Knowing the Difference Between a Check, a Checkmate and a Stalemate

I’m sure you’ve heard the following terms many times if you’re at all interested in learning to play chess – check, checkmate and stalemate. Although frequently used, these terms can be a little confusing to the beginner.

Below is a brief explanation of each term and how each word applies to your chess game.

What it Means to “Check”

During the normal events of a chess game, there can be numerous attacks from one opponent to another. The player under attack will choose one of three routes:

a) He can choose to ignore the attack and move a piece that’s totally unrelated to the attack at hand.

b) He can move the attacked piece out of harm’s way.

c) He can perform a counter-attack and capture the opponent’s piece (if the circumstances permit).

How a player responds under a normal attack is totally his choice, except in one particular type of attack – the attack of a King. When a King is under attack, this is serious business. The King cannot remain under attack. The player who’s performing the attack must speak the word “check” to bring the opponent’s attention to what’s taking place with his King.

The attack of your King is so serious that if you are unable to move out of harm’s way, you’ll lose the game.

Checkmate – To Win the Game

Checkmate is the term spoken either when a King has been captured, or it is understood that the King has no alternative but to be captured. This can occur if he cannot escape his “checked” status, as mentioned above. When the King has been surrounded by its opponents and has nowhere to turn without being captured, a checkmate has occurred.

Remember: A player can resign at any time if he feels all hope for a victory is lost.

Stalemates and How They Occur

A stalemate occurs when there’s no “legal” move for the King. The King has been surrounded by squares that are each in the line of attack, but the King is not actually under attack. The King can not legally be moved where it would put him under attack. Therefore, the game ends in a draw, or a tie, called stalemate.

A stalemate can also occur if only two Kings are left on the board, and no other pieces. This is a stalemate no matter what their positions because neither King would be able to checkmate the other.

Understanding these three terms during your chess game is extremely important. You’ll want to be able to recognize each of these occurrences right away while playing. You’ll also want to know when your King has been checked and what it means, so you can counteract immediately if possible. Preparing ahead for chess is the key to a successful game. By Candice Pardue.

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