When you first get into chess the game can appear to be very complicated but actually, it’s quite simple, it just has a lot of depth. One question that almost everyone has when they start playing is whether or not it’s possible to win a game in chess without losing pieces? Well, the answer is quite straightforward but there’s a lot of depth to explore too.
Can you win chess without losing a piece? The answer is a definitive yes. You can win at chess without losing a piece of your own. You can win a game of chess without taking any of your opponent’s pieces too. A most famous example is the fool’s mate which every beginner enthusiastically tries in their first games.
But there are other ways to win at chess without losing a piece simply because the rules for winning allow it. This is a fascinating topic so let’s look a little deeper.
How To Win At Chess?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that there is more than one way to win at the game of chess and this makes quite a bit of difference to what is and isn’t possible in a chess match:
- You put the opponent’s king in checkmate. This is the obvious winning condition. You place the king in a position where it is under threat of being taken and where it cannot move to another square without a similar threat and the opponent cannot block the current attack or take the piece threatening the attack.
- One player resigns the game. While, as we explained here, we don’t recommend that beginner players resign at all because playing out games helps them learn to play better. The option is always available in a chess game to resign and thus, concede the game to your opponent and while this is usually done from a clearly losing position there is no constraint as to when and for what reason a player may resign.
- In a timed match the opponent runs out of time. If the game is being played on the clock whether informally or in a formal competition, when the time runs out for one player then their opponent (as long as they notice and claim the win) is the winner.
- In a competitive match, your opponent is disqualified. In all the years that we’ve been playing chess, we’ve never come across the situation in competitive play – so, it’s not common to win games like this but, in theory, it is a possibility and thus, it’s the fourth way that you can win at chess. Though, we can’t see how you would make use of this knowledge practically.
Can You Win At Chess Without Losing A Piece?
You will notice than none of our 4 winning conditions mentions taking pieces at all. That’s because it’s not a requirement to win the game. It also means that technically, not only can you win at chess without losing a piece – you can win without ever making a move!
If you sit down to the board and your opponent decides, after making their first move, that they must leave immediately, then the appropriate behavior is to resign. Thus, you would have won the game under “one player resigns the game”.
Then in a timed match, it is perfectly legal not to remind your opponent that they haven’t switched the clock from their time to yours. So, if the opponent made their move, didn’t stop their clock and you waited until their time ran out, you would win the game under “opponent runs out of time”.
And while we think it unlikely, it is possible for your opponent to get disqualified after their first move and before you make yours.
So, yes, you can win at chess without losing a piece. What’s more interesting, perhaps, is that you can win at chess even when both players play a full game of chess and that you can win without either player losing a piece.
The Fool’s Mate
Often mistaken for the scholar’s mate (which we touch on below), the fool’s mate is the fastest way to lose at chess and it requires just two moves from white and two from black that results in a black win.
It is important to realize that this particular form of checkmate simply doesn’t happen in competitive play except possibly with absolute beginners who are just getting to grips with the basics of how pieces move and general strategy.
We’ve certainly never seen it happen in real life except as a demonstration that it is, indeed, possible to lose a game of chess in 2 moves without a single piece being captured.
The moves required are simply:
- f3 e5
- g4 Qh4# (checkmate)
There are several variations of this game, but they all result in a similar rapid demise. There are also some chess problems that illustrate some 3 and 4 move fool’s mates but these tend to involve the loss of a piece.
The Scholar’s Mate
This is the fastest way for a player with the white pieces to win and it too fulfils our criteria of winning without losing a piece though, sadly, in this particular game – black will lose a piece.
Scholar’s mate is different from fool’s mate in that it can occur in real life and, in fact, it often does occur in matches between beginners. There are four moves in total for this mate and it goes like this:
- e4 e5
- Bc4 Nc6
- Qh5 Nf6?? (the question mark is used to denote a bad move, in this case, two question marks indicate disaster)
- Qxf7# (checkmate)
Again, there are several variations of the scholar’s mate but all of them result in a similar outcome a game that is lost by black in just 4 moves.
The reason that scholar’s mate appears in actual play (unlike fool’s mate) is that the idea that it is based on is quite sound. This is that the squares f2 and f7 end up as squares that are only defended by the king and thus, they are vulnerable to early and rapid attack.
You can find the Danvers Opening, The Two Knights Defense and even the Frankenstein-Dracula Variant of the Vienna Game all being used in competitive play with the aim of threatening those squares (and technically, though not at the level they are used, threatening scholar’s mate). In mid-tier competitions you might also find the Napoleon Opening trying to do something similar.
A (Slightly) Longer Example
Jacob Antony, on Quora, offers up this example of a longer game which involves neither player losing a piece because black resigns rather than lose the queen to a knight’s attack:
- e4 d6
- Nf3 Nd7
- Ng5 h6
- Ne6? resignation
Why? Well, if black takes the knight with his pawn (fxe6) then there is an immediate check mate from white moving Qh5 and if black doesn’t take the knight with his pawn then he loses his queen to the knight. This is a sufficient disaster in terms of material loss in the early game to force black to resign.
Can you win chess without losing a piece? Yes. It’s not exactly a rare event but it’s not too common either. This is mainly because most openings tend to involve some sort of trade off of pawns in the center of the board in an attempt to dominate the middle ranks. However, this kind of play is not compulsory and as you’ve seen, there are games which have been played competitively where neither player loses a piece and one of them wins.
You will never see fool’s mate in a real game because it requires total cooperation from white to lose the game but there are some simple ways to rapidly lose a game and scholar’s mate is often seen on the boards of weaker players because it’s easy to fall into the trap of mirroring your opponent when you’re just starting out. So, why not try to see if you can win a game this week without losing a piece?