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The Rules of Chess: Check, Mate, and Stalemate FAQ

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 our Rules of Chess page.

What is check?

A king is in check when the space it is on is attacked by an opponent's piece. Here are some examples of a white piece checking the black king.

What must a player in check do?

A player whose king is in check must remove the check by one of three means:

  1. Capture the checking piece.
  2. Move the king to a space where no piece is checking it.
  3. Block the check by placing another piece in the path of the checking piece.

Using the examples of check provided above, here is an example of each way of removing a check.

Black's bishop has captured the knight that was checking the king.

Black's king has moved to h8, which is not attacked by any piece.

Black's bishop has moved to f8, blocking the attack from white's rook.

What if a player cannot get out of check?

That player is checkmated and loses the game. Here are some examples, modified from the previous examples of check to eliminate the possibility of removing the check.

With a knight instead of a bishop, black has nothing to capture the checking knight with. Being fully surrounded by its own men, black's king has nowhere to go. Since the knight leaps directly from one space to another, its move cannot be blocked.

With a rook at h8, black's king is unable to flee there. The only empty space adjacent to the king is f7, but if the king moved there, it would still be checked by the bishop.

Because black now has a knight on c5, the bishop cannot move from a3 to f8 and block the rook's check. Also, the knight cannot reach the rook's space or any space in between the rook and the black king. Although the king is adjacent to two empty spaces, the rook would still be checking it if it moved to either one.

Can kings check other kings?

Yes and no. They have the power to check each other, but thanks to having this power, they can never get close enough to actually check each other. Consider this position:

Neither king may move to f7, g7, or h7, because if it did, it would be in check from the other king, and it is illegal for a king to move into check.

Can the move of a king result in the other king being put in check?

Yes, it is possible to make a move with a king such that the other king is checked (or even mated): suppose that white's king is between white's rook and black's king on one line. When the king moves away from the line, he reveals the check by the rook.

In this position, both kings are on the g file, and white's king is between black's king and white's rook.

White's king has now moved to the f file, revealing a check on black's king from the rook.

Can the king capture to get out of check?

Can the King capture the queen to get out of check, if the queen is in the next block if she is not protected and she put it in a checkmate position?

Yes. There are several possible methods to lift a check, and taking the checking piece (with the king or with another piece) is legal, as long as the king is not in check after the capture.

In this position, the black king is checked by the white queen.

But this check can be escaped by taking the queen.

In this example, though, the queen is defended, leaving black's king unable to take it. In fact, black is checkmated, and white has won.

What is a double check?

A double check is when two different pieces are both checking the enemy king. This can happen when the piece that moves checks the king while revealing a check from another piece. Here is an example.

It's white's turn to move.

White has moved his knight to e7, which checks the king on g8, and by moving from the g file, it has revealed a check on the king from the rook. Thanks to the double check, the queen on e8 is unable to capture the knight or block the check from the rook. If it takes the knight, the king will still be checked by the rook, and if it block's the rook's check, the king will still be checked by the knight. In this position, all black can do is move the king to safety.

What is stalemate?

A player is stalemated when on his turn he has no legal move but is not in check. Here is an example:

It is black's turn to move, but he 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 a mate or a stalemate?

I was playing my dad in chess the other night. I was down to my king and he had a pawn, a queen, and his king. I was backed into a corner and he didn't have me in check. It was my turn to move and all of my possible moves that had would have put me in check. So I couldn't move into check, therefore I couldn't move my piece. I think that it was a stalemate, because a player can't move into check. He thinks it was a checkmate, but I wasn't in check. I would only be in check if I moved. Is he right or am I?

The following position fits your description, though I'm sure many other positions would too. This is just to illustrate the kind of position you are describing.

You were right. Such a position is precisely what is called a stalemate. No one won. Your game ended in a draw.

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

Since stalemate is a draw in Chess, all too many people speak of stalemate as though it is the same thing as a draw. It is not at all the same thing as a draw. In some games, such as Chinese Chess, stalemate actually counts as a win. Also, in Chess itself, there are other ways of drawing the game besides stalemate.

When only two kings are left, this is indeed a draw, because neither player can checkmate the other. But there is no possible position two bare kings could be put in that would count as stalemate. Even in the positions shown below, black's king still has one move available to it.

Anyway, whether the game is drawn by stalemate, by bare kings, or for some other reason, there is no winner, and there is no tie-breaking method for determining a winner. When the game is drawn, each player gets half a point.

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 checked, and there is no legal way to escape check. Even if the king moved next to the opponent's king, it would be in check from the king. So the game is won for the player giving 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 neither is allowed because the king would be in check there as he would be next to the opponent's king. So white is mated and black has 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 remove the check is illegal. So, if this move does not remove the check, then no.

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

Consider the position above. The white king is currently checked by black's rook.

The white queen can take the black rook, thus removing the check and giving mate at the same time.

Can a king move to square that is attacked by a pinned piece?

On the chessboard, there is the following situation. One player, say white, has a knight, that is pinned by a bishop of the opponent, i.e., the knight is between the black bishop and the white king, so if the knight would move, then the king is checked. In this situation, is black's king allowed to move to a square attacked by the knight?

Let's first look at a diagram of what is being described here.

In this position, black's king is adjacent to d6 and f6, which are both spaces the knight could reach if it were not pinned. It is illegal for black's king to move to either one of these spaces. Despite being unable to legally move there due to the pin, the knight's checking power on those squares remains undiminished. The reason for this is that the underlying goal of chess is the capture of the opponent's king. This never actually happens in chess, because the game will end in checkmate when a player can no longer avoid the capture of his king. But the logic here is this. If the king moves to a space attacked by the pinned knight, the knight could capture it, immediately winning the game for white, at which point black would no longer have the opportunity to capture the white king with his bishop.

Who has won this game?

In the following position, is this a draw or has black mated white? As one can see, the rook that defends the queen cannot move because it guards the black king from check from the white queen.

This is a mate by black. Black has won the game. The same principle that was discussed just above applies here too. Although the rook is pinned by the white queen, it still threatens check on d1. So, whites's king cannot move there. Since it cannot take the queen, and the pawn blocks its movement to f2, and the black queen threatens check on every empty space it can move to, white is checkmated.

Can I expose my king to check if my move checkmates my opponent?

No. Consider this example.

It is white's turn to move, but his rook is pinned by the bishop.

This move is illegal. Although it looks like black is checkmated, the black bishop is now checking the white king.

If the object of the game were to simply capture the king, the preceding move would be legal, and black could win by capturing white's king with its bishop.

Although the goal of Chess is not capture of the king, it is played as though it is. Checkmate matters, because it is the position in which a king is unable to escape being captured. But in order to end the game with checkmate instead of the actual capture of the king, it is a strict rule in Chess that a king may never ever move into check under any circumstance. Because of this, your top priority in Chess is the safety of your own king, not the checkmate of your opponent's king. It is only when you can checkmate your opponent without exposing your own king to check that it truly counts as checkmate.

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

After completing a move, I discovered that I had accidentally exposed my king. My opponent discovered it and said checkmate.

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 that leaves your king in check is illegal, and it should be taken back, then a legal move should be made in its place. The player that made the illegal move does not lose the game.

In over-the-board play, however, the touched piece rule applies. So, if there is a legal move with the piece that was first illegally moved, then that piece should be moved. See for example the following diagram.

Suppose white moves his king to c1. This move is illegal, for the bishop then checks the king. So, this move should be taken back, and white must instead move his king to a1, the only legal move the king has available.

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.)

Can a king move from one checked position to another checked position?

Playing chess with a friend, I put his King in check with my rook. He then moved his King once to the right and captured my pawn, however, he did not realize that in making that move, he was vulnerable to my queen, so I captured his King. Now, another friend that was watching said that he could not make that move because he put his King in check and that is not allowed. I thought and still think, that if I put him in check and he makes a move that doesn't take him out of check, then I can capture his King. I always thought that the ruling involving a King being in check was that if a King is NOT in check, he cannot make a move to put himself in check, however, if he is in check and makes a move that keeps him in check, then I can capture.

Your friend was right. Chess is not won by capturing kings but by mating the opponent. If a player makes an illegal move, such as one that puts his king in check, he must make another move, no matter whether the king was in check or not.

Of course, when a player is in check, and all moves lead to a position where he still is in check, then he is mated, so he lost; and when a player is not in check but all moves lead to a position where he is in check, he is stalemated and the game is a draw.

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 exposed 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.)

If I call checkmate falsely do I forfeit 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.)

Originally written by Hans Bodlaender. In the process of being expanded and updated by Fergus Duniho.
WWW page created: February 10, 2003.