Stalemate – Your Faithful Friend in Lost Positions

Article by GM Robert Hovhannisyan
Stalemate – Your Faithful Friend in Lost Positions

Because of the pandemic, most people find themselves spending more time playing online blitz games. But if you want to improve your results, it’s very important to find resources in even the most desperate-looking positions. 


Usually, in hopeless positions, you try to flag your opponent. Or alternatively, you try the typical internet trick of moving your piece somewhere it could simply be captured, (like placing your Rook on a2, when your opponents’ Rook is on a3) in the hope that your opponent has pre-moved a different piece and you can just take it on the next move.


But few people think about the fact that there is also another wonderful way of saving a game – playing for stalemate. Of course, it doesn't always work, especially when you play against an experienced player, but you can be sure that you will save 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 the following game, I managed to engineer an escape in a blitz game with time increment against a formidable opponent.


Amin Bassem – Hovhannisyan Robert, Chess.com (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 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! smiley


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. Frankly speaking, I didn’t really hope for a miracle, since I had already ignited my idea of stalemate, but, as the game showed, sometimes miracles happen.


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 gonna be a stalemate! smiley


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 smiley


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 

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! smiley



A spectacular position! smiley


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 smiley


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! smiley


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

White to move 


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


What is the last chance? Yeah, stalemate! smiley


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

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 Rf2+! 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! smiley


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 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

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


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!


Article by GM Robert Hovhannisyan