The problem of draws – feedback from our readers

1/4/2008 – 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 interesting read.

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Feedback from our readers

John Nunn, London
A compromise is that a draw offer should remain valid for some fixed period, say ten moves. This will allow the person who has been offered a draw to test whether the offer was truly justified, e.g. by trying a daring line which may or may not be refuted by the opponent. If it is he can claim the draw on his tenth move, even if his position is losing. The limitation to ten moves avoids the potential problem of people playing on interminably after a draw offer, waiting for their opponents to blunder or overstep the time.

Eelke de Boer, Selebi Phikwe, Botswana
The idea of having draw offers remain valid is very good, but should be limited to say five or ten or max fifteen moves, otherwise it is somewhat unfair. Another optional extra would be that a draw offered may only be accepted three moves later, forcing players to at least reveal their drawing lines. I have toiled with an idea of allowing the player receiving the draw offer the option of changing colours at that point. It has pros and cons though. It only prevents agreed draws in unequal positions.

John Nolan, London
Regarding the proposal put forward by Brian Karen, extending a draw offer for the rest of the game could present its own problems. Even if a draw was offered in a "dead draw" position, there is a huge incentive for the opponent to continue playing as they are now immune to blunders while the first player is not. This could lead to long, boring passages of play following a (possibly quite reasonable) draw offer, which in turn could drain the players, provide no benefit to spectators, and, depending on your point of view, lead to the odd undeserved win. Maybe someone will have already suggested this, but perhaps the proposal could be refined by making the draw offer valid for the next few moves only (whether this be for the next 3, 5, 10, or other number of moves). Anyway thanks for the stimulating article!

Lars Dock, Stockholm
I think the Christmas draw rule is like banning proposals for a draw. No-one would ever accept a draw. But it can be improved a lot if you complete it with "a draw offer is valid for the following five (ten?) moves." That would be more interesting.

Jan Galka, Arlington, VA
Read your suggestions to avoid draws. Here is a new one. Have a tournament were only winners are allowed to the next round, draws and loosers are out. Players would risk a lot more and try to avoid the whole game to be "lost" in a draw situation.

Nick Beqo, Canada
I do not see what's wrong with Sofia rule. Above all, it prevents those unethical players that annoy the opponent by offering "draw". You know how many players have lost the game just because of it? PS: The picture with the fish looks creepy.

Rob Eisler
The "Christmas" draw rule mentioned in your recent article is something I have been suggesting for a little while. I have also seen it suggested online a few times, so the idea is not original to me. I think it is important to first define what we are trying to address with these rule changes. The point is to distinguish short/unplayed draws from normal draws, not to distinguish draws from decisive games. For this reason, I do not like the 3/1/0 system, as it treats all draws the same. A move minimum is better, since there is some correlation between the "deadness" of a draw and the length of the game. However, it is not perfect, as there are short games that really are dead drawn, and long games that still contain plenty of play. The option of having an arbiter in charge of allowing draws has the advantage that it is explicitly distinguishing the dead draws. But it does have the downside of involving this third party in the game, as well as the overhead of having this arbiter available.

The great advantage of the Christmas rule is that it punishes draw offers in exact proportion to the life left in the position. In a truly dead position, this rule has basically no effect, since the player offering has no losing chances anyway. In complicated positions, offering the draw is dangerous, since all danger is removed from the opponent.

Clive Waters, UK
I have given a lot of thought to a way of the draw problem, but one that does not change the rules of the game, and is also easy to use. A system should be able to apply to both closed tournaments and swiss tournaments. I strongly believe that such a system should only apply to tournament placing, as this effects prize money. With my suggestion everything stays the same, just how the final placings are worked out changes. In a swiss, an Arbiter can simply add a coloured dot to the player card. I think this system is simpler than the sum of progressive scores, for that matter. Also, players themselves can easily understand such a system, and how it effects them at any time during a tournament.

I suggest coloured bands. For example in a twelve player closed tournament. By rating seperate into three groups, band 1 blue, band 2 green, band 3 red. No of wins of blue outrank green wins, so one blue counts as two green, one green as two reds. This will seperate players who finished on equel points, and prizes! The real aim of any system should be to encourage the players in Band blue to beat each other!

In swiss tournaments, two players can finish on the same points, regardless how high up the boards they stood. Bds 1-5 blue Bds 6-10 green, so if I got my three points all on Bds 1-5, while you only gained two points on Bds 1-5, I outrank for placing + prize money. Again, this apply's only to wins, if you have only draws and no wins, you'll be last on your point total.

Evan Post, Philadelphia, PA, USA
I have two possible solutions to the "draw problem" in top-class chess: A) Eliminate the financial incentive to draw by eliminating prize money. Players would receive appearance fees (honoraria) and "best game" / "most beautiful game" prizes. If organizers were to reward artistic effort and not tournament ranking the number of fighting games would increase. B) Since a disparity in chess rating is understood to reflect a difference in chess skill, it seems to me only fair that the higher-rated player should receive fewer points from a drawn game. The better player ought to win the game; if he or she fails to win, the lower-rated player should reap the greater reward. Perhaps a .6 / .4 split would be fair.

Johannes J. Struijk, Terndrup, Denmark
Excellent idea. At least, at the top level where the arbiters know more or less continuously what is happening. At the lower levels it might become an arbiter's nightmare: "... what do you mean, I never offered you a draw!" So, don't make it a universal rule, but use it only at that level where the early draw really is perceived as a problem: there where organizers/sponsors and spectators invest money and time in seeing players play.

Mathew, New Zealand
Please cut down on your obsession with draws it is a drag to read... in this tournament the draw percentage was ... who cares! The real problem is short draws. I despise short draws but a game of chess ending in a hard fought draw is absolutely fine. Lets just worry about short draws when Linares comes around.

James, Oklahoma City, USA
The best solution to GM draws is to have a large, burly masked man standing at the table holding a cane. In the event it is declared that not enough "fight" has been exerted by the contestants, they are both caned on their bare backs with five lashes. The "fight" meter is determined by the audience who either claps or maintains silence. This would also increase attendance at events.

Richard Ruunke, Prince George, VA, USA
I suggested Mr. Karen's idea of the irrevocable draw offer to a number of club level competitors. The idea was uniformly approved, quite warmly approved by each competitive player who considered Mr Karen's suggestion. It places the proponent of the offer at an immediate and obvious disadvantage if the game is not a clearly drawn contest. It rewards behavior that we want - the clean and timely conclusion of games in which there is no hope of a win and it places at a disadvantage the player seeking to avoid conflict.

As good as the idea may be, we must keep in mind that the irrevocable draw offer does nothing to inhibit the prearranged noncompetitive game. One American jurist was asked to define what constituted an obscene photograph. He responded, "I cannot define it but I know it when I see it." We all know the effortlessly drawn game when we see it even if we cannot define it exactly. Today people point with pride to statistics showing a lowered percentage of draws. Another jurist remarked that "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics." As players become aware of the advantages, mathematically, in playing with a sharper style of play, draw offers will decline. The issue is more fundamental than mere percentages of draws.

The organizers of the tournament in Bilbao deserve great praise for their attempt to address and solve the issues around noncompetitive draws. They may not have solved the problem and their proposal may have attending disadvantages but they tried, all to their credit. They put the issue on the table.

A local chess player suggested something that others may have already considered. At the highest levels Black does well to draw and almost never wins. Witness the recent FIDE tournament in Mexico City where Black won only two of fifty-six games played. It may well be sound idea to eliminate the "half point draw" altogether, Black scoring a full point if the game is won by Black or if the game is drawn. White gets a point only if White wins. Yes, an Armageddon tournament, a tournament of so-called Armageddon games. At the highest levels of chess this is logical but this type of tournament may not work at the level of club / regional play. The proposal is fraught with potential unintended consequences. When you change the conditions of play in one aspect, you surely change many other aspects of play. One example: I suspect that the Armageddon tournament would place much greater emphasis on the endgame and late middle game. White, striving to win, would be inclined to launch endgames of a style and complexity not now 'comfortable enough' for a steady diet. One of my favorite opponents is a man who always plays first and foremost to win. I play not to lose. Which style would Armageddon tournaments foster and promote? Can we say at least that the Armageddon tournament is worth an examination?

Ong Yujing, Singapore
The concept of a "lasting draw" really appears to be creative and attractive, but I'm slightly doubtful of its practicality. Who in the right mind will offer a draw under such circumstances and concede "absolute advantage" to the opponent? In my humble opinion, if anything, draw offers under such a system will become a "desperation measure" when a player is losing. As such, it may not be effective in tackling "short, pre-mature draws". To me, the truth is that you can't prevent a draw from two "willing parties", unless you change the scoring system that benefits the "fighter" with 1 victory outscoring 2 draws, or you ban it outright. Anyway, my suggestion will be to allow the player who's been offered the draw to "choose the colour of the side" to continue the game. My rationale is that when you offer a draw, you are declaring that "I believe I can't beat you with best play." Since that's the case, why not allow the opponent to have the benefit to put it on onto the real test? Whenever a draw offer is declined, the player who declines get to choose either to just continue play, or to swoop sides with the opponent who made the draw offer.

I think this proposal not only benefits the players, but the spectators as well. For the players, they will probably think twice to offer a draw if they are having a slight advantage with their pieces. This may encourage(or literally, 'force') them to play on. If you are a "fighting player" you can reject a draw offer and exploit any inbalance in the position, with the choice to "swoop sides" if so desired. It also justifies draw offers in an absolutely equal position- you don't lose anything offering a draw in an equal position, which is only fair!

As for the spectators, won't they be excited to see such dynamics? At least, I think I will! I can't imagine the excitement when a draw offer is declined and the request to swoop sides is made!I am sure the entire chess community will come up with more proposals and criticisms, and I look forward to them. Last but not least, a very big thanks to chessbase.com for offering such a platform which may lead to an "evolution of modern chess"

Tim Kett, Cardiff, Wales
The debate you've stimulated has been very constructive and yes, after some further experimentation, we may be nearing the time the chess world can seek consensus on the best of several plausible options. (I do desperately hope it is done democratically though and not by autocratic edict from the top as per the way the new time limits were imposed).

1) "Draw offer stands for the whole game". I really liked this too and would suggest just one modification to it. The downside is that it would be possible for a player's genuinely reasonable offer late on in a game to be used against him for unnecessary 'torture' so perhaps a 10-move limit might be added i.e. offer stands for the next 10 moves and then lapses ?

2) Bilbao variants. As others have suggested 3-1-0 is too radical, but a "declining scale" for draws in one tourney e.g. 0.5 for the first, 0.45 for the second, 0.4 for the third etc could work well. Would need adjustment for longer tournaments perhaps.

3) Leave the draw at 0.5 but adjust ratings downwards once a players ratio exceeds an agreed threshold. Somewhat arbitrary and rather artificial but could work.

4) My own new idea is a variant on the "no draws before move 30 or 40" rule. No draws before move 30 or 40 and 3 or 4 hours play. Its not radical and avoids all the problems of upsetting the 'balance' of scoring & rating. If players still want to (tacitly or explicitly) pre-arrange a draw they still can, but its no longer possible to simply trot out 30 moves of theory and then shake hands. They'd have to sit for at least 3 more hours. To do that with the result already in mind would be demeaning and frankly, pretty embarassing. I'm sure the vast majority would simply think "hey, if I'm going to have to sit here that long anyway, I may as well play !"

Daniel Brandão, Florianopolis, Brazil
I have been watching the discussion over the chess draws and the Bilbao rule, and I realized that most of the readers who wrote to ChessBase do have the same opinion as me. The problem is not the draws, but unfought draws. So, the problem is not the system or the rules, but the players. Any attempt to modify the rules or the scoring system will lead to even bigger problems and make chess even more boring for spectators. The Bilbao rule, for instance, was created to discourage quick draws. But, actually, it really punishes every kind of draw, even those which are very interesting for the spectators. It also eliminates the possibility of playing for a draw, sometimes a useful strategy for Black which does not prevent hard-fought games.

I think the scoring system should not be modified, simply because it works properly. What must be changed is the players conduct. Not allowing a draw agreement without an arbiter's permission is an excellent option, because it does not mess with chess rules but reduces greatly the number of uninteresting/unfought draws. This kind of rules must be implemented in every kind of tournament, but I think it is not enough. There should be prizes for combative players and hard-fought games, which would stimulate players to play for a win, and organizers should not invite players who demonstrated a clear disposal to cowardly agree quick draws.

After all, I think it is clear that the problem is not the scoring system. There is no need to extra-score victories, but combative players must be recognized and rewarded. The draw should not be punished, but cowardly players should. Conceptual changes such as the mentioned above would not create any kind of impact over traditional chess, but would make players think different. It is what chess needs to become even more interesting and put an end to shameful quick draws.

Carl Lumma, Los Gatos, CA USA
Thanks for your continuing coverage of the Bilbao draw issue. Regarding the suggestion of Brian Karen, Levittown, NY, which you recently endorsed, I am at a loss to imagine why a player would make a draw offer under these conditions. The receiving player could always try to make complications -- even if only to tire his/her opponent -- before accepting the offer. Instead, I rather like the suggestion of Mihael Ankerst, Munich, Germany: randomly have players offering draws play the position against a computer instead. The other great suggestion I hope is remembered from your coverage is that of Mark Galeck, Sunnyvale, California: have players bid for the white/black split of the draw point (or determine it statistically). In all of this, I hope we don't lose sight of the fact that chess may be a theoretical draw... we only wish to stamp out those draws which reflect laziness on the part of players.

Jay Liu, New York City, USA
Why not just do away with the +1, .5,0 system and all the other silly stuff and work on a running Elo statistic, or something similar? So if you drew with a higher rated player, you go up draw points and the higher player goes down. This effectively discourages draws by simply not rewarding both players in most cases. I've heard the Elo system has inflation, but maybe someone can spend the time to come up with a closed zero sum adapation for tournament play?

Aparnesh Talukdar, Kolkata, India
I find your approval of the 'Christmas Draw rule' (draw offer lasts the entire game) rather hasty and unrealistic. Let's take a situation: I am defending a R+B+P v/s Q+2P ending. I offer a draw, opponent refuses. In his time-trouble, he blunders and loses his Q. Then he claims a draw (!!!!) due to the earlier draw proposal (!?!?!). So anyone can get away with a blunder if his opponent had proposed a draw anytime during the game. As for players agreeing beforehand to draw a game, since they will end the game with the draw offer, whether the draw offer is valid later on has no relevance.

Eugene Curtin, Kyle, Texas
I always regarded the stalemate rule in chess as artificial. It has given us many beautiful studies, but increases the margin of error allowed to a defending player. This matters greatly in our times when defensive technique is on a high level. How many times has a player pressed hard all game, reached a superior ending, is up a pawn but is robbed of the win because of this rule? The stalemated player should lose. For example, twice in the Kasparov-Kramnik match the defender relied on the fact that certain K+P v K endings are drawn, but they would be wins without the stalemate rule. The final position of Game three would be a win for white instead of a dead draw, Kramnik would have had to defend differently. And in Game four Kramnik could have played 61.Kc4 instead of 61.a7, as Kasparov would have had no threat to simplify. Making many worse endings harder or impossible to defend would have huge consequence on the correct play of many middle games. Increase the likelihood that the player willing to press for long hours gets a win in the end, and the number of players pressing will increase also.

Jessica Allen, Halifax, Yorkshire
I see no problem with short grandmaster draws. If two players can afford to draw and still achieve their desired placing in a tournament/match, the issue of blame for a draw should be directed, not at these players, but at other players in the match/tournament. To those for whom short draws irritate the answer is simple ensure should you ever meet the players you deride that you yourself do not give them a draw.

John Perciballi, Pensacola, FL
One interesting idea is to make the stalemate a victory for the "stalemater" and a loss for the stalematee (the one who is stalemated). This would not eliminate all draws but many positions, which if played all the way down to the final position, that are known to be a draw because it ends in stalemate -- the classic being a King and pawn vs. King ending. If you are in a real battle and you overwhelm and defeat your opponent (checkmate!) you win and victory is yours! If you are in a real battle and your opponent is cornered and he can't move (stalemate) you've won that battle (which side would you want to be on?). If he moves he is dead. I think this would encourage positions to be played out and may eliminate some of those "theoretical draws".

Jeremy Stone, London, UK
The latest round of responses and suggestions is full of interest. The key point comes out if we consider together the comments by Jerry Olsen, Xavier Araujo and James Conway: namely that the Bilbao rule is not proof against collusion, and that tinkering with the tournament scoring system in isolation does not suffice to stop this; whilst it is probably true that the Bilbao militates against collusive drawing, it does not prevent win-swaps, and even if it does not produce win-swapping within the boundaries of a single tournament, it does not prevent collusion between players to share the benefits of win-swapping across multiple tournaments, thus creating a trade-off between tournament prize money and Elo ranking points.

This is why the favoured Xmas suggestion misses the target. Simply making the draw offer non-retractable does slightly reduce the chances of collusion over the result of a single game (because it increases the risk that the recipient of the offer may renege on a prior agreement and play for a win if it suits him). But it does not address the multi-tournament arbitrage issue that the Bilbao fails to solve, and hence does not do enough to rule out collusion in the large.

For this reason, I believe some variant on James Conway's proposal to adjust the way the ratings system awards Elo points for a draw deserves much more serious consideration than your Xmas favourite, because it is addressing the more serious and more insidious problem. There should be some formula that sufficiently penalises short agreed draws via the ratings system to make it unnecessary to tamper with the classical tournament scoring concept, thus reducing the potential for new abuses such as win-swapping.

Vince Gerusz, Paris, France
Who hasn't been tired of short, uneventful if not strategico-perfide draws which cannot fail to plague otherwise repectable chess tournaments? Lots of different approaches have already been suggested or tried to prevent them (Sofia and Bilbao being probably the most famous ones). However, none of them really adressed the problem at its core: how can we prevent two determined players from making an effortless draw, thereby giving them a tournament and/or Elo edge at a timely occurence? The Sofia rules will never prevent colluding players from making a prearranged draw by three-point repetition or by drying up the game till exhaustion of forces, nor will Bilbao rules prevent fixed decisive games to share prizes later on. And cajoling invited players to make fighting efforts at all time will remain an archangelic thought...

  • Looking at the root of the problem reveals that short and/or collusion draws usually happen because:
  • One player just needs one to win the tournament or secure a prize
  • A higher elo or "in form" player offers one (black pieces, recuperation desire, tournament strategy)
  • Two out of prize players are giving up the fight.

All of these tournament "strategies" are evidently due to the fact that we are aware of our competitors, player's - including own's - ranking and current forms as well as tournament tables and results.

So the only drastic measure we could undertake to prevent this problem would be to play the entire tournament NOT knowing our opponents NOR the results! Just think about it -- no more possible easy draw conspiracies, no more fixed games, no more hammering of the out-of-form guy, no more final easy-draw-cause-it's-the-last-game-and-I'm-ahead, well in a way it would be real chess at all the games! An additional advantage would be to see fresher players who would have time to shave before the games because there would be no more need to prepare overnight against an unkwown opponent. This in a way would also leverage the chances of players who cannot afford to engage seconds to mount such preparations.

As for the ways to implement this novel rule, one can think of a variety of solutions that don't seem out of reach. One could indeed imagine all the players in different numbered rooms playing against each other by the means of assistants who would set the pieces in a central board room. For instance the first board in the central room would be player 1 against player 2. Assistant 1 in player 1 room sees the move of player 1, then goes to the central room and plays the move of player 1 on the first board where assistant 2 sees it and goes to player 2 room to play it, and so on. I am also confident that more technology-oriented people than me will think of ways to implement this measure on eletronically connected boards.

For the new type of excitement this would bring, just think of the press conferences during (in private) and at the end (public) of the tournament: "I bet you a beer I know my opponent of round 8, I recognized her opening touch!" or "So you tell me I played THAT guy in round 5?? I would have known I would have played more cautiously!"

Jon Tan, Manila, Philippines
This is my version of Bilbao rules. Loss - 0 points, Draw - 1 point, Win (White) - 2 points, Win (Black) - 3 points. Win should give higher points than draw, because its harder to do. And winning with black should be compensated more than winning with white, using the same reasoning. I think the current main problem is that Black usually shoots for a draw, and only White tries to win. If Black is offered a higher reward, then there is much to gain and little to loose. Black will always fight from the start. As for White, because they have advantage of the 1st move, they will always try to win. Hence, this system will make both side try to win.

Abdul-Rahman Sibahi, Saudi Arabia
I have been following the articles and discussions going on about the Short Draws Problem. However, so far, nobody approached the problem by anyway other than changing the scoring system from 1-0.5-0 to something else, like 3-1-0 or 7-3-0.

Another approach would be by tweaking the rules of the game slightly, so that there's a new condition of the game, called a Half-Win, or some other name, gets rewarded by more than a simple draw of three-fold repetition, 50-moves rule, or mutual agreement (which is, in this proposal, legal) but not as much as the full point. This wouldn't only encourage fighting spirit but it would also affect the course of the game. Picture this scenario, White starts attacking mercilessly, but by means of ingenious defense Black manages to neutralize so that White can no longer force a checkmate, but can, however, force stalemate, (i.e. he's left with two knights.) Now White can, instead, go for the lesser good, and try to half-win this game by Stalemate. This solution is, by the way, inspired by a popular chess variant by the name of Glinski's Hexagonal Chess.

The simplest and most straight-forward way to implement this in a scoring system would be 4-3-2-1-0. You get four points if you win, 3 if you half-win, 2 if you draw, 1 if you half-lose, and 0 if you're wiped off the board mercilessly. Of course, it should be possible to half-resign instead of fully resigning, but this should need the other player's consent. Admittedly, this is a rather radical solution which most organizers, players and spectators wouldn't agree with, because it changes the way chess is played from the roots (but is that necessarily a bad thing?). Surely, a simpler, more tested, and more acceptable solution is the Sofia rule, which would have my vote in case the Half-Win Proposal was rejected.

PJ Costello, Amsterdam, Holland
I believe the answer to the problem of GM draws is far more simple than those proposed. I apologize in advance if my proposal has already been offered, which is possible, though I have not yet seen it. The answer is to simply eliminate the 1/2 point players receive for drawing. They get a goose egg, a "0", just as if they had lost. This would make any collusion useless, in terms of winning an event, and if GMs get their knickers in a knot over the impact on their ratings, I suppose a concession could be made where a "D" in the tournament record would denote the draw so appropriate effect on their ratings could be accounted for. In case of a tie at the end of an event, and there certainly will be many, their performance rating for that event could be used. In the unlikely event we still have a tie, then first place goes to the player with the lower Elo at the start of the tournament or match. This solution completely destroys any incentive whatsoever for drawing, and does so without all of the contortions needed in some of the other methods. It is simple, straightforward and effective.

David Kerrigan, Syracuse, United States
Every solution propose fails for the same reason. They try and somehow give value to a draw while at the same time claiming that there are different types of draws. I'm in favor of just making draws worth 0. If you win you get 1, if you lose you get 0 and if you draw you get 0. The difference between a loss a draw is that both players get 0. This means you have neither gained or lost ground on your opponent while you would have lost a lot of ground to winners in the round.

Dr Andreas Georgiou, Limassol, Cyprus
My proposition is to split the point according to the formula:

p1=E2/(E1+E2)
p2=E1/(E1+E2)

where p1, p2 are the points each player gets from a draw and E1, E2 are the Elo ratings of the two players. Example: Player 1 has Elo rating 1600 and player 2 has Elo rating 2400. Then in the case of a draw player 1 gets 2400/(2400+1600)=0.6 points and the player 2 gets 1600/(2400+1600)=0.4 points. This will count for the overall position in the tournament. This method will force the stronger players to try harder for a win. Furthermore it will simplify the tiebreak issues.

Dinesh Panchamia, Gandhinagar, India
The only factor to reduce drawing games is money. Simply make a rule in every tournament/matches that the player with maximum number of draws cannot be the winner and also the prize money be reduced proportionately to the number of draws. It is quite clear for anyone to understand the logic behind this to get rid of this problem of draws.

Michal Krasenkow, Gorzow Wlkp., Poland
Fighting against unfought draws is like combating with windmills for one simple reason: if both players want a draw, nobody and nothing can stop them from making it. They will definitely find a way to evade any obstacles (making a required number of moves, reaching a drawish position, constructing a threefold repetition etc.). If we exclude some suggestions changing the very essence of chess (e.g. eliminating draws altogether), the other anti-draw measures (already applied, like the Bilbao, Sofia, 30 and 40-move rules, or suggested in the discussion) can only have limited (although very important) effect preventing irritating premature draw agreements in uncertain positions. Each of these measures has its merits and drawbacks.

I think, we should distinguish official championships from commercial tournaments. For the former ones, indeed, strict rules should be established but on the other hand, in my opinion, the problem simply doesn't exist. The very rank of the event attracts public interest to it and the very stake (the Champion's title, the medals, the glory, which is more important for ambitious players than money prizes) encourages tense fight. How many short draws were there at the recent World Championship tournament?

At commercial events the decision on possible "anti-draw" measures should be taken by the organizers, and players should decide whether to accept such conditions or not. FIDE, in my opinion, should just establish a framework to forbid rules converting chess into something else (e.g."draw = win for Black" etc.). Then the "free market", together with public criticism, will solve the problem. E.g. if an organizer decides to invite his "friends", who will make unfought draws, instead of fighting players, it is his matter and his responsibility before the chess world.

Mark Liew, Singapore
I agree that BK's draw rule is an interesting one, but one downside to that in the end, no one would make a draw offer, because it conveys no advantage whatsoever. It produces a 'heads I win tails you lose' scenario for the opposition.

Nick Beqo, Canada
I do not see what's wrong with Sofia rule. Above all, it prevents those unethical players that annoy the opponent by offering "draw". You know how many players have lost the game just because of it?

GM Nigel Davies, Southport, UK
The solution is actually very simple. Organisers can change the incentives by just restructuring the total budget for tournaments so as to offer separate prizes for wins. This can either be done with offering prizes for the most wins, second most, third most, etc., or by offering a certain amount for each win. As there seems to be no shortage of wild-eyed extremists amongst those who contribute their ideas to this matter, I should make it clear that 'win prizes' should be smaller than the main prize list. Draws are not a crime, very often they're the natural outcome of a game.

Max Illingworth, Sydney, Australia
I have come up with my own suggestion as to how to solve the problem, which is to ban all draw offers from positions which have occurred in practice, excluding of course the endgame. That way, one of the players would have to play a novelty in order to be able to offer a draw. Not only would this avoid very short draws at the international level, but also contribute to the development of opening theory, since every single top-level game would feature a new move. Another major advantage of this system is that, unlike systems involving the change of scoring and rating, it would not upset any players and I think it would be embraced by nearly all players and organizers.

One possible shortcoming of this system is that the arbiters would need to use a database to check whether the position has occurred in tournament practice or not, and different arbiters would have different databases. However, I think this problem could be solved easily by FIDE inventing a new law that all International Arbiters need to use a specific database when checking to see if the position on the board has occurred in tournament practice before.

The only problem I can think of with this system is that in the case of a rare opening variation being played, the players could agree a draw in less than 15 moves, but at least every game would contribute to opening theory in some way.

Miguel Garcia-Blanco, Adelaide, Australia
One suggestion is to make a player's combined prize and participation fee subject to the player's number of decided games and hard-fought draws, which is defined as a draw that extends at least 5-ply beyond book (using a large database of games). E.g., in a tournament of 10 rounds a player is allocated a participation fee of $1,000 and wins a prize of $5,000 ($6,000 combined). During the tournament the player won 6 games, lost 1, and drew 3. Two of the drawn games did not extend beyond book lines, and were declared to be non-fighting draws by definition (even though the games may have been genuinely hard-fought). The result is that the player is awarded only $4,800 (%80 of $6,000). Of course, the penalty, the "fighting draw" definition, and perhaps the openings book used for reference would have to be agreed upon before the start of the tournament.

Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA
Thank you for a great article on an important concern. There seems to be three issues which are intertwined and which confuse matters:

1. Too many draws - too many draws in general make Chess less popular with the general populace - one has to be like chess and be of a certain level to appreciate why the draw was actually an interesting game. Most of the proposals like to penalize drawing by adjusting scoring.

2. Too many agreed-upon draws - these short draws are probably what really annoy fans and organizers: two GMs show up and rattle off about 13-14 moves and then agree upon a draw. Since you have been using football as an example, imagine a World Cup or UEFA Cup fixture where the two sides kick the ball around for 10-15 minutes and call it a day, pick up the ball and head to the dressing room happy with a nil-nil result. One would see a riot of epic proportion! Most of the proposals approached this problem by either mandating the number of moves or some other artificial requirement.

3. Round robins and swiss tournaments often don't build to a climatic final round - in fact in most round robins, the "decisive" encounter may have occurred rounds earlier and in swisses, the real struggle is in the penultimate round - by the last round, players are often willing to take a quick agreed draw to guarantee a payday. A logical professional decision but makes for a dull last round. This is an important factor why draws are so deadly - they occur at the wrong time! No one wants to see the last round end with a series of listless draws. Imagine traveling to see a match or tournament in person only to have a cursory few moves and then a draw at the last round.

So what can one do? Your favorite option is a good, but until the other concerns are addressed we'll still see too many listless draws - which frustrates even the most diehard fan. What other competitive sport/game allows collusion between the competitors?! Imagine, would we tolerate Federer and Nadal meeting ahead of time and agreeing to split the first four sets and only playing the fifth set "for real"?

Mark Warriner, Richmond, VA USA
At first I really liked the idea, but then after some thought I decided that Brian's idea (as per "The problem of draws - a Christmas solution") would not result in better chess. The only difference is that instead of short draws, you'd have a lot of poor quality games ending in absurd positions, and a few unsound, speculative attacks that succeed. Nice try, but don't think that this is better than the alternative; different, to be sure, but perhaps even less logical.

Richard Evans, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
I independantly thought of this 'Draw forever' rule back in 2004 and sent to Chess Cafe 'Ask the Arbiter':

Question: I understand the rules concerning the offer of a draw. However I don't quite see the reason for the draw offer only being valid until the opponent completes his move. I think it would be better if, once a draw offer has been made it stands for the entirety of the game. Thus the opponent may claim the offered draw even on the point of being checkmated. Hence the offer of a draw forfeits that player’s right to win the game. This would greatly reduce the number of short draws, encourage aggressive play, and stop annoying repeated draw offers. – Richard Evans, (UK)

Answer: Well, your proposal is very interesting and original. 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, especially the Olympiads. And even then mostly in cases in which everything regarding the final standings has been decided. Many players don’t like to take risks in team events because they are afraid to lose rating points. There was once a proposal not to rate team events and I support it. In tournaments, for instance, the colours are more or less in balance. In team competitions such is not the case. There are always players who play more with one colour than another. Also in individual tournaments it is impossible to escape playing against a specific opponent. In team competitions it is quite easy to do so. In my opinion it is unrealistic to adopt your proposal. – Geurt Gijssen.

Asbjoern Jensen, Narvik, Norway
I once made this suggestion in an Norwegian discussion forum. (3-5 years ago). The high rated players that replied did not like it. Their argument was that it was their games so they decide, or something like that.

Vlad Rekhson, Edmonton, Canada
I just wanted to comment on the draw proposal rule. I know that the system in which the player offering a draw can't retract his offer until the end of the game was proposed by David Ottosen, originally from Edmonton, Canada and currently from Costa-Rica. But I don't know for sure that this idea was originally his. Personally, even though I do like this idea, as an organizer I would be somewhat reluctant to make a tournament like that, because I wouldn't be able to rate it either with FIDE or with the Canadian Chess Federation, so that would have to be an unrated event. The reason that I wouldn't be able to rate it is because those rules would violate the laws of chess stating that a draw offer is only valid until its either verbally rejected, or another move has been played on the board. By comparison, the other anti-draw rules do not violate the FIDE laws of chess.


Previous articles on the subject

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.

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 flaw.

The Bilbao Draw – feedback from our readers
06.11.2007 – In a recent article one of our readers analysed the system used in the recent Bilbao tournament, which awarded three points for a win, one for a draw and zero for a defeat. Ron Dorfman came to the conclusion that this does not prevent short draw but may in fact encourage collusion amongst player. A lot of our readers disagree, and many have proposed profound alternatives. Long, interesting read.

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 interesting read.


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