Lesson 5 - Special Rules in Chess: Draw Games (stalemate and other situations)

"To play for a draw, at any rate with white, is to some degree a crime against chess."
- Mikhail Tal

There is not always a winner in chess... actually, we can even say that in high level play there are more games ending with a draw then with a winner! But how come a game can end up in a draw you are asking me?  Well, there are 7 different ways to draw a game of chess:

Let's see in details each of these situations.


Mutual Agreement

It might happen in a game that neither player succeeds in building a material advantage over the other, or that both players no longer want to play a specific ending because they lost interest in the position or because they do not want to risk loosing the game. In these situations, players can mutualy decide to end the game peacefully in a draw. If players are using a chess clock, other situations might encourage a mutual agreement draw. As an example, one of the player has a winning advantage but feels that he does not have enough time on the clock to ensure the victory. In fact, almost all reasons are valid to draw a game when both players are in agreement. The only exceptions to this rule are happening in some official 'images/s. In high level play, it happens sometimes that 'images/ organizers are forbidding mutual agreement draws in order to avoid strategic arrangement between players. These arrangements are usually breaking the show as chess enthousiastics prefer to see epic battles happening on the board.

Officially, a player must always play his move before offering a draw to his opponent. The opponent must then accept or decline the offer. If the offer is declined, the game must continue. There is no limit about the number of times a player can offer a draw. However, in official 'images/s, the opponent can notify the referee about abusive draw offers and the referee can then give a sanction to the other player. Usually, when a draw is offered, the opponent knows that the other player wants the draw so it is not necessary to remind him all the time that the draw offer still stands. The opponent might offer himself a draw later on when he wants to accept it. The other player is not required to accept the draw however since the position or the context of the game might have changed and the draw is no longer an option for him.


The Stalemate

If a player's King is not in check and this player has no legal move to play, the player is in stalemate.   The game is then declared a draw.  In the following diagram, it is Black's turn to play but if you look at the position, you will note that he has no legal move to do!  If the black King would have been in check, Black would have been checkmated.  But unfortunately for White, and despite their big material advantage, the black King is not attacked and White missed the chance to win the game because he stalemated his opponent instead.

Black is stalemated

Diagram 5.9 - Black is stalemated

Here are some examples of stalemated position occuring against a lone king. In all the positions below, it is black to move. The white player has not been cautious since he should have been the winner with the material advantage he had compared to his opponent...

Black is stalemated
Black is stalemated
Diagram 5.10 - Black is stalemated

Diagram 5.11 - Black is stalemated

Black is stalemated
Diagram 5.12 - Black is stalemated

I would recommend to the white player to learn how to checkmate a lone king... and how convenient: he can do so in lesson 8!


Position Occurs Three Times during the Game

If a position occurs three times duting a game, the player having the turn to play can claim the draw.  This is the "threefold repetition rule".  All pieces must be exactly at the same position and the context of the game must be the same: same player on the move and same castling possibilities for both players.   In order to find and prove the repetition, the game must be noted. We will study how we note a chess game in the next lesson.


Insufficiant Material

This situation occurs when both players do not have enough material to checkmate the opponent. Studies have already been done to determine what is the minimum material required to check mate a King. Here are the configuration ending up to a theorical draw according to these studies:

  • a lone King against a lone King
  • a lone King against a King and a minor piece (bishop or knight)
  • a lone King against a King and two knights


50 Moves Rule

The rule states that a player can request a draw if no capture has been made or no pawn has been moved in the last 50 moves. If a player is in difficulty, he might have the possibility to use this rule to hope for a draw.  As an example, let's imagine a position where Black has only is King and a bishop on the board, and White has a King and a rook. Black knows that he has not enough material to checkmate his opponent. He will then try to play carefully and not fall into a mating patern of give his bishop for free and reach a position until 50 moves are played to draw the game. White must then find a way to checkmate Black as quickly as possible if they want to be victorious...


Perpetual Checks

If a player finds a way to continually check the opponent King (on every move) but without delivering a chekmate, he can force a draw.  This rule is quite often associated with the Position Occurs Three Times During the Game rule since the player might reach the same position several times at some point.  In the example below Black is threatening the checkmate on his next move (Queen to b1). White cannot hope to win the game as he will have to sacrifice a lot of material to stop the checkmate.   He however has the chance to get a draw by giving perpetual checks:

Perpetual checks

Diagram 5.13 - White Obtains A Draw By Perputual Checks

If you have a loosing position, search for perpetual check possibilities and use this rule to get at least a draw.


Time running out when the opponent does not have enough material to checkmate

In most organized events (chess clubs or tournaments), each player has a time control (using a chess clock) to play their moves during a game.  For example, a common time control used in slow games is that each player must play 40 moves in less than 120 minutes.  The rule says that if a player does not succeed to play all his 40 moves before this period of time, he looses the game. However, a draw will happen if his oponent does not have enough material to force a checkmate.

You will find more details about time control a bit further in this lesson.

Let's continue the lesson with the next page on pawn promotiononline chess tutorial.