The Art of Draw

All football fans will remember what happened at Old Trafford on October 23 2011 – the top two teams in the Premiership did battle with the newcomers giving the old guard a right good spanking! This result left Man City 5 points clear of Man Utd who were now only 1 point ahead of third-placed Chelsea.

Would this guy ever agree to a truce?

This is what DIDN’T happen – after 15 minutes, Fergie goes along to Mancini’s bench and said “Roberto, our teams both have a lot of games coming up and we need to rest our players, why don’t we call it a day and end it here at 0-0?”. Mancini with his team being away from home accepts this offer and all the players shake hands and get an early shower.

Imagine the uproar! There would be match-fixing allegations, spectators would be refunded their money, there would probably be some sort of FA investigation and David Cameron would speak of how the moral character of our beautiful game has been destroyed.

Yet no-one bats an eyelid when this happens in chess! It shamelessly takes place at all levels from the highest professional levels to the lowest beginner levels.

[cf]YouTube Clip[/cf]

Of course, I am talking about the agreement of a draw. This means that the players agree to end the game before its natural conclusion. Here, I don’t wish to examine why draw offers are made, or call for an abolition of draws, I simply cannot understand why chess allows people to offer draws at any point during the game that they so choose.

Chess is difficult enough to explain to people who have never played it before, but I always get a puzzled reaction if I explain to them that a draw can be agreed between the players. I can’t really explain to them why this rule this exists. Maybe someone with more knowledge of chess history can explain when the draw offer was introduced as a rule in chess.

No other sport (whether chess is a sport or a game is a completely different discussion!) allows this early termination of proceedings. I’m sure most of us will have watched all 20 seconds of highlights of games like Fulham v Bolton playing a sleep-inducing 0-0 draw on Match of the Day and felt sorry for the spectators who had to watch 90 minutes of that crap. However, the players still have to play the full game and try to score a goal whilst of course stopping the opposition from scoring.

Chess is of course different from most sports because the most logical outcome to a game of chess is a draw. This is the case for various reasons. Both sides have evenly strong armies at the beginning of the game, we tend to play players of a similar standard to ourselves and chess requires someone to make a mistake in order for a decisive result to be possible. I don’t know of any example of anybody losing a game of chess after playing all the best moves he possibly could.

It is this last factor that makes chess an interesting game to play. Very few players are capable of playing perfect games of chess. We all make mistakes during all stages of the game. In my experience, most draw offers are made at some point in the middlegame, where the result is far from decided and mistakes could still potentially be made. There are players who are happier to agree draws in these circumstances than others, my guess is that they would rather secure a guaranteed half-point rather than try and risk losing that half-point to gain a full point.

It would be much better if this option was simply unavailable to the players. It is my opinion that the draw by agreement should be scrapped as a method of ending a game of chess. Players should have to play their games to a natural conclusion. Draws by repetition and under the 50-move rule would still be acceptable.

Players who know 15 moves of opening theory leading to a slight edge would now how to play out these positions and prove their slight edge rather than using the safety net of a draw-offer as a safeguard to avoid defeat. Players with good endgame technique might be able to turn slightly inferior endgames into advantage to them rather than be faced with a draw offer they would have felt bound to accept. Games which seem like “dead draws” might well come back to life.

I don’t consider this as being a fundamental change to the game of chess. When I sit down to play a game of chess, when I am thinking about my moves, I am generally not thinking in terms of “Am I playing to win?” or “Am I playing to draw?”, I am playing the position on the board and thinking in terms of “What is my best move?” or “What move would create most problems for my opponent?” Abolishing the agreement of a draw would simply force players to make these decisions for the entire game safe in the knowledge that they will have to keep playing until a decisive result occurs or if a draw naturally appears.

But the position is dead drawn!

It is surprising how many “dead draws” still have plenty of play in them if players are forced to continue to play on. Just have a look at some of Magnus Carlsen’s games! Furthermore, if the position is “dead drawn”, it won’t be so difficult to play to a position where there is no mating material left or a draw by repetition is agreed.

I am too short on time to turn my advantage into a win

That’s your fault for getting too short on time! Also, there are rules in chess that allow you to claim a draw if your opponent is not trying to win or cannot win by normal means.

I like to use a draw offer as a psychological weapon

Well, instead of using psychological tricks like you would find in Chess for Tigers, you’ll just have to start playing good chess moves instead!

Shouldn't this book be called "Chess for Cheetahs"?

Can’t people just repeat moves instead of agreeing a draw?

As I said earlier, the natural result of a chess game is a draw. If a position arises where both players feel that their only option is to repeat moves, then a draw can be agreed by this method. This is how I would anticipate that games in bishops of opposite colour endgames or rook and 4 pawns vs rook and 4 pawns with all the pawns on the same side of the board might end.

If players make an artificial repetition of moves, this could be legislated for by giving a 0-0 score instead of a 0.5-0.5 score. This rule already exists if a game is agreed drawn before any moves have been played, or if there is evidence of collusion. In a congress situation, this penalty would be easier to administer. However, in a team situation, this may be more difficult to administer, although I don’t see why if a player or captain saw this occurring, they could force the players to submit the game to a league committee to decide if the draw by repetition was artificial or legitimate.

Having said all this, I think that if the agreement of a draw was abolished, people’s attitudes to draws would change quickly and people in 30 years time would look back and wonder why people ever were allowed to offer draws in the first place. I see this effect as being similar to the largely universal abolition of adjudications and adjournments which now exists. Very few people I know would embrace returning to adjournments.

If chess is to appeal to new players, it must be seen as dynamic and interesting. Players should be encouraged to play out all positions they reach. I think that abolishing the agreement of draws would enable people to enjoy playing chess more and lead to more exciting games!

I have created a section on the forum for you guys to discuss this post, and I look forward to hearing your comments! I may write a follow-up post if I hear any good suggestions and ideas! Please also take part in our poll and let us know what you think of draw offers.

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Features editor for the Yorkshire Chess website. I collate and write atricles about all the latest chess activities in Yorkshire and beyond. I've also been known to shove some pieces myself from time to time!


5 Responses to “The Art of Draw”

  1. Intermezzo

    Feb 11. 2012

    Nice article Andy.
    My view is that we don’t need a rule outlawing a draw by agreement. I think we can change this all on our own and an agreement requires the consent of both players. We just need more players who are willing to decline draw offers and play out positions. I very rarely offer a draw and I don’t often accept one. I have nothing against someone offering a draw but that doesn’t mean I have to accept it. What bugs me is the occasional opponent who gets all grumpy if I decline. To those opponents I am tempted to offer my variation on an old shop keepers motto that you might be familiar with: “Please do not ask for a draw as refusal can often offend.”
    Thanks for the post. Thought provoking and fun!

    Reply to this comment
    • Andy Bak

      Feb 13. 2012

      I agree with you regarding the players who become grumpy on a rejection of a draw offer. Fortunately there are not too many players like this that I have come across in my chess experience!

      The other type of draw offers that annoy me are the persistent draw offers – your opponent offers you a draw which is declined, then offers another draw 5 moves later, then again in another few moves. Surely they should get the hint that a draw is not on the cards yet and leave it be!

      I guess you’re right that it is up to the players if they want to play out positions and play interesting games, but it is just a shame that not everybody finds the game interesting enough so that they get to play out the dynamically balanced positions that are so often prematurely agreed drawn.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Dave Shapland

    Feb 16. 2012

    Alternatively, we could look to the history of the game for a solution. I recently become interested in the origins of chess and discovered that the Islamic game “shatranj” included some ways to win that no longer exist in our modern game. The quote below is from Wikipedia as it was the most convenient source:

    “Capturing all one’s opponent’s pieces apart from the king (baring the king) was a win, unless your opponent could capture your last piece on his or her next move, then in most parts of the Islamic world it was a draw, but in Medina it was a win.”

    I believe this form of victory was called a “win by annihilation”. Imagine how many endgames would get played out right to the very end if this rule were re-introduced. It would add an extra dimension to end game play as well as you’d have to start counting the number of moves it would take for you and your opponent to capture each others pawns in a king and pawn ending for example.

    Perhaps you should change your motion to: “This house calls for the re-introduction of the win by annihilation rule in chess”.

    Reply to this comment


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