The Chess Variant Pages

Frequent asked questions on the rules of Chess: Check, Mate, and Stalemate

This webpage gives the answers to some frequently asked questions about the official rules of chess regarding Check, Mate, and Stalemate. For the full rules of chess, see another webpage. Other questions are answered on other webpages. A few questions appear also at the webpage on Kings and Check.

What is stalemate?

There is a stalemate when the player whose turn it is to move
  1. is not in check
  2. has no legal move

Consider for example the following position:

Suppose it is the turn of black to move. Black has no legal move: his pawn cannot move, and his king also cannot move as every place it could go is attacked by white. The knight also cannot move, as moving the knight would mean that the white rook would give check. Also, white does not give check to black, so it is a stalemate.

In case of a stalemate, the game is a draw: 1/2 - 1/2.

Is this checkmate or stalemate?

The other night my husband was playing with a friend. He had him in check, and the only way he could move out of check was to move his king next to his opponents king, therefore being in "check" by the king. Now was this checkmate or stalemate?
This is checkmate. The king is attacked, and there is no legal move to go out of check. So the game is won for the player that gives the check.

Consider the following position. White to move. White is in check, and the only positions the white king can move to are g1 and g2, but both are not allowed because the king would be in check there as he would be next to the opponents king. So white is mated and black won the game.

Can a player in check win the game by checkmating his opponent with one move (a move that does not move the checked king)?

A move that does not lift the check is illegal. So, if this move does not lift the check, then: no.

However, the following could happen: the player can take the piece that gives the check and mates at the same time.

Consider the position above. The white queen can take the black rook, thus lifting the check and giving mate at the same time.

What happens if you make a move that leaves your king accidentally in check?

After completing a move I discovered that I had accidently exposed my king. My opponent discovered it and said "check mate".

I told her my previous move had to be annulled since the king couldn't be exposed. Is this correct?

This is indeed correct. A move which leaves your king in check is illegal, and should be taken back, and another, legal, move should be made. The player that made the illegal move does not lose the game.

The touched piece rule applies however, so, if possible, if there is a legal move with the piece that was first illegally moves, then such a move should be done. See for example the following diagram.

Suppose white moves his king to c1, the square with the red circle. This move is illegal, and the bishop then checks the king. The move should be taken back, and white must instead move his king to a1, the square with the green circle; he is no longer allowed to move a pawn.

An exception to this is when the rules of speed chess are used. In this form of chess, used when playing with clocks with only a few (e.g., 3 or 5) minutes per player for the entire game, the touched piece rule does not apply; a rule is final when the clock is punched, and a player can claim a win when the opponent makes an illegal move. (Speed chess rules apply only when these are agreed on before the game.)

What happens if you touch a pinned piece?

If I have a rook directly in front of the bishop of my opponent, and his king is behind it and he touches the bishop ready to move it which leaves his king expose to my rook which means his king will be in check? Does he have to move it? Being that he touched it. Did my opponent lose the game?

No, he doesn't lose the game. If there is no legal move with the bishop (and moving such that your king is in check is illegal), then he doesn't have to play it. See for example this diagram.
If white touches his bishop, then this has no consequences, as the bishop has no legal move. So, white can instead play his king (e.g., King b1-a2.)

Is it true that you cannot take a piece that gives check?

I was playing a friend. He checked my king with his bishop and I took his piece with a knight. He told me if he checked my king I could not take his piece he used to check my king. I had to move the king or block the check with another piece ( in this case, that piece being my queen). I have not played chess for some time. Is this a true rule?
No, this is not a true rule. When in check, each of the following is a legal way to get out of check:
  1. Moving the king to a position where it is not in check
  2. Taking the piece that checks
  3. Moving a piece between the checking piece (rook, bishop, or queen) and the king
Of course, a condition is that your king is no longer in check after the move. So, taking a checking piece is legal, and common.

How do you determine the winner after a stalemate in chess? Only two kings are left.

There is no winner. The game is a draw: 1/2 - 1/2.

If I call checkmate falsely do I forefeit the game?

No. When done accidentally, there is no consequence; the game just continues.

When done on purpose, then an arbiter could punish you, as this would be a case of distracting the opponent, and/or making unreasonable claims.

If a player moves a piece and places the king in check and fails to announce "check", does the other player win by default?

No. Actually, saying check is not obligatory, but just polite.

Note however that if the other player fails to see he is in check, and moves without lifting the check, that player also does not lose, but has to make a different move. (See other questions on this webpage.)

Written by Hans Bodlaender
WWW page created: February 10, 2003.