by perpetual check was removed from the game then people cried loud about drawing games by agreement now we have Matt proposing that stalemate be removed from the official rules where does it end? Will someone write an article next lamenting the fact he or she doesn't like castling so FIDE should go ahead and get rid of that? Or how about the en passant rule? Should that also go away just to please the younger generation? Tinker with the official rules too much and people won't recognize chess anymore!

Timothy Chow, Princeton, USA
Like many other opponents of the stalemate rule, Matt Bishop forgets to consider positions in which a player has no legal moves at all, even if exposing the king to check is legalized. (That is, the king is entirely surrounded by its own pieces and/or pawns, which in turn are immobilized by having all possible moves blocked, and not by pins.) What does he propose to do about such positions? Regardless of what his answer is, the point is that such positions have to be covered by a separate, ad hoc rule, and simply saying that the game ends with the capture of the king does not "solve the whole stalemate problem."

Joshua Marquez, Philippines
The author's suggestion would 'logically' lead to illegal moves being done away with! While my own suggestion is to allowing a king in check to castle. I cannot understand why the king is not allowed to move by castling when in check when castling is basically a king move. A simple change with many resulting ramifications would completely drastically improve and add interest in the game.

Baquero Luis, Medellin, Colombia
Matt: if you're in a dark corner, a thief is threatening you with a knife and you have no way to move, you're done. But, in the same situation, if the thief is just watching the stars, no knife threatening, you're OK and can just say: good night.

Chris Burns, Wanganui
It seems like a logical conclusion to a game of chess that if you can't make a legal move then you should lose, as you only have yourself to blame for getting into that situation. But I feel that doing away with the stalemate rule would result in a rather boring game with only basic skills needed to win many endgames that currently require skill from both sides to either win or draw. A won position would still be won virtually no matter what move is played so the winning side could just play random moves knowing that they have a win eventually with not having to think about it. Also, introducing this new rule could have negative side effects as you would find players less willing to sacrifice a pawn for some sort of attack if they now realize that if it turns out badly then they could be facing a certain loss, where as currently all is not lost and you still have some hope to draw. So I say keep the rule as it is, otherwise you risk dumbing down this great game.

Neo Hajib, Milwaukee, United States
I think it is very important to keep tradition as it is. Since the chess world championship started, no rules regarding what occurs on the chessboard ever changed. In order to continue playing what we call chess, things must be kept the same despite some strange rules such as stalemate and en passant.

Johannes J. Struijk, Terndrup, Denmark
If would be a great solution if there were a great problem. Unfortunately, the "problem" is an entirely subjective one. Much worse, this "solution" might create some problems: I am sure that it favors white enormously (since white often is able to maintain its advantage to the endgame) and, secondly, it would make many endgames incredibly boring and trivial. Many rules are there for a reason: castling, en passant, the way the bishop moves, and also stalemate, were all invented to make the game more interesting in one way or another. So, the reason that "it wasn't always so" could very well point at the fact that people felt that the game had to be improved somehow. So, perhaps the stalemate rule was a solution for a real problem!

Zak Smith, Houston, Texas
I remember when I first learned of stalemate that it DID strike me as odd, but I've never seen it outlined quite so succinctly. I agree that it seems to contradict the spirit of the game, however at the same time I look at stalemate and checkmate as a kind of social commentary. During the time that chess was being hashed out I imagine it would have been considered unacceptable to actually kill a king during a war, and therefore putting him in a position where he would surrender was a politically correct way of winning a war. Were the king within a fortress, surrounded on all sides and yet safe, you could imagine the invading army to eventually run out of munitions, or just get bored and go home. Now, viewing a single square as "an impenetrable fortress" is a little silly, but seen this way it makes sense to have a stalemate rule. That being said, taking it out would really liven things up, so I'm all for it!

Brian Theismann, Inver Grove Heights, MN
The stalemate rule should, indeed, be abolished. It causes too many draws at the highest level and too much frustration at the lowest level. Contrary to your introduction, the change would not be radical because it is a relatively new rule that made no sense when it was created and makes even less sense now.

Joose Norri, Helsinki Finland
I don't quite understand why in a stalemate, where the stalemated side has other pieces beside the king, it should be the king that has to make the illegal move, and not one of the other pieces. But OK, let's accept that it's somehow logical. The effect on endgame theory would be humongous, and the game might very well become more drawish, in elimination matches for the WC at least. It's possible to take some chances, because the drawing margin is reasonable, but if it became so narrow, any risk would be simply counterproductive. More importantly perhaps, it seems to me that the fundament of chess thought, the Steinitzian principle of balance of position, would become practically meaningless. I think the stalemate rule is not a problem; it is the reason why chess is such a beautiful game.

Victor Trifan, Timmins, ON, Canada
In my opinion, the stalemate counting as a draw was accepted during the romantic period of chess (when the queen was given the powers of a rook and a bishop combined, the bishop itself was allowed to move unrestricted along the two diagonals available, and the King's Gambit was almost mandatory to be played) to celebrate the victory of the spirit over the matter, i.e. ideas over the brute force. In a way, it raises an additional hurdle to the part that has gained an winning advantage, forcing the display of a more refined skill of variation calculation. And I think it's fair, in this respect. The stalemate combinations are part of chess tactics and I find them as having the same magic as the checkmate combinations, don't you think so?

Of course, you can have special tournaments where the stalemate can be abolished, and some other rules changed, but just for that particular event. Call them CHE'S tournaments, to signal that the stalemate is not an option, and don't submit the results for FIDE rating. But let's leave alone the rules we have in place for quite some time, CHESS is wonderful the way it is.

Henry Vinerts, Newark, CA
Please, keep the stalemate rule for educational value – to show beginners that material greed in chess (and possibly in life?) does not pay. I lost count on how many of my chess kids missed out on trophies because they believed that two or more queens were good for them. (Should we, then, also consider revising the pawn-promotion rules?) If something works, don't "fix" it!

Stalemate – a personal view

My two sons learnt chess when they were three. It is easy to teach children at that age the rules of the game. It is instantly clear to them how the different pieces move, the only difficulty being with the knight, whose unusual path may take an hour or two to master. The goal of the game is also simple to understand: we must hunt down the enemy king. Doesn’t matter if you lose other pieces, but if you get his king you win the game.

There is one problem: you have to explain to them that they stop playing one move before they reach the well-defined goal you have just explained. You do not actually get to capture the king, the way you have done to so many other enemy pieces. No, you have won when the other guy can no longer defend himself, when any move he makes would allow you to capture his king, which we do not actually do. But wasn’t that the goal of the game? Yes, but for reasons of etiquette we don’t actually go through with it, we stop one move earlier, when we know we could get the king if we were allowed to do so...

Naturally you do not tell them anything about stalemate – after all you are trying to get them interested in a wonderfully complex game, Explaining the legalities of mate is difficult enough, and not exactly motivating for the youthful player. Now imagine what it is like to explain the difference in stalemate ("basically the same as mate, but the king is not directly attacked"). I remember when, well into their chess careers, the older son came complaining that his brother was “cheating” and not accepting a loss. Turned out the younger lad knew more of the rules and had set up a stalemate. When we explained the rule to his older brother his reaction was: “you are kidding, right?” No, we were not. He had played cleverly, he had overwhelming material and had cornered his brother’s king. But then the appeals lawyers came and said he committed a technical error that cost him victory.

Imagine chess was invented by a modern-day games programmer, imagine he shows it to the management of MegaGames International and explains it to them. When he comes to the part where one side has overwhelming force, where he has clearly outplayed the opponent, and says: now there is a fine legalistic point. If you are not careful and don’t provide your opponent with a safe square for his king, the piece you have been hunting throughout the game, then he can claim a draw. Oh, yes, and there are positions in which in spite of overwhelming force it may be all together impossible to provide him with a safe square for his king. Mind you, he will not be trying to escape, but actually making kamikaze moves, putting his king into the worst possible position – in order to save the game.

What do you think the head of the development department of MegaGames Inc would say? Great game, Steve, but for heaven’s sake cut the legalist crap at the end. We make it so that when you have reached your goal you get to actually execute the coup de grâce, to play the final deeply satisfying move. Why on earth would we want to stop one move earlier? And then build in a loophole to escape? You are out of your mind, Steve.

I must admit that I love stalemate – some of most beautiful studies I know have it at their heart. I also realise that abolishing the rule would force theoreticians to rewrite a lot of endgame theory, as David Levy warns in his letter above. Well, boo-hoo. And my heart doesn’t actually bleed for the computer programmers who will have to modify code (what is it, one man-day of work?) or recalculate the endgame databases. They would actually enjoy doing so. Keep the stalemate rule, I say, in a certain class of historical studies and in Fairy Chess, where they have all kind of weird conditions. But take it out of over-the-board, fun-for-all chess.

Well, it is not going to happen. Nobody is going to change the rule, nobody is going to force FIDE to make the final goal of the game accessible to a really wide public. The lay audience will simply have to believe the experts who tell them that White has now won, although the enemy king is still standing. That the ball can go into the net, even though you will not get to see it happen. Chess will remain a game for experts.

Frederic Friedel

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