What is the difference between stalemate and draw?

stalemate and draw

Do you want to know more about stalemate? Or Have you been asking questions about chess draw?

The good thing I found out about teaching my kid about playing chess is there is not much of a debate or argument…lol!  

Kids, especially those who are interested in chess – they will ask questions during the game, but one thing I appreciate is that once you gave them, an answer…they’ll believe you! 🙂  

Just like my daughter and I talked about stalemate a few days back.   Stalemate is supposed to be a synonym of a draw in chess, but we can go deeper and have some excellent examples of why draw and stalemate can have two different meanings in chess.

What is the difference between stalemate and draw?

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This can be confusing (if you want it to be), it was for me… 🙂   Stalemate equals a draw, but with different ideas from experts because of some point systems and other historical events. A draw is where both players agree that the game is a draw, while stalemate again is where both agree that the King has no legal moves left to continue which eventually is a draw.  

If you separate the meaning of stalemate, then it is understood differently.   Let’s try to define what is a stalemate!

Also read:13 Valuable Chess Tricks And Lessons You Should Know

What does stalemate mean in chess?

I’m not going to pretend that I know how to define the meaning of stalemate in chess…   Instead, I’ll give you a better definition straight from Wikipedia…lol!  

“Stalemate is a situation in the game of chess where the player whose turn it is to move is not in check but has no legal move. The rules of chess provide that when a stalemate occurs, the game ends as a draw.”  

And yes, I think it is a draw. 🙂   I don’t know why some experts I’ve read are saying that a stalemated player can be declared the winner after a stalemate?!  

There’s even a “mate” in the word stalemate…haha!   Anyway, consider stalemate as a type of draw.

What are the different types of a draw in chess?

I do hope that we are clear about the difference between stalemate and a draw in chess.   And I’m confident that by now you are well aware that stalemate is a draw in chess.

That is excellent and a good start in learning more about chess. What I think you may not be aware of is there are different types of a draw in chess.  

Here’s a list of four more different types of a draw in a chess game:

  • Both chess players agree to a draw.
  • Chess pieces that are left in the game are not sufficient enough to execute a checkmate.
  • Fifty-move rule has occurred without a pawn being moved, or no chess has been captured.
  • Threefold repetition has occurred for example with the chess player under check for three times which the player cannot avoid going back to the same position three times.

  This types of draws can help a losing chess player to avoid a loss. This is why chess is a great strategy game to play; you’ll never know the result of every game you play.  

It can either win, lose or a draw.   Again stalemate is not a win, but it’s another way of avoiding loss.

Also check out our article about “50 move rule” in chess.

Why is stalemate not a win?

Should we not treat stalemate as a win…   Just look how smart a supposedly losing chess player tries to get a comeback win- say King plus Pawn versus King?  

Well, after years of arguments and rule changes, the experts and chess rule-makers saw it as an unfair advantage for the stalemating player, why?  

The stalemate can be forced by a losing chess player; it can happen that a losing chess player will keep on exchanging pieces and get a sure win if the stalemate is considered a chess win.  

But…history states that stalemate was considered a win in the 19th century.

History of stalemate considered as a win in a game

Yes, I did not make an error typing this. 🙂   I just read that before all the final rules and decisions about chess as we all know today – stalemate was considered as a win.  

Have you heard of Chaturanga?   It’s an ancient Indian strategy game and is considered to be the origin of the chess game we know now.  

In chaturanga, the stalemate will be considered as a win for the player forcing it. Further, it was implemented in chess games in the 15th century, but it was seen as a poor or weak form of winning. In other rules, it was considered a loss to the stalemating player, but today stalemate is universally recognized as a draw.  

There’s a lot of really interesting arguments regarding stalemate rule that I want to share with you, but first, let’s answer some equally interesting questions as well…

How do you get a stalemate or a draw with only the king?

 I know, I have given you a list above and explained how stalemate with only the King left can happen.   But…   I’m guessing that you are asking if you have a King left – how can you force a stalemate or a draw…  

First, we need to be familiar with end games situations: you can read some books about end games this is very important in helping you understand or assess the possibility of forcing a draw or stalemate. 

Second, having insufficient chess pieces to execute a checkmate.   Here are the following scenarios that can force a stalemate or a draw by having insufficient chess pieces:  

  1. A chess player cannot perform a checkmate with King and Bishop together.
  2.  A chess player cannot perform a checkmate with a Knight and King together.
  3. A chess player cannot perform a checkmate with two Knights and King together.

The last one is…   If both sides have only their King left.   You can check out these rules or refer to this if in case you know that you have a chance to turn your losing position into a draw or a stalemate.

How do you stop or avoid a stalemate in chess?

We are talking more about end game here…   I can’t forget the time I failed during critical end games, I have all the advantage and my classmate Gideon was able to force a stalemate.

You’ll feel exhausted after the long minutes or hours of strategizing, and you end up with a draw.  

Is there a way to avoid stalemate or draw in chess? The answer is it depends really if you want to avoid putting your opponent in a stalemate wherein you have the advantage, and you are in the winning position. Always make sure that your every move will still make your opponent’s King move after.  

That is just simple, right?   Here are some good reminders to help you avoid stalemating your opponent:  

  • Having 3 Queens advantage will likely have your opponent get a higher chance of stalemating
  • Having 2 Queens advantage will have a lower chance of stalemating
  • Having 1 Queen will most likely be the right advantage to end the game without giving your opponent a chance to force a stalemate.

  The best way you can do, if you have chess piece advantage is to identify at least three squares your opponents King can move before you trap the King and end with checkmate.    

Don’t ever neglect to make sure that your opponent’s King has possible move after your next move.     Remember if you keep on checking your opponents King, you avoid a stalemate or a draw.    

Now…    

Let’s get into some stalemate rule arguments, as promised.

Simple opinions about stalemate rules

Well, it’s not that simple… 🙂   There are some arguments that stalemate should be removed, and others wanted stalemate to be a win.  

Here are some interesting opinions that I’ve read from forums and experts:  

If it’s a chess player turn – he should make his move regardless if it’s a capture of the King…If the opponent cannot or does not move then, he loses. Simple! 🙂 If an opponent can’t move because the King will get captured, then we need to turn our focus to a chess timer…

A timed chess game ends when an opponent loses time by not moving or not being able to move.

What do you think? You can’t move your King to an attacked square, but allowing an opponent to do so will make your next move legal to capture the King. Right? Is changing the points given to the stalemated player to a 0.25…sound fair?  

The stalemated player should lose only because the game was prevented by forcing a stalemate – because he cannot do a legal move while the winner is playing legal moves… valid?   It is not legal to move your King into check; therefore it’s a draw. That’s right too? 🙂  

I can add more interesting opinions about chess stalemate – but I think we should all agree with the universal rule and I’m sure that this argument was considered long before, and finally decided that stalemate is a draw.

You may also like to read our article about “who makes the first move rule” in chess

Wrapping Up

The whole point of this article about stalemate and draw was to emphasize why stalemate is part of a draw in a chess game.  

I started out thinking that stalemate should not be considered a draw, but I was able to understand the legality of chess moves from its history and up to this present. Especially the last opinion above regarding moving your King into check should not be allowed hence a draw.  

I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic or assume that I am – I merely just want to find clear answers about this topic just like you and hopefully, you did find this article helpful to your chess learning journey.  

Go through this article again if you encountered stalemate in your chess plays.   Have fun learning!

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Gary Flores

Hi there! I'm a dad with kids who loves to learn how to play chess by learning online - also, this is my way of refreshing my knowledge about this game of tactics & strategy. I created chessdelights.com to inspire people who are also learning, re-learning or teaching their kids the game of chess.

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