Unfought draws – reader feedback

3/20/2008 – 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.

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Reader feedback and further proposals

Hoang Nghia Le, Warsaw, Poland
I propose a solution, which I believe if it will be used, there will be a revolution in chess tournaments. But first I give some backgrounds of chess history. The first great players (maybe except Philidor), were very aggressive players. There games were beautiful tactical fights. However the games had positional blunders and so their quality is low according to contemporary level of chess knowledge. Steinitz was the first to notice this problem, and he led a new school of positional playing.

From Steinitz time, the chess players are divided in two school of two play styles: the aggressive school (Alechin, Keres, Brointein, Tal, Fisher, Kasparov, Shirov, Morozewistch...) and the solid school (Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Nimzowitsh, Botvinik, Petrojsan, Karpov, Kramnik, Kamsky...). There are also players who play both styles (the universal ones), like Spassky and Anand. They are two schools fighting with each other, but the effect is constant improvement of the quality of chess play. I can say about a dynamic balance between the two schools, that lasts more than a century up to now.

The problem is that solid players have tendency to draw more than aggressive player. Some of them go further, they prefer first to draw in a tournament and hang around, saving their energy for later rounds. The effect are GM's short draws.

The solution to the problem should fulfill three criteria. First, discourage GM's short draws. Second, encourage aggressive players. And third, do not force the solid school to change their play style. The Bilbao system (3/1/0) unfortunately does not fulfill the last criterion. I think it would not be accepted by at least 50% of the GMs, especially those of the solid school. I propose a solution, which is a compromise that fulfils the three criteria. I call it a "doubled rankings" system for round-robin tournaments.

In a round-robin tournament, we define two rankings: the "solid" and the "aggressive" ones. In the solid ranking, a player score is calculated according to traditional 1/0.5/0 ratings (1 for the winner, 0.5 for the drawers and 0 for the loser in a game). In the aggressive ranking, the ratings is 1/0/0 (1 for the winner, 0 for the drawers or loser in each game).

When a tournament finishes, we can have one of two situations: first, if we have one leader of both rankings, then he/she becomes the champion of the tournament. Second, in the case of two different leaders of the two rankings, there will be the final match of the tournament, after which the winner will be proclaimed the champion of the tournament.

What are the gains of this solution? First of all, we don't discourage solid players from their play styles. They can calmly play as they have been doing so far and be prepared for the final match. Second, we encourage "mad" players, like Morozevich now, or Tal in the past, to continue their best play even after some first lost rounds.

Third, the tension of the tournament will be kept to the last rounds, since it is much more difficult for one player to maintain the leadership in both rankings. I believe that in most cases, everything can be changed in the last round. Reviewing the last WCC in Mexico, I see that if this system had been used, in his last game Anand would have had to try to win the game with Leko. Otherwise, he would have had to meet Kramnik, Gelfand or even Morozewitch in the final match (if at least one of them had won the last game, which would have been very probable, since motivation had been the greater).

Forth, the spectators might have great chance to see an exciting final match, in which everything is decided in knockout style of the best players of the two schools. The round robin enriched with this element will be much more delightful. And last but not least, I believe the GM draws could not be practiced more, because it simply means forfeiting the aggressive ranking and giving aggressive players more chance to play the final match.

Jerry Olsen, Los Angeles, USA
In your latest article on the subject, this suggestion posed: When a player offers a draw, that offer remains in effect for N moves (maybe 5 or 10 moves, or maybe for the rest of the game!). This would certainly make a player think twice about offering a draw. It gives his opponent complete freedom to try out some risky line – without the risk!

But is it the best solution (let alone, the best value for N)? I still don't think it is the best solution. The main downside is that these GM games are recorded and retained for future analysis and study. With the proposed rule in effect, you may find yourself reviewing a game where one player makes a shocking blunder, plays on for a few more moves into a sure losing position – only to have the game end a draw! Why? Because, unknown to you, the future observer, a draw offer was made just prior to the blunder.

We don't need to spoil the integrity and usefulness of the body of recorded chess games by introducing this rule. If we want to discourage draw agreements, why contrive such a convoluted rule that has side effects? Just disallow draw agreements! That is, use the Sofia rule. It's the best and simplest approach to the problem. The only argument I've seen against it is that it requires a 3rd party to permit a draw. But we are talking about GM events, which always have a knowledgable, professional arbiter who is well-qualified to make such calls, so what's the problem?

Jordan Stevens, Chicago, Illinois
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". What do I mean by that? 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, of course unless your team is New England Patriots like. Now let's take a look at Hockey, a sport brought over from Russia. In Russian and European hockey leagues, there are numerous draws and very few fights. In American hockey, we've made it so that the game cannot end in a draw, and a good hockey game is only good if there is a good fight or two in it. Now the sports that we Americans made. Football, Baseball, Basketball. Basketball won't end is a tie due to the addition of overtimes, and sometimes the game will last 4 or even 5 overtimes just to find a winner, which adds up to a whole extra half in college basketball. In baseball, extra innings are added on until the score isn't tied anymore (and a 20-inning baseball game just isn't fun). Football is the ONLY professional sport out of the top four sports that has a chance to end in a draw, and it hasn't happened since the 2002 Pittsburgh/Atlanta game, and its happened I think fewer than ten times in the NFL's 40+ year history. It's simple. People want to Americanize chess in the same way, but people didn't complain a hundred years ago over drawn games. So I say leave draws the way they are now.

Mark Vogan, Houston, TX, USA
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 American politics you concede some states. 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?
By the way, you will not see GM draws in match play; they only occur in tournaments. Spectators should not come to a tournament expecting to see a match.

Robert Luck, Tualatin, USA
Maybe it's as simple as not counting draws in the scoring at all. Winners win prizes. Use the draws only in some tiebreak system that incorporates the relative ratings of the players involved so as to positively weight draws against stronger opponents.

Rick Massimo, Providence, RI, USA
I like the idea of draw offers being good for the entire game. The criticism I have heard so far amounts to "The draw offerer is under stress the rest of the game." Um, yes – so don't offer the draw! Have these critics forgotten that the idea is to REDUCE the number of draw offers in positions that still have play in them? The Sofia Rules are good, but if 50 seems like an artificial number, why not eliminate draws by mutual agreement altogether? I mean, what other sport has such a thing - the contestants can agree to a tie at any time? I'll bet dollars to donuts that the only reason draws by mutual agreement were ever allowed in the first place was to save everyone the last half-hour of, say, K+R vs. K+R.

Kajani Kaunda, Blantyre, Malawi
I love chess. I am also a four time National Chess Champion of my country. Of course you could argue that that does not make me strong! Which if you did mentally or otherwise, then my point will have been made. Which is: speakin the truth is not the prerogative of STRONG players. And this is what I intend to do now:

I am getting tired of this draw bashing. Whats wrong with a draw? Short or otherwise? Most if not all authors who bash draws make them themselves. So where is the objectivity. You should not try to change the rules that have been there for hundrends of years just because you are not skilled in the game!. Do you really think you could sway the chess community with draw bashing articles with the objective of effecting a change in the rules? Are you that naive, manipulative, hypocrytic or plain evil? ... I could go on and on. But if you are smart, then you will understand what I mean. And the test on whether you are really objective will be in whether you publish this or not.

Lele D'Oct, Italy
I was thinking about draws in chess. What is, exactly, a draw? Neither of the player won. But, since usually the two players have different strenghts, maybe it's the case to think at a draw in this way: the strongest player didn't win, and the weaker player didn't lose. Now, the problem is just: how to split the point between players?
I'm no mathematician, and I'm not able to provide a concrete equation to solve the problem, but I do have a concept: the "draw shift". It's just a matter of finding the right equation to achieve a couple of goals:

  • keeping the shift between 0 and 0.3, meaning that in case of a draw, point splitting can vary from 0.5-0.5 to 0.2-0.8: the greater the Elo difference, the greater the shift.
  • raise the shift progressively as the mean Elo goes up: a 10 pt. difference between, say, 1600 and 1610 has not the same weight as a 10 pt. difference between 2750 and 2760.
  • always split the point, if the shift is greater than zero, in favour of the weaker player.
  • The draw point splitting can be calculated and officially presented to players before the start of the game.

In this way, with the "draw shift", the strongest player is deterred to lightheartedly offer an easy draw, and he may not be so inclined to accept an easy draw from his weaker opponent. Also, I think this shiftable draw point splitting is fair even in the case of a hard-fought draw: after all, the strongest player didn't manage to win, and the weaker player managed not to lose...

Andrew Jones, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
In football, draws are rewards for not losing preliminary matches. But in international tournaments there must be a decision even if by shootout. There can't be sudden victories or shootouts in chess. Decisions are desired but draws are frequent. Draws deserve some reward for not losing but the current point system favors draws and has no way to reward players who play for a decision and lose.

A new point system could be: 1 point for a win and 1/2 point for a draw and (this may seem counter-intuitive) 1/2 point for 2 losses. The number of wins would be the first tie-breaker between same point totals, and the second tie-breaker would be the fewest draws.

An example in a tournament where each player had 10 games: 6-4, 6-3-1, 5-1-4, 5-2-3, 5-1-4 and 4-0-6 would all recieve 7 points. But their place in the tournament would be in this order: 6 wins is better than 5 or 4, regardless, and (if there is a need for a change at all) the less draws the better. One would not be tempted to lose, as losses would effect rankings. Also notice that 5-0-5 recieves more points than any other combination that has 5 wins. Wins and draws are a better combination than wins and losses, but wins and losses are a better combination than few wins and many draws. Please call this the Tennessee solution.

Brian McLaren, Vancouver, Canada
Rather than have complicated rules about when draws can be offered why not have something simple? The tournament winner should be the one with the most wins. Draws should be counted only for tiebreaks. For example, someone with one win and eight losses would finish ahead of someone with nine draws. However, someone with one win, one draw and seven losses would finish ahead of them both. Most of the emphasis would be on playing for a win. If a player like Morozevich was in a tournament, the other players would have to work harder. It would certainly be more interesting for spectators.

Robert Bernard, Glen Ridge, NJ, USA
I haven't seen this suggested before: at the beginning of the game, a draw can be offered at any time, but only by Black. If Black offers a draw, White must accept or decline before White moves (as normal). If White accepts, game over – draw. However, if White declines, then the next draw offer can only be made by White. The opportunity to offer a draw switches between Black and White are the game progresses. A friend of my likened this to the "doubling cube" in backgammon, but called it the "drawing cube".

This will make draw offers more rare, as you will not have an opportunity to make them whenever you want. However, in "dead drawn" positions, where both players known it is "dead drawn", one person will offer and the other will accept without question. Of course, if two GMs want to quit after nine moves and call it a day, that is their right.

Here's another idea that's a spinoff of the Chirstmas offer. A player's draw offer can be claimed by his/her opponent but ONLY if the position can be repeated (i.e., no captures, no pawn moves, no loss of castling or en passant rights). In that way, the player who has the chance to claim the draw cannot do some sort of speculative attack, sacrificing pieces, and thrusting pawns, as that will make the draw offer expire immediately.

Hans Everaars, Venlo, Netherlands
John Nunn is always interesting, but this time I beg to disagree. All moves in a chess game ought to be "real"; there is no place for what-if analysis, for testing. Could it help to forbid draw offers until the first time control? Then allow them only on moves 50 , 60 or whatever multiples of 10 apply? A draw offer is annulled by the next mutation on the board.

Mark Wells, Los Alamos, NM USA
In reading the voluminous feedback from "The problem of draws" it occurred to me that verbally offering a draw is quite different from silently moving a piece on the board. Maybe it should not be! Suppose each player had an extra "Offer Draw Piece" (ODP) that he or she could move to a designated "Offer Draw Spot" (ODS) on the table away from the board. Acceptance would occur at the instant both players' ODP's are on the ODS. Besides placing your ODP on the ODS (when its your turn) you may also remove it if already there. Thus your draw offer can be rescinded anytime it is your turn. To simplify the implementation of this idea, I suggest that the extended line between rows 4 and 5, near the clock, act as the ODS and one of your opponents captured pieces as the ODP. (Offering or accepting a draw before you have captured an opponent's piece seems practically unlikely so can safely be outlawed, if desired).

Harry Cohen, Ellicott City, MD USA
I have a suggestion that would make GM chess matches decisive without changing the basic rules or scoring of matches. When a draw occurs in a game (due to statemate, 50 move, repetition, or agreement), clocks are stopped, the opponents switch colors, and begin a new game, with each player starting with the time remaining from the previous game. The process continues until one player wins. For this to work, the games should be played with one long control (e.g., game in three hours). This would eliminate drawn matches and provide up to six hours of exciting chess for spectators.

George Daubert, Harrisburg, PA, USA
Here's one solution I have yet to see anyone propose anywhere: when a game ends in a draw, have the players start a new game, colors reversed, with whatever time is remaining on their clocks. Repeat this process until one person runs out of time, or a game completes in a non-drawn fashion. The benefits are: it's difficult to circumvent the system, if a draw (offered or otherwise) starts a brand new game; no modification to the scoring system is required; no modification to the rating system is required.

W. Sean Harrison, Nashville, Tennesee, USA
What a fantastic piece! Very interesting, very informative, and stands to have an impact on the entire chess community. I like the suggestion of leaving the draw offer open, but leaving it open a certain (predetermined or not) number of moves seems questionable. I'd suggest leaving it open until the next capture by either player – this adds new tactical considerations to earlier positions (will a player now execute a questionable sacrifice in order to nullify a draw offer, etc.) and reduces the chance of abuse in the endgame, where the opportunities to nullify the offer would be reduced.

Iain Reeve, Surrey, England
We don't like grandmaster draws because they deprive the spectators of exciting chess. So how about this for an idea – all games that finish by a draw within a certain time limit should be followed by an immediate rematch with reduced time limits. If this second game is also drawn, a third rematch is started straight away with further reduced time limits. This continues until there is a result or until the allocated time for the match runs out.

Of course, deliberate draw-meisters could get around this by dragging out their first "main" games. But this would deprive them of some of the advantages of a short grandmaster draw. Arbiters could also be given the power to intervene if neither player is making a serious attempt to win the game, and both are simply trying to run the clock down. Something similar applies in soccer, where the ruling body can take action if a team is not trying hard enough.

Final thought: the main problem here is the attitude of the players. They want short draws to save their energy for later rounds or to ensure a norm/ Elo benefit. Fair enough, but if we do not make chess exciting for spectators, we run the risk of losing sponsorship and damaging the long-term economic viability of the game. So the players are pursuing an understandable short term gain at the risk of long-term disadvantage. This line of reasoning suggests that the answer is not with rule changes – it lies with the strongest players themselves. They have the ability to make or break this game.

So I would like to introduce the ChessBase declaration: "I believe in fighting chess and will take all reasonable chances to win. I will not play a pre-arranged draw or otherwise work with my opponent to direct the game into a draw." I am sure that the wording could be improved. Then we should invite all grandmasters to sign up to the ChessBase declaration. Who knows, we might even have tournaments that are open only to players who have signed?

Mirik Suleymanian, Richmond VA, USA
I've read all the opinions about fighting the Draws in the chess. There were a lot of interesting ideas and suggestions. But none of them solves the problem, simply, perfectly and fairly. Why? Because there is none. Who thinks that there is simple solution is kidding himself. The solution I'll propose at the end will not be simple and perfect either.

I want to express my opinion about some of the ideas. First of all I think it is wrong to think that chess players have an obligation to entertain the spectators, even at the expense of their interests. The point is that the players and spectators have completely different interests. The ultimate goal of the player is to win the tournament by all means, within the rules of the chess game, but not to entertain the spectators, especially when most of them don't pay for that. For these reason each player approaches to the tournament with his/her own strategy, for example making a draw with black and winning with white, or making a draw with strong players and winning against the weak ones.

Some of the ideas suggest prohibiting short draws, forcing the players to make some minimal number of moves (30 or 40) or to play for some time (3 or 4 hours). That is simply not right. What do we mean when we say short draws? 15 or 20 moves? But there are a lot of cases when after 20 moves there is nothing left on the table to play, and other cases when even after 40 moves there are still a lot of pieces and the position is not clear yet.

As to the arbiter's role, I can assume that any decision of the arbiter will be subjective, because in some positions one arbiter may declare a draw but another one may still force to continue. Using different scoring system (3-1-0 or 3-2-1-0) is mostly impractical. Giving players different Elo rating points according to their own ratings will not solve the problem or stimulate the players, because in most tournaments the ratings of players doesn't differ much, about 100 points or something like that. Not giving a point to players in case of a draw is not fair, because most of the draws are well fought draws. Giving another player who was offered a draw another five or ten moves until he/she responds is not fair to the player who offered a draw – the punishment is not equal to the "crime". If the player who was offered a draw makes a move, the offer should be invalidated immediately, why give him/her another 5 or 10 moves to respond and play safely.

Here is my solution: just eliminate draws. In many sports there is no draw, the players or the teams must play on until one of them wins. For example in tennis it is a tiebreak, in basketball it is overtime, in soccer it is penalty shots. Why not imply something like this to the chess? If the game ends up in a draw, the players should continue to play blitz until one of them wins. The only stipulation should be that the player who was playing with white starts with black, and after that they alternate the color. In this case the player who was playing with white will think twice before offering a draw.

Wallace Hannum, Menlo Park, CA
History has shown that several changes in the past have improved the game. For example, the introduction of the clock in competitive chess, increasing the power of the queen, and establishing a world championship (and therefore a legacy). However, any changes to scoring (i.e. 0 for draws or 3-1-0 scoring) would be very foolish. I think it would be just as foolish to make stalemates into wins. Of course people can run tournaments with a lot of slight variations to "spice it up", but high-class, professional chess should remain as untouched as possible. Think of how so many people complained about FIDE's "World Championships" in the past 15 years and how hard it has been to unify the title. Think about how people complain about the faster time controls, the lunacy of knockout blitz tournaments determining candidates or the idiocy of drug testing. Yet, some people still feel that changing the rules of the game itself is necessary to avoid "grandmaster draws".

Most of the game's biggest problems of the past 25 years have come from changing how world-class chess is played; not from draws. The problems stem from people who don't play professional chess (and never have) trying to change how professional chess is played.

I couldn't care less if someone wants to host a 3-1-0 tournament or a tournament where stalemates are losses. But you can also play without f-pawns or say "no knight move before move ten". None of these are real chess. If two professional players want a draw, they can always find a way to draw. Repetition of moves, regurgitating long theoretical lines, or even repeating a pre-existing game will avoid nearly all attempts to weed out rules based on physical offers or move limits. Changing the scoring system will hurt the game, for no reason. The draw rate in the top tournaments is not exceptionally high lately nor is it increasing. What's the problem?

Draws are a fact of life for world-class players and always have been. The enemy is not draws but boring chess; and I cringe to think who gets to decide what's boring or what's not. Anand or Kramnik might think the game is level but some 1100 player in Frankfurt thinks otherwise. Taking away money from these guys money because you don't agree with them is absurd. Just let the players play the game.

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. Why would we punish the player for finding superior moves? It might look lifeless to some people, but you can't please everyone all the time. If both players agree the position is a draw, then why penalize one of them for actually offering the draw? Why give the other guy a 'get out of jail free' card for the rest of the game (or 10 moves)?

By the way, the 1984 match itself was a great lesson in why draws should count.

Joseph Dreher, Margaretville, NY, USA
Here a few desperate ideas. Perhaps we can let technology help us as it does in other sports, especially in the highly litigious U.S. First of all, I'm assuming that the draw problem must be resolved in high level tournaments – the professional level – this wouldn't apply to local club tournaments, etc. Why not have a number of computer chess engines evaluate a position once a draw has been offered? Have a chess version of the "Cyclops" machine in tennis and other sports or a chess version of the "instant replay" sans human subjectivity/ politics. If the position is evaluated to be over a certain limit (over 1/5 of a pawn advantage on average from all chess engines for one player, for arbitrary example - the exact number can be debated later.) the side with the advantage would be awarded 0.75 points, the side with the disadvantage 0.25 points. Anything within the limit after a determined length of moves (let's say 30 or more to avoid the ubiquitous and insidious quick draws) would actually be a "draw" and be awarded 0.5 points for both players.

Or, in the above system, perhaps a number of computer referees could come up with a percentage of win for both players from 1.0 (checkmate) to 0.0 based on their evaluations. So, draw-like positions would never be awarded 0.5 - 0.5 equally, but could be awarded .65 – .35 or .8666 – .2444, or what have you ("wins" could also be subjected to this, for even more interesting results!). This would create a very dynamic point system, putting pressure on players to go for wins at the end of the tournament when they need to catch up, and more importantly, it would mean that they have to consistently play for the best positions. The result would be that the player who consistently scored higher than his opponents based on consistently better positions would be awarded a higher cumulative point total in the tournament. I would be surprised if there were any players tied. I think this would give a more interesting point spread.

A last desperate, a perhaps greatly reviled, idea might be to have a "sudden death" blitz match, the equivalent of free kicks in soccer. The winner of the first blitz game is awarded 0.75 and the loser 0.25? Perhaps, this exact number could be debated to account for the rating point system somehow.

Mingo Lam, Hong Kong
I think the concept of propose draw will last for more than one move is obscure. We should think from the point of sportmenship. Draw in itself have a lot of merit which keep the player from playing in a less favorable position. If draw is such a horrible result, we should rule draw is a win for Black instead of counting that draw's offer should last for 10 moves or more. This should persuade player from offering draw.

Jason Chan, Sydney, Australia
Out of all the possible solutions proposed, I believe that the most effective solution is to simply require all draw offers to be approved by the arbiter (whom only accepts if the position is a dead draw), with a time penalty applied to invalid draw offers. This is a simple and practical solution and forces players to play on in any positions with some life still left in them.

The above solution requires FIDE to officially modify the rules accordingly, so in the meantime, I have a new and interesting proposal that I have yet to see mentioned, and which can be immediately used by tournament organizers without FIDE approval. I admit that my solution is not likely to be implemented, because it will be seen as drastic, but it is nonetheless interesting and may help others to come up with better solutions.

In the event of a draw, the result of the game for databases, ratings changes and norm requirements are calculated as previously. Also, in Swiss-system tournaments, or other tournaments where the pairings for later rounds depend on the results of previous rounds, points are allocated in the traditional fashion but only for the purposes of generating pairings.

However, for the purposes of determining prize money, and perhaps the final standings of the tournament, the points scored by the players in each drawn game are non-deterministic. This means that at the time the draw is made, the players do not know how many points they will each receive. When all the games of the entire tournament are finished, the arbiter tosses two coins, once for each drawn game. If they both land on heads (25% chance), then white scores 1 point, if both tails (25% chance), then black scores 1 point, and if one head and one tail (50% chance), then both score 1/2 a point.

The idea behind this solution is as follows. By making the scoring result non-deterministic, early draws should be eliminated, because neither of the players can be certain of the scoring result. For example, if a player knows that 1/2 a point will secure a prize, they cannot be certain that they will score this by getting a draw. When a player believes that they have less preferable chances than their opponent (whether this be due to their ratings, positions on the board, colour of pieces, or any other factor), it is reasonable to expect that player to try and obtain a draw. A 50-50 non-deterministic result (coin toss) is good for such a player. With similar logic, a player who fancies their chances more than their opponent's should be aiming for a win, and so a 50-50 non-deterministic result is not good for them. Such a player would avoid an early draw.

There are possible variants to this solution. For example, one possibility is to only apply this "non-deterministic draw" to 'early draws'. Another possibility is to use just one coin instead of two coins, which means in each game, a player either receives 1 or 0 points. Yet another variant is to toss the coins at the end of each round, so that pairings in Swiss-system tournaments are affected by the non-deterministic results.

Wade Caughlin, Grande Prairie, Canada
One idea I had after reading all the solutions is that none of them really mention money. I think if we awarded the cash prizes for wins only (ie. $5000 per win) as opposed to the total score. Or in someway working in a cash reward for wins. Similiar to a skins game in golf. The bonus is that Rating points would not be affected by this and anyone who wants to draw for elo points still could. They just wouldn't get paid for being boring!!

Gustavo Donisa, Buenos Aires, Argentina
I think that the Bilbao Rule will effectively reduce the number of draws, but, we will be well aware about, what I call, the Dorfman effect (please remember his letter about this theme). I was thinking about a new system of scoring that, perhaps, but I`m not really sure, can deter the Dorfman Effect. The system is as follows:

Winning with white: 3 points
Winning with black: 3.5 points
Draws: 1 points
Loss: 0 points

With this system, it will be very suspicious when two players agree to win once against each other with black in order to maximize the "advantages" of the system. We must always remember that no system is perfect, every one will have some advantages and some disadvantages as well, and only after a long period of trial and error of different systems a consensus can be reached in order to adopt a new one.

William Ko, Singapore
Seems that many people are keen to have a rule review: the 'grandmaster draw' problem aside, I can already foresee a review of draw rules in future when tablebase knowledge is expanded and further overflows into OTB chess; it could mean a raise or reduction of the current 50-move rule. But then again, I do not believe that there is anything wrong with the current draw by agreement, as I feel that this is a right entitled to all players. Under normal circumstances, there is no reason to draw anyway if one has good chances to win, so why should some Grandmasters (as an example of players who may want to take draws) have less incentive to win than to draw in more than a couple of games? I would say that the solution lies in the distribution of prize money: the prize difference between each placing should be as large as possible to encourage players to try for a better placing, and to make it very clear that taking too many draws will not be enough to pay for accomodation! Another alternative would be to impose a minimum number/percentage of points to be achieved before a player can be considered for any prize money in a tournament. A limit of 60% for example will mean that no one gets anything from taking draws only or just breaking even.

Lastly, I would like to say something 'in defence' of unfought draws and why I did not suggest anything to reward fighting draws as opposed to unfought draws: a draw is a mutual decision made by both players, there is no way to get an unfought draw at any time you so desire without your opponent agreeing to it, which makes it the will of two players. If two players are willing to forego their chances of a win right from the start, I would prefer to find out what can be done to make either of them be more willing to play for a win (and solve the 'problem'), rather than to deny them of their right to draw. Certainly, spectators do not wish to see unfought games, but I'm confident that a tournament can be arranged in such a way that such games are kept to a minimum, by bolstering the incentive to win.

Garry Barankin, Hamilton
Look at it from an EV (expected value) point of view, and forget about using the scoring system for calculating ratings. There are two factors that affect what the expected outcome of a game is: rating, and colors. We know how many points a 2600 player should score out of 100 games versus a 2400 player. Statistics also tell us that white wins approximately 55 (or 52 or whatever) in games between equally rated players.

A formula for adjusting the value given to each side based on their rating, has already been proposed in the comments section. It should reflect the player's expected number of point versus the other out of 100, given their ratings. If we only adjust for one's rating, one drawback is that that the lower(maybe only slightly) rated player aims for a draw even with white. Or the higher rated player might have to play recklessly to avoid losing ground.

So also adjust based on color: If we only took colors into account, give white 0.49 or 0.45 for a draw, and black the rest. This can simply be stated as being compensation for white having the first move. Statistics give us an idea of the EV for white in a typical game at various levels.

On its own, or in conjunction with the adjustment for rating, white is penalized for not doing anything with "the advantage of the first move".

Tim Turner, Reston Virgina, USA
I am inspired to put in my answer to the problem after reading about the endless answers being submitted. I liked the comments about identifying the problems and logical simple conclusions. I myself became part of the masses looking for a solution, and when I had no answer, I drank many beers and now see things with great clarity. There is no problem with draws. The problem is chess and that chess is really friggin hard. It is a cursed game that presents billions of different problems and no solutions. 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. If you are a professional, and play for a living, you will make the draw work in any case to favor you. If you are a chess fan and want blood and guts, watch ultimate fighting instead. If you want to win tournaments, don't offer draws. Win.

The real problem here is the point of view being taken. Are draws problems? Is chess a problem? I guess anything could be a problem. For example: The problem with moving up in class is that you have to play tougher opponents. Or, the problem with being a grandmaster is that you have to play against other grandmasters. Or, the problem with being the best in the world is being paid mega-bucks to lose to Hydra. I wish I had those kind of problems. Unfortunately, my problems are still small scale like finding a way to draw when I am a piece down in a minor piece endgame. At those times, the draw is my best friend. The problem with chess is that it's not a spectator sport. And nobody watches me, so there is no problem.

So now that I have really identified the "problem with draws", I offer a legit solution based on a few facts:

1. Chess is beyond human understanding
2. Chess players make problems out of nothing, but all hate losing.
3. Hydra will ignore a standard "draw offer"

Knowing this... Enter the dragon. If someone offers a draw, the person receiving the offer has the right to have the tournament officials set up the position on Hydra, offer it the draw, and see what it does. If it takes the draw, the game is drawn. If not, the person offering the draw has to finish that game against Hydra! There is no holding of a draw offer. The receiving party has the chance to refuse, right then and there, and play on themselves. Or have Hydra take the wheel. This will cut down on the chance receiving side losing on time and/or blundering significantly. This should absolutely depress the party offering the draw bad enough to resign immediately once hydra ignores the draw offer. I am sure this will revolutionize the idea of offering draws shorthanded, or even equal endgame positions.

Some will say, well the problem with this is that you are changing the rules and the game of chess altogether. Yes, that is where we are in this point of analysis. It seems to leave the cursed ancient game the way it is too problematic. And this never ending article has convinced me that the problem with living is dying, but after looking at the problem with draws, it seems just fine.

Paul Dearey, England
I think this is an elegant solution. A draw offer once made remains valid for a number moves equal to the number of remaining pieces (not pawns) on the board, excluding kings. Thus, draw offers in pawn endgames must be accepted/rejected immediately. Draw offers with one piece and pawns may be accepted/rejected after one further move. Draw offers with a piece for each side and pawns are valid for the next two moves, etc. As you will see, pawn offers arising as the game enters the endgame phase will carry little 'penalty', while early draw offers (where nearly all pieces remain on the board) will be valid for up to an extremely punitive limit of 14 moves!

Ken Trainer, Denver, CO USA
The draw problem is very simple and the solution is very simple. The problem is draws, the solution is no more draws allowed. All games end with a winner and loser. Problem solved.

Stalemate used to end with a win and loss. Imagine before there was organized chess and ratings. People played for money. sometimes big money. They did not like to pay out a loss on a stalemate so they changed the rules to pay out money on a non stalemate loss. So the stalemate became a draw which meant only that no money exchanged hands. At the time there were no ratings and chess clocks and the games were not scored. So they simply played another game. game after game paying out money on losses. winning money on clear wins only.

But now we have everyone watching the games and scoring them and ratings etc. all dependent on the outcome. The half point for a draw did not come until about 150 years ago and was proposed only for tournaments to help determine the winner and standings. Remember everyone at the time was playing for wins, and draws were not paid attention.

Originally the stalemate was a win. We must go back to that rule because of the influence of tournaments. Originally draws did not count. We must go back to that. Eliminate all draws. In the old days if the game reached a point where one player had a bear king against a king and anything else the one with the material was declared the winner. We must go back to that.

The only other problem is the threefold repition. Like the stalemate we can make the one who repeats for the third time lose the game, thus forcing a different move.

So with a return to old rules we can solve the problem with short draws very easy. All games will end with a winner and loser. Chess will have a resurgence of popularity. Some GM will protest because endgame theory will have to change. But that will be good for chess. People will be forced to look for new strategies to play.

Change the rules back to the original rules and end all draws. NO MORE DRAWS. This is the only solution. All other solutions allow a legal draw and thuse players will continue to draw. Sit back and think clearly. This is the only possible solution. It is so easy. But the Grandmasters like the draw. It helps them to play chess without losing their status. A group of grandmaster all play each other and everyone walks out of the tournament as a grandmaster just like they walked in. With all games decisive a GM might lose his lofty status.

Some GM will drop out of chess, afraid to lose with new rules. Some games will be lost because of misunderstandings about how to best use the new rules. It will take some new work to put all this into play. But that will be good for chess.

Matches will always be decisive. Like the world series you simply hold an odd number of games. First to win four out of seven or 13 out of 25 will be the winner. It is all so easy and simple. I guarantee this argument will continue until this one and only solution is finally adopted. It is the only solution that has any chance of working and it obvously works so easy and simple.

Martin, Columbus, Ohio, USA
Limiting the "Christmas Draw" offer to a specified number of moves after the offer is the correct solution to the threat of the draw offer recipient receiving free "blunder insurance" and playing on in the hope of benefiting from an improbable, but unprotected blunder by the person offering the draw. However, if the goal is to limit "Grandmaster draws" offered early, then the number of moves that the draw offer must remain open must vary with the point in the game at which it is made. A player that wants to test the opponent's interest in an early grandmaster draw on, say, the 13th move, will not fear the offer remaining open for the next 5 or 10 moves. For example, the "Christmas Draw Rule" would need to be something like: "Any draw offer must remain open until the later of five moves or the 40th move."

Mark Galeck, Mountain View, California
The argument was put forward by some people, about making a draw offer stand forever, that it could encourage the other side to drag on. I think this is not true. This is about a scenario when a player drags on where their only hope for improving their score by 1/2 point, is the opponent's blunder. We have an analogous scenario already: a player is losing hopelessly and the only hope is that the opponent commits a bad blunder. Do we see people dragging on in such situations? No – chess players generally are curteous and end the game promptly without waiting for a blunder – indeed it would be considered offensive to do so. Same thing would happen with dragging on a dead draw.

David Valovage, Fargo, ND, USA
As previously established, the problem with draws lies essentially in the "excitement" and length of the draw. The length part of the problem has been solved, with a nice addition of a 10-move (or however many) maximum to which the draw may be held as an offer. This prevents brevity in what should be a fight, and players will have no reason to accept the draw immediately. Playing the "free" ten moves will turn draws into 10-move extensions of games (except in the most trivial positions).

The draw offer solution, however, does not address the fighting spirit of the game in its entirety. A lackluster game played over serene waters may turn into a vicious fight after the draw offer, but the game as a whole will lack the wild tactics and sharp lines that the chess public so dearly craves. "Fighting" draws should not be characterized so by simply their endgame, but the opening and middlegame as well.

The only apparent solution here is to encourage such fighting via the media. Publicize and make known the "dangerous" and "tactical" players, and demonstrate the sharp lines they play. The crowd-pleasers will have more reason to be inventive and dangerous, and the event organizers should see higher turnouts as a result. The problem of excitement for the public should be solved by exposing the public to the players that excite them the most. Let the fame incentive draw out the more adventurous players.

Let me emphasize the fact that chess, as a game, is a theoretical draw. That is, should both players play perfectly or equally well, they should draw. We should not be altering the mechanics of the game or the scoring to force players into making stupid mistakes, particularly if "sharp and deadly" is not their playing style. Every player has their style; let the crowd-pleasers please the crowd, and let the quiet players make peace over the board. After all, how many grandmasters achieved their title by draws?

A.L. Tan, Malaysia
One potential side effect of this draw mechanism is that when a player offers a draw, his opponent suddenly has an extra incentive to attempt to make a particularly speculative move e.g. a potentially dubious piece sacrifice - if the attack fails, that palyer can always claim a draw; if it somehow works by luck, we get something amounting to a swindle. Certainly we all want exciting games but this just tilts the advantage too much to the side that has been offered the draw. If Tal were alive, noone would offer him a draw under those circumstances!

Of course you may counter that this disadvantage is precisely there to deter draw offers but this simply ignores the fact that draws are offered not only because of board conditions: we also need to look at external circumstances. Personally I don't have a problem with short draws. It is clearly part of chess player tactics and we must not forget the pro chess is not just about individual chess games, it's about match and tournament management as well – much like running a marathon.

Luis Baquero, Medellin, Colombia
The draw issue just reduces the attention that should be paid to the big problem that is working against game quality and in my particular case, against participation in many tournaments: time controls. This I suggest as a permanent forum. About the draw problem, I have a proposal based on the concept that the solution is on the price distribution.In short terms, distribute prices proportionally to the Sonnenborn-Berger.

Anders Hansen, Hørsholm, Denmark
I find the idea of sustaining draw offers interesting, but there are two fundamental questions one should ask. Firstly: is there a problem with draws in chess tournaments at all? Chess players are both artists and sportsmen (and sportswomen). If a game ends in a draw after 15 moves and both players are satisfied with that result... what can be done? It is difficult to force fighting spirit and inspiration upon players. Organizers will most probably take these facts into consideration, when inviting chess players for their next tournament.

Secondly: if a draw offer is sustained, does that mean that the opponent can try an uncorrect sacrifice and take the draw if the opponent find the best defence, regardless that the position is no longer equal? That would deteriorate the quality of chess games – to the benefit of nobody!

I believe that the answer to both questions is that perhaps there is no problem with draws in the first place - hence the chess rules needn't be changed!

Stefan Lyocsa, Kosice, Slovakia
I was following the discussion about draw offers. There were many interesting proposal, from which I find the Christmas rule as most promising. Many offended this rule, by giving examples of situations, where it could go wrong. I found two major reservations:

1. If a player offers a draw in an equal position, then he blunders and looses the game (considered unethical and unfair). Well in my opinion all this stuff starts with a condition that one player offers a draw and I simply think that this condition is not valid, since you do not have to offer a draw. Play on! If the Christmas rule will be applied, you will think twice, whether to offer a draw. It is more realistic to assume, that draws will be offered only in death draw positions – and thats the point. Losing an equal position is not unfair. That's chess. Waiting for opponents blunder. That's chess too.

2. There are fears that players will not acknowledge (if it won't be favourable to them) that they offered a draw. This objection I find more valid. There might be an easy solution. Draw offers will be really more exeptional, so I don't see a problem if an arbiter will record any draw offers. And only after he records this offer, the game may continue.

Also, I do not consider a proposal, that draw offer is valid for a specific period of time or moves as valid. The problem is: How do you justify any number of moves (or period of time) for which the draw offer is valid? Chess is dynamic. Such a rule would be as pointless as the fifty move rule. The point I really like about Christmas rule, and perhaps there are many who are afraid of it, is its psychological effect. I can think about a situation, when after your first move, you will psychologically offer a draw. Putting your self under huge disadvantage, but in the same moment your opponent will be under some kind of a presure (or not) to win the game. May be usefull, if you are going for a draw.

My last remarks is, that I dont see it as a big problem, to come up with a scientific approach for valuing various proposed alternatives. Unfortunatelly, it would be time consuming (for me at least).

Kevin Spiteri, Marsaxlokk, Malta
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. However, chess always fascinated me as a game where plain logic beats anything else. During a game, a beautiful move might lead to a loss because of some small inaccuracy, while a slow plan might lead to a win. Having a judge declare the loser a winner because of the beauty of the idea is just wrong. Similarly, 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. Should one of the players be motivated to play for a win, that player might play on. However, satisfying the audience or sponsors should not be the primary motivation.

On the other hand, any organiser is free to choose the players to invite. If a particlular player is known to please the audience and thus the sponsors, it is only logical for an organiser to prefer inviting that particular player. If playing for a win obtains a player more invitations, players might play for a win just to obtain more invitations.

If an organiser wants to organise a tournament where the draw offer is not allowed, any player may refuse to participate. However, the more serious events, especially those leading to the World Championship, should allow all draw offers.


Links – ChessBase articles on unfought draws

Unfought draws – mathematical, logical and practical considerations
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 interesting read.
 

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 interesting read.

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 interesting read.

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.

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 members replied.

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 remedy.

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 and consider.

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 simpler solution.

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 fashion. Will 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 Telegraph column.

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