Three reasons we keep playing even when totally lost!

by Arne Kaehler
3/13/2020 – There are three different outcomes for a chess game. We can win, we can draw or we can lose. There are also three different ways how we can lose a game. We get checkmated, we lose on time, or we resign. Resigning is normally an option if we are losing too much material, the time is almost up, or we are about to get checkmated. Nonetheless, we often insist to keeping on playing our lost game, instead of just resigning. | Photo: Steve Buissinne (Pixabay)

Crushing Isolated Queen's Pawn Tactics Crushing Isolated Queen's Pawn Tactics

The aim of this DVD is to offer the viewer tactical exercises that also illustrate the attacking prospects within IQP positions. The content of the DVD emphasizes the importance of understanding this type of pawn structure.


Why don't we resign?

All of us who have played a bit of online chess in our lives might have noticed a similar situation as shown on the board below.


Our opponent has one king and a useless pawn left against our army of pieces, but the opponent still keeps on playing till the bitter end, instead of just resigning. Why? Why aren’t they resigning? This game could have been over since 20 moves already, right?

Wait a second. Could it be, that in this example we were, or even are, the ones sometimes unwilling to resign as well? I have to admit something to you: I am guilty as charged and admit to having done this several times when playing online, and I still fall into the habit. Why am I still doing this?

Here are 3 reasons why we don’t want to resign in a completely lost chess position:

Reason 1: If we resign we lose the game.

As painfully obvious as this might sound, it couldn’t be more accurate. When we win a chess game we feel good. We feel good because chess is known to be a very highly intellectual game amongst humans. Unfortunately, this also makes us feel bad if we are losing a game.

We probably can agree that feeling bad ain’t fun. So we try to prolong this feeling, as long as possible. We don’t resign, even if it is crystal clear that we cannot win any more. Well, what we don’t realize in many cases is that this delay of pain leads to experiencing the same pain, just for a longer amount of time. 

The same logic applies to when we need to get an injection from a doctor, the least painful move is to just get over it, correct? Or do we want to delay the unavoidable pain and get the injection slowly, poking through our skin? Ouch.

I hate losing | Picture: succo from Pixabay

Reason 2: We had success by not resigning in the past

Once we have a lost position but can turn the game outcome around because our opponent makes an unforgivable mistake, we learn something valuable, ‘To never give up!’

An experience like this will stick stronger to our brain, because winning from a lost position is much sweeter than having the certainty to win the game anyway.

We completely blind out any element of us just being lucky, our opponent making a mouse slip or just being a worse player who naturally makes more mistakes. We have won and that’s what counts. So we naturally repeat this behaviour more often.

Reason 3: We get hurt

Imagine we play a chess game, and we lose a knight against a pawn and our opponent is writing to us in the chat, ‘give up you loser!’

I believe many of us don’t get triggered by this. I also believe that many of us do get triggered by this. And I also believe that most of us believe that they don’t get triggered by this, but they actually get triggered by this!

The fact is, our opponent tries to hurt or harm us emotionally. Now the greatest punishment against this rude behaviour would be to simply win the game, right? Sadly, if we are a knight down, this is a difficult mission to accomplish. So, how else can we revenge our loss?

Some people just let their time run out. Others try to hurt back by answering the opponent. and the chess game turns into a discussion or fight. Finally, a mild version of justification would be to just not resign, even if we only have our king and a useless pawn left. ‘Suffer opponent, suffer!’

These are just a few of many reasons that lead to not resigning a chess game.

Do you agree with the mentioned points, or do you have a different opinion? Are you a player who resigns quickly, or not all? Please feel free to post some of your thoughts in the comment section below.


Arne Kaehler, a creative thinker who is passionate about board games in general was born in Hamburg and learned how to play chess at a very young age. Through teaching chess to youth teams and creating chess content on YouTube, Arne was able to extend this passion onto others and has even made an online chess course for anyone who wants to learn how to play this game. Currently, Arne blogs for the English news page of ChessBase and focuses on creating promotional and entertaining articles.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

danny_rayburn danny_rayburn 3/16/2020 04:16
In over the board competition, other than blitz games, I resign when there appears to be no meaningful chances and all tricks have been exhausted. So far I have never regretted resigning. When I am in that situation I just want the suffering to end.

On the other side, I have had some opponents play on until mate or 20 or 30 moves after being utterly lost. Junior players seem particularly prone to this perhaps because they aren't able to appreciate their situation or their coach has told them to play on until mate. Or perhaps they wiggled away with a stalemate once and like some degenerate gambler hope that lightning will strike again.

Titled players seem the most easily annoyed by late resignations. But when you play in open tournaments that is what happens. Some people will always use the wrong fork for salad and belch after dinner. So it goes.You can scold them but probably you are wasting your breath.

As for me, I am happy to see these players to the end. Joyful even. I spend my time trying to find the quickest win or to take even more material to make their friends or coach cringe when they replay the game. The only times I have been mildly annoyed is when someone causes me to miss a lunch or dinner before the next round. But that has been rare.

Play on you late resigners! Whatever your reasons. I am happy to accommodate you.
Green22 Green22 3/15/2020 10:26
"Our opponent has one king and a useless pawn left against our army of pieces,"

From the first diagram. Theres only a lone King no pawns... just my .02
adbennet adbennet 3/15/2020 04:28
Is there supposed to be a white pawn in the diagram?

I have some sympathy for Marozka's view. When to resign is a personal decision for the player. The opponent in particular does *not* get any say in the matter. When my opponent does not resign, I just make good moves until either checkmate, or, more likely, resignation one move before checkmate. Good game, it was interesting, would you like to go over it? When *I* do not resign, many, many times I contrive to save a so-called hopeless position. Quite often my opponent will say something charitable like "you were lucky". Yes, yes, very lucky, you deserved to win. Would you like to go over the game? Can you tell that my experience is all OTB rather than online?

Of course, I never defended a position as bad as the one in the diagram. But I did have a GM complain quite loudly after the game that I had been playing on a rook down. I gave some vapid excuse, but the truth is I was so tired I didn't even realize it until he said it. I could have used some spectators in that game.

The author gave three reasons, but I would offer a fourth: Resigning is a *decision*, and in online play it may be that the player is so tired, say from an ultra-long online session, that they are simply incapable of deciding. They have enough mental energy to make another move, but cannot summon the willpower to end it all. And while playing online there is no event, no outside stimulus, to make it obvious that *now* is a good time. In OTB chess the spectators start nudging, pointing, making faces, etc. It's like the fallacy of the beard in reverse, just one more move, then another one, ad infinitum. It's still a beard, no matter how many whiskers it has, right? Except to any objective observer, it became ridiculous long ago -- just pull the plug on it.
Uommibatto Uommibatto 3/15/2020 03:45
As Karban's comment implies, a good reason for not resigning apparently lost games is that word "apparently"! Resigning in a won position happens, as I recently wrote on my blog at

But, in my opinion, not resigning an utterly lost position (e.g., K vs Q + R) is bad form unless extreme time pressure is involved.
Marozka Marozka 3/14/2020 06:22
Keep it simple. Play until you are checkmated. Don't waste time and energy evaluating whether the position is hopeless or near hopeless, or whether your opponent will be offended by you playing on.

Do so and you will never resign a won or drawn position. Chess is a sport. Sport is mainly about winning and maximizing your points. You don't see a tennis player resigning when down 0-6, 0-6, 0-5 and 0-40 in the final game.

To those who get very offended when their opponents play on with a 0.01 % chance (and will resign themselves when they still have 10% to win). Maybe you should choose a less competitive hobby?
dumkof dumkof 3/14/2020 05:21
I fully agree with Stupido.

"The main reason for not resigning is lack of manners and oversized ego"

So true! Little patzers with no skill, no manners, but huge ego... Worst people on earth.
karban karban 3/14/2020 03:12
I resigned a month ago a won position in a 15m online game. When checked with engine I almost fell off a chair. It sill hurts :)
Marozka Marozka 3/14/2020 10:12
You make it sound like not resigning is primarily an emotional and irrational thing. I tend to disagree, especially in blitz games. How about:

1) There is an odd chance the opponent might stalemate you (or get disconnected and lose which is a bit more unsportsmanlike to hope for)

2) Rather make it a habit to resign too late than too early, as once in a blue moon you might have a hidden resource leading to draw/win in an apparently lost position.

3) It is harder psychologically to play against players, who are very stubborn in their resignations than those who resign a bit prematurely. You can start to doubt when the game is truly won, especially in blitz.
Stupido Stupido 3/14/2020 10:06
The main reason for not resigning is lack of manners and oversized ego. Over the internet it is more than obvious. In real chess I had more than once an opponent trying to drag it forever in club competitions because he knew we had 1-1.5 hour drive back home.
WildKid WildKid 3/14/2020 05:53
brian8871: I remember. Both Kasparov and Kramnik have resigned drawn positions in computer matches with very considerable money on the table.
Metaphysician Metaphysician 3/14/2020 02:17
In a blitz game, especially when your opponent has little time, or in a bullet game, anything goes. But in a game at longer time controls, among stronger players it is considered disrespectful to continue playing in a trivially lost game.
@Avoid Knightmares: Point taken, but it is understandable that against a computer, a human player, even Kasparov, would being would not have seen . . . Qe3.
susiep susiep 3/14/2020 02:11
In grade school, playing adults, I hoped for stalemate. And more than once was "successful"!
Kenster Kenster 3/14/2020 12:46
When I used to play in club tournament games, I would play on for a bit in a losing position to see if the opponent is skilful enough to convert their position to a win, with the hope that somehow they make a mistake and I then escape with a draw or even better, a win.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/13/2020 11:51
In over 50 years of chess, I never encountered an opponent saying anything even remotely close to saying: "Give up, you loser". Well, I don't play online chess, or, connected probably, played against someone who played anonimously.
brian8871 brian8871 3/13/2020 11:01
Speaking of Kasparov, how can anyone forget game 2 of his 1997 match against Deep Blue?
Avoid Knightmares Avoid Knightmares 3/13/2020 10:20
Yet, sometimes miracles happen. Here are 2 examples from Kasparov:

Kasparov was totally lost against Karpov at VSB in 1991, yet Karpov threw away the win.

Kasparov in a blitz game at Saint John's in 1988 had a queen and bishop against Georgiev's king! Q on c5, B on b3, Black king on a6. Kasparov played Bd5??? stalemate.