Many of the letters shown in the following article have been abbreviated, excerpted,
paraphrased, or briefly quoted to reduce the length of this article. In a few
cases an individual letter that covered multiple topics was divided into two
letters. Where possible, the newsid number for the source has been given, in
brackets, for each article – for readers who want to review the entire
letter as it was first published. New letters have no prior newsid.
An upcoming related article will categorize and summarize the best letters
to outline those draw solution ideas that have received the most vocal and reasoned
support during recent months and over the past few years.
– Gene Milener, editor for this article.
The draw debates summarized: definitions, causes, effects
- Short draws are not a problem
- Short draws are too infrequent to be a big problem
- Only unfought draws are a significant problem
- Premature draw: between unfought and hard fought
- High draw rate is a problem
- Are there good reasons for unfought draws?
- Other thoughts
- The importance of context
Short draws are not a problem
Several readers rejected the premise stated in the introductions to ChessBase.com
articles about the draw issues in chess:
- "Short, unfought draws are the bane of chess fans. That at least is the
- "Chess fans and organisers all over the world are worried about the problem
of too many draws in chess. Actually: about pre-arranged or unfought draws."
Here we sample some of the best letters that reject the premise, and which
say there are no draw problems in chess. Occasionally a related tangent is explored.
Kerem Yunus Camsari, Lafayette, IN, USA (4535)
Given the absolute symmetry of the black and white structure (with the slightest
skew of White's initiative in the beginning) it is quite logical to observe
draws in classical chess. I think that the ultimate chess game (where no players
make a mistake) is a draw. If both players independently came up with the idea
that drawing is their best option, we have to accept it and learn to live with
it. It's their job and profession. It is even a kind of art for those who live
at the top.
Tim Turner, Reston Virgina, USA (4522)
Chess is a theoretically drawn game from the beginning. Other sports cannot
claim this, just as they cannot claim that they are a board game, and therefore
cannot be compared to this. This focus on draws is futile.
[Editor's comment: Several writers noted that chess is a theoretical draw,
and that a chess game perfectly played by both White and Black ends in a draw.
This fact is used to argue against scoring systems such as Bilbao (3 points
for a win, 1 point for a draw, 0 for a loss).
Does the theoretical draw observation indicate that the dislike that some
fans feel for non-decisive chess games is somewhat misguided? Some
writers doubt we should be so confident that chess is a theoretical draw (such
as in the next letter). On page 232 of his book "Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy"
John Watson wrote:
"... what is the result of a perfectly played chess game? As you probably
already know, it is a draw. There is no need to wait for computers to solve
chess in order to understand this; it is crystal clear from a study of theory.
Of course, I can't prove this, but I doubt that you can find a single strong
player who would disagree."]
Carl Lumma, Los Gatos, California, United States
Thanks again for patiently hosting the lengthy dialog on the subject of unfought
draws. One reader suggested it deserves a discussion forum, and perhaps he is
right. Several readers have commented that if chess is naturally drawn, then
efforts to eliminate unfought draws must not go too far. However, even though
it seems likely that chess is a draw, the evidence for this is entirely circumstantial.
There were many draws in the 1970s, but the drawish players of today would score
mostly wins against the players of the 1970s.
Kevin Spiteri, Marsaxlokk, Malta (4522)
Short draws might not be spectacular, and may be hard to justify to sponsors,
but short draws are part of chess. I consider restricting draws as sacrificing
a part of the beauty of chess to economics.
That short draws make chess more beautiful may not be intuitive. If during
a tournament both players would stand to gain from a quiet draw, they should
be allowed to have their quiet draw. It is only logical. Satisfying the audience
or sponsors should not be the primary motivation.
[Editor's comment: Which grandmaster game is more interesting to the mass
of chess fans, (a) a draw played at an average level of quality or (b) a decisive
game played at an average level of quality?
Next we interject a contrasting opinion about the potential beauty of
draws. Clearly beauty is in the eye of the beholder.]
Edward Labate, Atlanta, GA USA
It has been asked: "If chess is so perfect the way it is now, why are there
so many draws on the highest level?" Because most of today's top players wouldn't
know what an athletic supporter is for. You need to find chess players with
a 'steel pair'. You need players who want to win, and consider a draw as losing
half a point. I want my opponent to get up after the game knowing he was in
a war. You want to avoid grandmaster draws? 200 move minimum or bare kings.
You make chess a sport again, and anybody who thinks it isn't a sport, just
watch your older players fade in the 3rd and 4th hour!
[Editor's comment: Labate raises the question of whether chess competitions
should be designed to minimize any effects of physical and mental fatigue..
Are fatigue factors to be embraced as part of sporting competition?]
John Nunn, London (2729)
To complain about short, peaceful draws is in many cases valid. [However], in
the case of participants in Open tournaments who have not been paid an appearance
fee, I don’t think there is any real reason to criticise short draws.
Jonathan Estey, Providence, Rhode Island (4535)
The vast majority of tournament games are not played by professionals but by
amateurs like myself. When I run, play in, or work at tournaments, there are
very few draws and almost no short draws.
Rod Hill, Darlings Island, New Brunswick, Canada
The 'draw problem' is, for the world of chess as a whole, not a problem at all.
After all, most chess games played between amateurs in chess clubs or in tournaments
or on the internet. I'll wager that the percentage of draws in such games is
low. In my own practice as a club player, it's 20-25%, all of them hard fights.
Dave Groves, Manchester, England
There is a purity about the game of chess that is one of its main attractions.
It seems to me that there is nothing wrong with offering or accepting a draw
and it is completely logical that it should be half a point. If you are leading
the tournament by say a clear point or more you have already played pretty good
chess to get there and should be entitled to offer or take a draw.
Albert Frank, International Arbiter, Brussels, Belgium (4535)
I don't understand all this discussion about short draws and GM draws. In high
level chess tournaments there was always been about 50% of draws, absolutely
nothing has changed. There should not be anything done about the draws.
Jordan Stevens, Chicago, Illinois (4522)
I believe there isn't a problem with draws. In fact, draws have been a part
of chess since it was created essentially. Instead, I believe chess is being
"Americanized". Compare sports in America with the ones played internationally.
In soccer, the least popular sport in America, people tend to find a tie bland
and pointless. However, a tie in Europe is still a good game.
[Editor's comment: To pursue a tangent, I am not well-informed about professional
soccer. As an American I never felt there was a problem in soccer from occasional
ties. Rather I felt soccer suffered from an excessive imbalance between offense
and defense. It seems very hard to generate a scoring threat, and rather easy
to boot the ball back to mid-field as a successful defense. I am bored by
0-0 and 1-1 ties not because they are ties, but because they are excessively
defensive games lacking a balance with offense.
To me the high draw rate in chess feels loosely analogous to a low scoring
tie in soccer. I could quite enjoy a 4-4 tie in soccer. And I believe most
chess fans find stalemates exceptionally interesting, even though stalemates
Not knowing soccer well, in my ignorance I wonder why Europe chose an
artificial 3/1/0 point system instead of simply making the goal a bit bigger.
End of tangent.]
Rod Hill, Darlings Island, New Brunswick, Canada
The professionals have contributed, and will contribute further, an enormous
number of interesting, imaginatative and enjoyable games. So many games, in
fact, that I could spend the rest of my life browsing among them with pleasure.
If 50 or 60% of games in a tournament end in a draw... what do I care?
[Editor's comment: Perhaps some fans feel that a chess tournament is like
the innings in a baseball game (or quarters in a basketball game); while other
fans feel that a chess tournament is like a season. As enthusiasts who replay
published chess competitions, do we replay games or tournaments?]
Mark Vogan, Houston, TX, USA (4522)
When will the chess community learn to accept that GM (peaceful) draws are part
of tournament play? This is not unique to chess: In American football, sometimes
you take a knee; in basketball you dribble and run out the clock; in baseball
pitchers throw an intentional walk; in poker you fold some hands.
In every example, you are either removing some risk, conserving your limited
resources or both. Why shouldn't chess players be able to agree to do the same
in order to win a tournament?
You will not see GM draws in match play; they only occur in tournaments.
[Editor's comment: Among the first two Karpov-Kasparov title matches there
were fourteen agreed draws of 20 move pairs or less. When Karpov was White,
the median number of move pairs was 33, and when Kasparov was White the median
was 22. Next, writer Wallace Hannum elaborates on these draws.]
Wallace Hannum, Menlo Park, CA (4522)
Kasparov talked about how hard he worked to earn those short draws against Karpov
in the 1984 match. No one challenges Kasparov's fighting spirit and yet there
was a huge amount of short draws. A lot of work can go into finding an improvement
in theory which equalizes for black. the 1984 match itself was a great lesson
in why draws should count. High-class, professional chess should remain as untouched
as possible. The enemy is not draws but boring chess; and I cringe to think
who gets to decide what's boring or what's not.
Mirik Suleymanian, Richmond VA, USA (4522) It is wrong to
think that chess players have an obligation to entertain the spectators, even
at the expense of their interests. The players and spectators have completely
Alexander Aguilar, Los Angeles, CA (4347) Are draws really
all that bad or do they just have a bad reputation? Here are some positive things
about playing for a draw:
- It takes skill to achieve a draw especially when your opponent is desperate
to win and you are playing black.
- Getting a draw is like a way to retreat during a battle so that you can
recuperate. That can be a good tournament strategy.
The Sofia rule might be a little over-restrictive when players are forced to
play out games that they already know to be theoretically drawn.
K. Srinath, united states
I apologize for not having read much of the ideas that you've published. The
sheer volume is repugnant to me*. But I do admire the effort (apparently) being
put in to solve the problem. I can't understand if we're creating a problem
unnecessarily or if we're, in fact, solving one. The players are doing what
they're doing. They're kind enough to play good games often and we should be
grateful for what we have.
[*Editor's comment: Due to the ongoing high volume of draw letters, we
are trying to streamline our presentation format.]
Kajani Kaunda, Blantyre, Malawi (4522)
Most if not all authors who bash draws make them themselves.
Jacob Woge, CPH, Denmark (4535) I think short draws are not
a problem in chess today. You have events where nobody seems to be able to win,
but in general people fight.
Short draws are too infrequent to be a big problem
Of every 100 draws at the major grandmaster tournaments, how many are unfought?
Is there any non-zero correlation between 'short' and 'unfought' draws? Even
though unfought draws might be relatively rare, when they occur in the final
round they may do disproportionately large harm to the event.
Vugar Fatali, Strasbourg (4535)
As for short GM draws, I understand that people (including me) don't like to
see them because they are unspectacular and "uncompetitive". But they constitute
only a relatively small number of all chess games played. So we all love the
game of chess as it is in its entirety, but we happen not to like only a very
minor part of it (which is short draws).
[Editor's comment: Pretend there is a typical web article that reports
on yesterday's round at the major grandmaster tournament. The article gives
the outcome for all seven games, say three wins for White and four draws.
The article gives the moves of one of the three decisive games, with annotations.
Now, will the average fan who browses the web article know which or how many
of the four draws were unfought versus hard fought? If he does not know, then
is the distinction important to him?]
Frank Dixon, Kingston, Canada (4232)
This disease of 'Grandmaster draws' has become so pervasive that drastic measures
must be taken, on the lines of the shot clock in basketball. We simply have
to do something dramatic, and must eliminate this evil phenomenon.
[Editor's comment: Frank Dixon is a Candidate Master player, arbiter,
organizer, patron, coach and writer, past Governor of the Chess Federation
of Canada, coordinator of post-secondary chess. Next is the perspective
from another chess arbiter who sees the situation very differently.]
Richard Evans, Shrewsbury, Shropshire (4362)
(quoting famed arbiter Geurt Gijssen from February 2004, in Ask the Arbitor)
I believe the majority of draw offers are correct, and I base this on more than
thirty years of experience as an arbiter. There is presently a lot of fuss about
grandmaster draws, but in modern chess there are relatively few draws like this.
The only events with a greater than usual amount of short draws are team competitions.
-- Geurt Gijssen
Gene Milener, Renton, WA, USA (4553)
The popular Sofia rule of banning draw offers has resulted in a draw rate of
56% (see M-Tel tournaments 2005-2007). That is barely any lower than the whopping
60% rate from the five latest world or FIDE championship events (Kramnik vs.
Kasparov, Leko, Topalov; San Luis 2005 and Mexico 2007).
[Editor's comment: Under Sofia, these statistics mean that out of 100
games, 56 will be drawn instead of 60. If Sofia prevents all unfought draws,
then the effort to fight on in unfought games affects the crosstable outcome
only 4% of the time.]
John Nunn, London (2729)
Given that short draws are often discussed, it is reasonable to ask how serious
a problem they are, and whether they are becoming more or less frequent. In
the following discussion, I will take a 'short' draw to be one in 25 moves or
less and for each event I will quote two figures: the percentage of games in
the tournament ending in draws and the percentage ending in 'short' draws. The
Linares 2004 event has become notorious for its high draw percentage (79% draws
and 33% short draws), but is this typical? Here are the figures for some other
|| short draws
|Wijk aan Zee 2005
|San Luis 2005 World Championship
As can be seen, the Linares 2004 event was exceptional both for its draw percentage
and for the number of short draws. The San Luis 2005 tournament, which has been
generally viewed as a fine example of fighting chess, has percentages which
are in line with those of other recent super-tournaments.
In many ways the problem of short draws has been much reduced over the past
20 years. If you want to see some high draw percentages, just take a look at
the super-tournaments from the mid-1980s. Reggio Emilia 1986/7 is a fine example,
with 78% draws and an amazing 42% short draws.
Accordingly, I don’t think there is the huge problem with short draws that
some people imagine.
Ignatius Leong and Leung Weiwen (2719)
A renowned Russian trainer also notes:
In the December 2000 match between Kasparov and Kramnik in Moscow, 3 out
of 4 games played with classical time controls ended in quick draws. Of course,
those were not pre-arranged draws – they were rather the results of over-developed
opening preparation, but nevertheless spectators often felt cheated. --
Only unfought draws are a significant problem
Relatively few writers explicitly said anything like "unfought draws are
a problem, but the high draw rate is not a problem". The majority of letters
proposed solutions to "the" draw problem. When a writer favors the Bilbao scoring
system, or making a stalemate a win, is he attempting to reduce the frequency
of draws or just of short draws? The intention is unclear.
Yet a few writers did specifically distinguish between unfought and hard
fought draws. Overall it seems that many feel only unfought draws are a problem,
and that many feel draws in general occur too frequently. Does that mean chess
fans like it when Black fights hard for a safe draw from the very beginning?
A question of definition: Suppose that before their game against each other
tomorrow, two players spend hours planning opening surprises for attack and
defense. The next day White springs his hard earned novelty on move 15, and
Black plays the nice defensive reply that he foresaw the prior evening. Neither
play has yet used much time. By move 20 the game is symmetric and balanced,
so the players agree to a draw. Is that an unfought or a hard fought draw?
Hanro Viljoen, Sandton, South Africa (4535)
"Match fixing or game fixing in organized sports occurs when a match is played
to a completely or partially pre-determined result" – Answers.com. GM
Chess tournaments often contain games that are as fixed as a Zimbabwe election.
Daniel Brandao, Florianopolis, Brazil (4362)
The problem is not the draws, but unfought draws. So, the problem is not the
system or the rules, but the players.
[Editor's comment: Many letters call for invitations to be withheld from
high rated players who too often accept early draw offers. Does blame belong
to these players, or to the Tournament Organizers who opt against adopting
the Sofia rule?]
Frederic Friedel of ChessBase.com (4232)
The draw problem is tied to a certain group of players who are more willing
than others to play quick, unfought draws. Mechanisms that address the problem
as though all players are susceptible to this kind of behavior do not address
the problem correctly.
Premature draw: between unfought and hard fought
Perhaps our casual labeling of bad draws as being "GM draws" or "short" or
"unfought" has obscured the existence of another type of questionable draw:
the 'premature' draw agreement.
One writer used the term 'cowardice'. Two players could fight hard for 29 moves
and then agree to a draw in a complicated or unresolved position (such as when
White is up the exchange but down in pawns or positional factors). They both
fear losing. Some letters writers seem to have this concept in mind. They seem
to say that the draw problems in chess go beyond short or unfought draws. The
following game might be one example.
Leko,Peter (2740) - Karjakin,Sergey (2660) [B90]
Corus Wijk aan Zee (2), 15.01.2006
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.Be3 Be7 9.Qd2
0-0 10.0-0-0 Nbd7 11.g4 b5 12.g5 b4 13.Ne2 Ne8 14.h4 a5 15.Kb1 a4 16.Nbc1 Nb6
17.Ng3 d5 18.Bxb6 Qxb6 19.exd5 Rd8 20.Bc4 Nc7 21.dxe6 Rxd2 22.exf7+ Kh8 23.Rxd2
Qc6 24.b3 Nb5 25.Bxb5 Qxb5 26.bxa4 Qxa4 27.Rhd1 Rxf7 28.Rd7 Kg8 29.Ne4 ½-½
Draw agreed prematurely? Fritz11 evaluates that Black's best reply would have
been Qc6 (–0.6/22).
Jens Christensen, Copenhagen (4347)
Dragan Solak uses a couple of examples where in 'normal chess' the game would
end by repetition, whereas in 'Bilbao chess' black would choose to go into a
slightly inferior position with winning chances. He speaks as if this is a bad
thing, but from my perspective (the Average Joe spectator) this sounds like
a stunningly good result. If the Bilbao scoring system stops players from taking
early (or even late) draws and continuing to play I say we implement it yesterday.
[Editor's comment: "(or even late) draws": that sounds like the 'premature'
draw that is somewhere in between an unfought draw and a hard fought draw.
Perhaps a hard fight should continue until a drawn outcome becomes 'inevitable'
(Mihael Ankerst's term)?]
Mihael Ankerst, Munich, Germany (4347)
My suggestion is to prevent draw offers which come up in positions which are
not inevitable draws.
Eric Duker, Columbia, Missouri, United States (4347)
Length of draws are meaningless, especially when the Sophia Rule is in effect.
The length of the draw is not proportional to competitiveness of the draw. I
can play a B+P vs. B ending for hundreds of moves and the ending will always
be a draw, but it will never be competitive. Statistics only show length and
not competitiveness (if such a thing is even objectively measurable).
Paschal Gay, Dallas, United States (4232)
I'm writing in response to Mr. Dorfmans' hypothetical critique of the Bilbao
scoring system as the best method of dealing with cowardice and dry play at
the grandmaster level.
Tobias Nordquist, Sandviken, Sweden (4232)
If it's a draw the audience wants to see it played out.
IM Julio Kaplan, El Cerrito, CA, USA (4347)
The Sofia rules force players to play out positions that, while clearly drawn
for any competent grandmaster, are still full of fight as far as the public
can see. I think it is important for games to be continued until the public
at large can see that the fight has been exhausted. For this purpose (and for
this purpose only), I think requiring permission before a draw is agreed is
a good thing.
Juan Rodrigo Fernandez, Madrid
Give more power to arbiters and let them decide if the game is a fair draw,
or there is still plenty of fight ahead. That is the main issue, people want
real fight and not prearranged draws. The problem then would be to judge correctly
the positions in which a draw would be premature and those in which a draw is
Chris, Boys, from Tiruvannamalai, India
As I see the challenge, it is this: to encourage fighting chess and to discourage
easy draws. When the players agree to a draw, the players are immediately given
feedback from the master database. If the game as ended deviated from a known
game by at least 40 ply from the last equal position, then the draw stands.
However, if the game ended before it deviated from a known game by that amount,
the game must continue.
[Editor's comment: Other writers have also mentioned Boys' idea of forbidding
draws until after the game has become unique to a database of known games.
Does this suggestion prevent games from ending as premature draws?]
High draw rate is a problem
Brian Theismann, Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota USA (4535)
I believe that the problem is with the game, not with the players.
Definition. I define the problem as "the excessive number of draws
in high-level chess." I choose not to define the problem as "short, pre-arranged
draws" because I am not convinced that they are that big a problem.
Effects. The biggest problem with draws pertains to what I call the
"ceiling effect." This refers to the tendency of strategy games
to be subject to mastery by dedicated players. After the draw-infested Kasparov
vs. Deep Blue match of 1997 I remember a commentator in the press drawing the
conclusion that the sport had been "solved".
Cause. It is illogical to think that the efforts of players could
be exactly equal in as many as 87 percent (2000 Kasparov-Kramnik match) of games
without the stronger player running up against the limits of possibility.
Solution. Make the game more challenging for the best players. 1.
Faster time control. 2. Make the strongest should be forced to play against
[Editor's comment: There is no contradiction between (a) the fact that
chess has more possible positions than there are grains of sand on the beach
and (b) that the complexity of chess is largely manageable by elite grandmasters.
So Mr. Theismann's "ceiling effect" is plausible.
In this case, is the "ceiling" (a) the limitation of how much opening
theory grandmasters can research and memorize, or is it (b) the huge yet manageable
complexity of chess itself, or something else?
After thinking about Mr. Theismann's letter, I realize now that in my
article I was essentially claiming that more piece power is needed to
avoid the ceiling effect.
I strongly agree with Theismann's view that the players are not to blame.
If there are draw problems, they are the fault of the rules and the people
who control the rules.
Regarding Theismann's second solution idea of increasing the Elo difference
between players (other letters echoed that idea), I do not see that as flowing
from his theme of the ceiling effect. Nor does it flow from his general solution
that we should "make the game more challenging for the best players". Not
that I have any better idea for this stubborn draw problem. Great letter.]
Nathan Solon, Montana, United States
I would argue that (1) the draw problem owes to the culture, not the rules,
of chess, and (2) the draw problem is closely related to the problem of marketing.
In trying to bring chess to a wider audience, there is a chicken and egg problem:
the high rate of draws makes the game even more boring than it already is to
outsiders, and the lack of commercial interest means there is little pressure
on players to produce entertaining contests. I think the best chance to solve
the draw problem lies in changing the culture of chess so that participating
in a sham draw would result in overwhelming disapproval from organizers, fans,
and fellow players.
Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA (4362)
Thank you for a great article on an important concern. Too many draws in general
make Chess less popular with the general populace.
Gene Milener, Renton, WA, USA (4553)
Some people say the high draw rate in elite professional chess is a problem,
while others say it is not. Neither group can speak for the other. I feel the
high draw rate is a big problem. I believe the example of shogi confirms that
the related problem of unfought draws is an artifact of the high draw rate among
Mussie Mengesha, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (4232)
The [Bilbao] idea suggested is really help to minimize the grandmaster draw.
But in my opinion any sort of draw must be seen as unaccomplishement because
the purpose of chess game must be to win.
Lawrence Gier, Grand Island, Nebraska USA
I favor a Blitz playoff game, where Black in the regular game gets white in
the playoff game.
Frank Chassey, Chicago, USA Draws are killing the ability
of chess to grow into a big money sport. [Suppose there was] only one way to
avoid a loss and that will be to win the game. This would make every game exciting.
The ancient Romans understood a sporting contest. You fight to the death.
Josu Fernandez, Spain (4237)
When competing in order not to lose instead of winning it means that regrettably,
something goes wrong. The consequences of this practise can be very harmful
to the sport itself, but also to ... sponsors and fans. FIFA was aware of this
danger and of the fact that football matches were reaching a stalemate.
[Editor's comment: Football games were ending in ties too often, but not
because the players were unwilling to hustle and play hard. In adopting Bilbao,
FIFA decided that the old point system rules were causing frequent ties, not
player fatigue or laziness.
So, excessive ties were deemed intolerable by FIFA even though the players
were playing hard. In contrast, the dominant opinion in the chess world is
that a high draw rate is tolerable, as long as the players are playing hard.
Are chess fans satisfied when Black plays hard for a safe draw from
the very beginning? In the same spirit with chess fans, FIFA preferred
an off-the-field rule change (points per win) instead of an on-the-field change
(make the goal a bit bigger).]
Are there good reasons for unfought draws?
The letters in this section relate to each other.
Rauan Sagit, Stockholm, Sweden (4535)
Why do two powerful minds agree on a short draw? What is the reason? It is fear,
fear of losing a game because of being in bad shape? Is it respect, respect
of the opponent having equal chances, being equally strong? Is it always the
same reason? Talk to the grandmasters that play or have played unfought draws.
Prompt them to explain the mechanism that drove them to make the choice. Ask
them to explain the reason. Because without knowing the reason, how can the
chess community speculate about possible solutions?
[Editor's comment: Next, Solak answers Sagit's questions.]
Dragan Solak, Yugoslavia (4253)
Chess fans don't enjoy quick, unfought draws. Neither do sponsors. If we want
to solve the problem (which obviously exists), we must first try to understand
how chess players think and why they make short draws.
Now let's try to understand why chess players act as they do. What are the
main objectives of chess players? From my perspective, some of the most common
- High rating
- Financial gain
- Tournament successes
- Having a good and easy time while striving for 1, 2 and 3
And while points 1, 2 and 3 are closely connected, point 4 is totally opposite
of them. And why do chess players make draws? In my opinion these are the main
- Relief from stress
- Lack of motivation to play
- Financial gain, norms, tournament success
- Important sport events
The most important factor by far is number one. I know many beginners who make
quick draws for this reason. I know many strong grandmasters who do it. There
are grandmasters who will almost always try to draw their white games with players
who are rated slightly or even much below them, just to avoid the stress. And
most of these players are aware that these draws are senseless.
Before the tournament most players are brave, they want to beat everyone, become
the champions. But as soon as the game begins, many start to ask themselves:
what if I lose? Is this a good moment to offer a draw? My position doesn't look
that good anyway. And my opponent has had some very good results recently. And
It is enough that for 30 seconds the 'difficult' part prevails and a draw may
be agreed. Other reasons for making quick draws appear less often, but still
exist. For example, in team competitions.
The solution is very simple: draw offers should be completely banned. And that's
it. And it works. The Sofia Rules are a good example of it.
[*Editor's comment: Would these feelings also occur in most other sports,
where they play onward anyway?]
Frank Dixon, Kingston, Canada (4243)
I get constantly annoyed when I see international norms scored by players who
have played one or more non-contested 'games' in order to achieve the magical
norm threshold. This disease of 'Grandmaster draws' has become so pervasive
that drastic measures must be taken.
[Editor's comment: How "pervasive"? Can you put a number on it?]
Nate Plapp, Lemon Grove, Ca, USA (4232)
Another [issue] is that few players actually try to win with black. They spend
lots of time analyzing at home looking for lines they can draw with as black.
[Editor's comment: Does White's advantage make chess more prone or less
prone to draws?]
Kung-Ming Tiong, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia
Great books in chess history: "My 60 Memorable Short Draws".
Duif Calvin, San Rafael, California, USA
The draw problem is only one symptom of the much larger issue of professional
chess. Once the national politics have been largely removed, why should the
casual fan care whether Player A wins, loses, or draws? Answer that question,
and the draw "problem" will resolve itself.
[Editor's comment: Jamie Duif Calvin received much praise for her May
2005 article titled "The Dark Secret to Promoting Chess".]
Peter Cafolla, Dublin, Ireland (2729)
I do not agree with the comments of Mr Weiwen and Mr Leong [about a post-draw
Blitz playoff]. In Open tournaments many lesser lights take great pleasure in
achieving draws with higher rated players. If this possibility was denied them
then a lot less players would enter Opens.
Jonathan Estey, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania (4347)
The true enemy of exciting chess: not good defensive technique, but cowardice.
[Editor's comment: Is the typical grandmaster afraid of making aggressive
moves that he judges are at least as good for his own winning chances as for
his opponent's chances?]
Tim Turner, Reston Virgina, USA (4522)
The problem with chess is that it's not a spectator sport.
[Editor's comment: Nobody rewatches entire old football games from twenty
years ago. But every day thousands of chess fans around the globe replay old
chess games. It could be argued that in this limited yet non-trivial sense,
chess the greatest spectator sport yet created. Now if only tournament organizers
could permanently attach sponsor advertisements to the front of each PGN game...]
Frederic Friedel of ChessBase.com (4232)
The real problem is often not short draws but cheating, which is very real in
the many open tournaments that are staged all over the world. It is often to
be observed that a group of strong players will take part in an open as a team.
One player elected to score maximum points and take the biggest possible slice
of the prize fund, which is then presumably shared according to a pre-arranged
system with the other "team members", who lose all their games to him.
The importance of context
In this excerpt from an exceptional letter, IM Julio Kaplan demonstrates
that there are more shades to the draw problem than are apparent from our usual
discussions. Two chess games with the same moves might differ in how hard fought
they are. Kaplan believes the repeatibility of chess games is an underlying
force in its draw issues. In contrast a soccer game is "not repeatable". For
this same distinction I have described soccer as an 'analog' sport, whereas
as chess is a 'digital' sport.
IM Julio Kaplan, El Cerrito, CA, USA (4347)
The analogy with soccer misses an important point that make chess unique: soccer
games are not repeatable. Chess games are. This has immediate, important consequences.
The interest of a chess game, and the sense in which it was a real fight, corresponds
to its history. For example, take many of the Ruy Lopez, Marshall Variation
games played today. If we were seeing this for the first timer, we might say
that Black "daringly" sacrifices a pawn in the opening*. A few moves later White
sacrifices an exchange on e4, offering to remain behind in material but take
over the offensive – what an exciting concept! Black refuses the offer, angling
instead for an endgame in which he hopes that his activity and two bishops will
be enough to draw. Finally, the game is drawn in the endgame – what a marvelous
By the twentieth time we see a game that meets this description, with minor
variations late in the game, this is totally boring, and even suggests that
the players, Black especially, are aiming for a draw. Exact same game, totally
[Editor's comment: Then I would say the context affects the narrative.
By giving White an inherent advantage, do the rules of chess motivate
Black to "aim for a draw"? If yes, does that motivation contribute to the
* Ruy Lopez, Marshall variation. Position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5
a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5
Next can come 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 Nf6, and Black is down
ChessBase articles on unfought draws
||Reactions to Milener's draw diagnosis
07.05.2008 – In his recent chess-3
essay Gene Milener claimed that chess variants like shogi indicate
that the high draw rate in chess is due to insufficient piece power in
the game. He then described a variant that would add piece power while
being as close to chess as possible. Reactions to the essay ranged from
interest to disdain. Here is a selection of feedback
from our readers.
||A new angle on understanding the draw problem
08.04.2008 – Some people say it is a serious
danger, others say it is not. Gene Milener, who works for Microsoft by
day, believes that the problem of unfought draws is an artifact of the
high draw rate among hard-fought games. In a remarkable essay he examines
other games and explains a different perspective on how the high draw
rate problem could be addressed. Must
Reader feedback: the great draw debate continues
27.03.2008 – "I propose," writes one reader,
"that a draw proposal should reduce the time at your disposal to 30
minutes, so you receive a great penalty at the beginning of the game,
decreasing to no penalty when you have only 30 minutes or less (at the
end of the game)." These and many other imaginative proposals have reached
us in the past weeks on a problem that is occupying the thoughts
of our readers.
Unfought draws – reader feedback
20.03.2008 – Last week we published an
article of the perceived problem of unfought "grandmaster draws"
in professional chess. Kung-Ming Tiong, a mathematician and logician
at School of Science and Technology, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Borneo,
Malaysia, put together the arguments presented so far, and his analysis
of their conclusions. Today we present further imaginative
proposals from our readers.
Unfought draws – mathematical, logical and practical
14.03.2008 – The problem of short "grandmaster"
draws is one that has occupied our readers for some time. A number of
proposals have been made, some quite ingenious, to force tournament
and match players to be more aggressive, risk more and go for wins.
Today we bring you a comprehensive analysis of the current state of
the debate, by a mathematician and logician in Malaysia. Long
||The problem of draws – feedback from our readers
04.01.2008 – The perceived problem of too many
unfought draws in chess has led to a number of imaginative cures being
proposed, involving the modification of the rules of the games, the scoring
system and the prize distribution. Over Christmas we presented a particularly
clever one: let the draw offer stand for the rest of the game. Here are
reactions to this proposal and new ideas. Long
||The problem of draws – a Christmas solution
29.12.2007 – It is perhaps not appropriate
to take up the subject while a tournament in Moscow is registering the
lowest drawing rate in recent memory. But the question of quick, unfought
draws still occupies the attention of our readers, and many have sent
in new and imaginative proposals. One is so clever that we advocate trying
it out immediately. The first organiser to do so gets to name
it after his city.
||Chess, football and the Bilbao Rule – Part II
15.11.2007 – The debate on the perceived problem
of too many – unfought – draws in chess, and what to do about it, continues.
The letters pour in and we keep receiving extensive, well thought through
proposals that attempt to create incentives for playing to win. Josu Fernández
presents closing arguments for the Bilbao System, while Serbian GM Dragan
Solak tells us why he
thinks it cannot work.
||Chess, football and the Bilbao Rule
08.11.2007 – The discussion and the search
for remedies for the perceived problem of short draws in chess continues.
Josu Fernández, a Spanish organiser, sent us a report on the effects of
the Bilbao 3-1-0 system on the football league in his country, and on
what this means for chess. Other readers too have submitted thoughful
papers on the subject. Again, it is a long
||The 'Bilbao Draw' – how it doesn't solve the problem|
28.10.2007 – Chess fans and organisers all
over the world are worried about the problem of too many draws in chess.
Actually: about pre-arranged or unfought draws. Many remedies have been
tried, including threats, prohibition and, most recently, the Bilbao system
of awarding three points for a win and one for a draw. Is that the solution?
No, says one astute reader and points to a possibly fatal
||ACP Survey: what the players think about draw offers
22.03.2007 – In February the Association of
Chess Professionals asked its members what should be done to combat short,
unfought draws, which are often perceived to be the bane of chess. The
ACP published a questionnaire, 171
||ACP Survey: What do you think about draws?|
11.02.2007 – Short, unfought draws are the
bane of chess fans. That at least is the public perception. The Association
of Chess Professionals (ACP), which has 227 members, has launched a questionnaire
to find a
||Embracing Risk in Tournaments|
14.12.2006 – The issue of playing style is
not normally given much consideration in chess. In an interesting article
computer scientist Darse Billings maintains that it is an important factor
in the probability of winning. A player who tends to win or lose games
has a significantly better chance of success in a tournament than a player
who draws a lot of games. Read
||The draw problem – a simple solution|
10.11.2005 – Recently Ignatius Leong and Leung
Weiwen made a very
radical solution to the problem of too many draws in chess. This led
to a vigorous debate amongst our readers – we bring you a selection of
their often very interesting letters. But we start off with the voice
of reason: John Nunn analyses the problem and proposes a much
||A Cure for SAD (Severe Acute Drawitis)?|
03.11.2005 – Draws, draws, draws – the problem
has always faced chess, and it seems that there is no clear way to solve
it. However, Ignatius Leong and Leung Weiwen, both of Singapore, offer
a radical new proposal that would decide every game of chess in a sporting
it catch on?
||Draws forbidden in Super-GM tournaments|
01.04.2005 – When a bunch of world class players
get together for a tournament the danger is that there will be a lot of
draws. A new organiser who is staging a Super GM event in Sofia, Bulgaria,
has come up with a new idea: ban draw offers. The participants have to
play on until the arbiter says they can stop. Will this become a fixed
feature in chess events?
||Short on draws|
18.03.2004 – "I know that with perfect play,
God versus God, Fritz versus Fritz, chess is a draw," writes Nigel Short,
who describes a deadly disease called Severe Acute Drawitis. "Those afflicted
with SAD display an uncontrollable urge to offer or accept premature peace
proposals." Read about it in Nigel's highly entertaining Sunday