Stalemate – Your Faithful Friend in Lost Positions

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  • GM Robert Hovhannisyan GM Robert Hovhannisyan

Stalemate – Your Faithful Friend in Lost Positions

Stalemate can offer a glimmer of hope even in totally lost positions! Discover how to watch out for them, trick your opponent and save rating points!

Endgames | 5 min read
Stalemate – Your Faithful Friend in Lost Positions

Stalemate in chess is a beautiful way of saving the game. But, of course, it doesn't always work, especially when you play against an experienced player, but you can be sure that you will save lost positions and many games by adopting this technique. In addition, it undoubtedly brings pleasure.

It’s important to understand that stalemate does not always happen by accident. Sometimes you have to “help” your opponent or create a self-stalemate. And if the opponent does not see your sneaky idea in time, you have every chance of a graceful ending.

 In this article, I will show you a few positions from my games and share some tips on implementing this drawing technique in chess.

How to save a game with a stalemate?

Let's start with the following game where I managed to engineer an escape in a blitz game with time increment against a formidable opponent.

Amin Bassem – Hovhannisyan Robert, (3+2), 2020

Amin Bassem – Hovhannisyan Robert, (3+2), 2020
Black to move

Black's position is hopeless. However, before giving up, I decided to try my last chance - to play for the stalemate.
1...Rb3 2. Kf2 Kh7 3. Be4+ Ng6 4. h5 Rb2+ 5. Ke3? 🙂
Many moves could win, the simplest one being 5. Kg3. But the move in the game unexpectedly led to a stalemate.

5...Re2+! 6. Kf3 Re3+! 7. Kxe3 with a stalemate! 🙂

Hovhannisyan Robert – NN (Imiladris), ICC (5+0) 2010

Hovhannisyan Robert – NN (Imiladris), ICC (5+0) 2010 
White to move

Here my situation is even more desperate: I’m down a whole Knight. However, it’s not difficult to outline the contours of a stalemate; I just need to decoy the opponent's Queen or Rook to the first rank. But what hinders me is the h4 pawn. It’s not difficult to guess White’s next move.

1.h5! Qxe3 2. Re1
(2. Rd1 could be followed by Re8.)

As the game went on, I hoped to decoy the opponent's Queen to the “d” file. I didn’t really hope for a miracle since I had already ignited my idea of stalemate, but sometimes they happen as the game showed.

Any retreat of The Queen other than to the “d” line would win.

3. Rd1! Qxd1 4.Qe8!

No matter how black captures the Queen, it’s going to be a stalemate! 🙂

Hovhannisyan Robert – Grachev Boris, ICC (3+0) 2010

Hovhannisyan Robert – Grachev Boris, ICC (3+0) 2010
White to move

In this game, I should have resigned much earlier.
And if I continue, then I must have at least some minimal practical chance.


With your time running down, you will not immediately understand that this seemingly harmless move contains a devilish trap.
1...Bxf3?? 2. g3+!! Qxg3

3. Qh5+! Kxh5, and even though Black is a whole box of pieces up, we reach a stalemate 🙂

Sometimes it’s possible to save even more hopeless positions than in the previous example.

Take a look at the next example.

Hovhannisyan Robert – NN (Voices), ICC (3+0), 2010

Hovhannisyan Robert – NN (Voices), ICC (3+0), 2010 
White to move

When playing a blitz game without increment, it’s often useful to guess the opponent’s next moves. In this position, it was not difficult to do that.


The already-familiar technique of self-stalemating.
1...f1Q 2. Kd4! е1Q
Black pre-moves and creates Queens. It would be less risky to give any check first.

3. Rb2! 3...Ka1??

Obviously, the idea of a stalemate came as a real shock to the opponent, and he lost control of the game. 3... Ka3! would win the game. 4. Rb3+ Ka4 5. Ra3+ Kxb5.

4. Ra2+ Kb1 5. Rb2+ Ka1 6. Ra2+ Kxa2 – stalemate! 🙂

A spectacular position! 🤔

NN (Terra) - Hovhannisyan Robert, ICC (5+0), 2010

Black to move

Here I am a Rook down. I could resign, but my faithful friend – stalemate, patted me on my shoulder 😄

I devised a possible plan to stalemate in my mind. But there was so little chance to get there that I could easily resign here. But why resign if it’s still possible to take that last chance?!

1...Kg4 2. Rxa7 g5! 3. Rh7? 🙂
Exactly where he shouldn’t move his Rook to!

3...Rf2+! 4. Rxf2 – stalemate! 🙂

Hovhannisyan Robert – Matnadze Ana, ICC (3+0) 2016

Hovhannisyan Robert – Matnadze Ana, ICC (3+0) 2016
White to move 

Again, I could resign, I’m a piece down, and soon I will get checkmated.

What is the last chance? Yeah, stalemate! 🙂

Have you already guessed how I played?

1.а4! – the idea of self-stalemating.

Followed by 1… Rb2 2. Kf4

Now, if she played 2…Rf2, I would resign and click a “new game.”

But she played 2…Qf2??

3. Qg8!! Kxg8 – stalemate!

Can Ertan – Hovhannisyan Robert, ICC (1+0), 2013

Can Ertan – Hovhannisyan Robert, ICC (1+0), 2013
Black to move

The plan of saving the game comes by itself - Black is almost stalemated. All that remains is to play a5 and return the Rook to the battlefield. By this time, White will probably play g4.

1...a5! 2. h4 Rb1 3.g4??


4. Kf2 Rg2+?
(4...Rf1+ 5. Ke3 Rf3+! would lead to a draw)

5. Ke3 Re2+ 6.Kd3?
Missing the win again. 6. Kd4 Re4+ 7. Kc5 Rc4+ 8. Kb6 Rb4+ 9. Kc7 Rb7+ 10. Kd6 Rd7+ 11. Kc5 Rd5+ 12. Kb6 Rb5+ 13. axb5! Would curiously win. However, let's not forget that the time control in the game was 1 minute for the whole game.

6... Re3! 7. Kxe3 – the mission is completed – Stalemate! 🙂

Yudin Sergei - Hovhannisyan Robert, ICC (1+0) 2010

Yudin Sergei - Hovhannisyan Robert, ICC (1+0) 2010
Black to move

The position is drawish. However, given that I have less than 10 seconds left, White can hope to flag me. With this in mind, I decided to give my opponent some ground for thinking.

1...Kc5!? 2. h7 Kb5 3. Rb8+ Ka5 4. h8Q
The trap worked!

4 ... Rb2! and soon, checking on the 2nd rank with the Rook, I managed to draw the game by a 3-fold repetition of the position.

Turn on your fantasy

All the examples above were from the blitz games, and of course, the chances to trick your opponent in a classical game are much less. However, you can still try!

The following classical example comes to my mind.

Lasker E. – Janowski D. 1909

Lasker E. – Janowski D. 1909
Black to move

The position of Black is lost. They are a pawn down and additionally, White wants to play 1.Nd5 with Re7 checkmate.

Janowski resigned here…
While instead, he could take his last chance and play 1…c5!

Now, if Lasker was not careful or tired at the 5th hour of the game, he could easily play 2.Nd5 and wait for his opponent's resignation, as it looks like there is no defense from 3.Re7 checkmate!

And here comes to help the most faithful friend of lost positions- stalemate!

2…Rf3!! 3.Kf3 Be4 4.Ke4 – Black would save the game.

Resigning is never too late. Always try to keep your fantasy alive.

Good luck with this new weapon in your hands

This weapon can help you save games in losing positions. Also, check out the lesson given below by GM Gabuzyan on stalemates. It will only help you to expand your knowledge of using stalemate as a defensive resource in chess.

Have you already managed to give up your last pieces and save yourself with a stalemate? If so, please share it with us in our forum.

And if not, then make sure to try this trick, as half a point saved and an excellent mood are guaranteed for you!

Originally published Aug 11, 2020

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