Saving the Day With a Stalemate Trap

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Chessable Blog
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Who can resist the lure of a stalemate trap?

We have already seen some stalemate traps in action in our series on chess tactics and today we return to the theme, this time with the emphasis firmly on the endgame phase of the game.

Highlighted course

Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual 5th Edition

Hidden Resources

Pawn Ending

Zuger vs. Ru. Rodriguez
Dubai Olympiad, 1986

White to play

This just looks lost for White. His c-pawn cannot be saved and Black’s pawn majority on the kingside would appear to constitute a winning advantage.

Yet as Grandmaster John Nunn shows in his Chessable course, Nunn’s Chess Endings Volume 1, there are hidden resources, allowing White to draw the game.

The first part of White’s remarkable drawing plan is to use the c-pawn as a decoy.

1.c7 Kxc7

Black’s king had to react to the advance of the pawn but this gives the white king scope to encroach upon the black pawns.

2.Ke5

Attacking the f-pawn. Capturing the pawn cleanly would bring a winning advantage for White, so again Black has to react.

2…f4

3.gxf4

Tricky Pawn Ending

3…g4!

According to Nunn: ‘The best chance, as 3…gxf4 4.Kxf4 Kd6 5.Kf5 Kd5 is an easy draw.’

What is White's Best Move?

What should White do now?

4.Ke4 

Nunn shows how 4.f5? g3 5.f6 Kd7! allows Black to prevent the f-pawn’s progress while still being able to promote the g-pawn.

4..Kd6

What Would You Play?

Heading for the Stalemate Trap

Now there is only one good move for White. What would you do?

5.Ke3!

There is an explanation as to why 5.f5? and 5.Kd4? both lose in the course and some independent analysis would prove to be a good exercise too.

The next few king moves represent best play by both sides.

5…Kd5
6.Kf2! Ke4
7.Kg3 Kf5

Springing the Stalemate Trap

Springing the Stalemate Trap

It looks like the black king has outmanoeuvred his rival. The f4-pawn cannot be defended any longer. Is White now going to resign?

8.Kh4!

Stalemate Trap

No! The truth of the situation suddenly becomes clear. If Black captures his prize with 8…Kxf4 then White will be in stalemate. If Black declines the booty with any other moves then White plays 9.Kxg4, protecting the f-pawn at the same, with a winning position.

A draw was agreed at this point.

A Stalemate Echo From Another Era

The final twist is reminiscent of a famous ending featuring two challengers for the World Chess Championship.

Mikhail Chigorin - Siegbert TarraschMikhail Chigorin – Siegbert Tarrasch
Ostend, 1905

White to play

Chigorin, who was not at his best at this tournament, played 50.gxf6?

There followed:

50…gxf6

51.Kg4 Ke4

52.Kh3 Kf4 and White resigned; 0-1. Black will win both the remaining white pawns and then promote at least one of his won.

However, Chigorin could have saved the position, as unlikely as that may seem.

50.Kg4! is the way to do it.

Hidden Twist in the Pawn Ending

At first glance, this appears to be little better than the move played in the game – but there is a hidden twist coming.

50…Ke5

51.g6

Stalemate Trap

Now 51…hxg6 52.fxg6 leads to a draw. Both sides will promote a pawn in the main line. More homework for you, dear readers!

The most interesting move is 51…h6.

It looks like White will be forced into a position where his king will have to abandon the defense of his pawns but that turns out to be part of the miracle ‘save.’

Another Stalemate Trap

Chigorin's Best Move

White to play and draw

52.Kh5!

Extraordinary! 52…Kxf5 leaves White stalemated, as does 52…Kf4.

Stalemate Trap

Position after 52…Kxf5

Anything else would allow the white king to oscillate between g4 and h5, with the stalemate trap hanging over the position in permanent fashion.

Highlighted course

100 Endgames You Must Know

Further Study

If you would like to investigate more tricky endings, then you may like to revisit an earlier blog post and also investigate this fine Chessable course.Nunn's Chess Endings Volume 1

Nunn’s Chess Endings Volume 1

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