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 mind who is passionate about board games in general, was born in Hamburg and learned to play chess at a young age. By teaching chess to youth teams and creating chess-related videos on YouTube, Arne was able to expand this passion and has even created an online course for anyone who wants to learn how to play chess. Arne writes for the English and German news sites, but focuses mainly on content for the ChessBase media channels.


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