WCh Chennai: The Nature of Draws

11/14/2013 – Draws in chess are inevitable when two players exhaust all possible winning chances, and neither blundered nor made mistakes that were that easily exploitable. Draws come in all shapes and forms, some to secure the paycheck at the end of a tournament, and some the just result of an all-out battle that neither player managed to win. Here is a look at the nature of draws with video analysis by Tryfon Gavriel.

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WCh Chennai: The Nature of Draws

By Tryfon Gavriel

Draws in chess are inevitable when two players exhaust all possible winning chances, and did not blunder or make mistakes that were that easily exploitable. The witty Savielly Tartakower had a quotation about the winner in chess:

The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake."

Mikhail Tal had something to say about playing for draws especially with the White pieces:

To play for a draw, at any rate with white, is to some degree a crime against chess”

Material loss doesn't always guarantee one side a win, especially since chess is so vastly complex that even when material is lost unintentionally, there are often other implications such as piece quality and time.

When covering past world championships game annotator for magazines and chess media often sought to prioritize covering games of major interest. In the classic Fischer-Spassky match from 1972, game six held a certain personal attraction. It seemed to be a wonderful illustration of hanging pawns, positional pawn sacs, switching the attack from queenside to kingside, culminating in a fine exchange sacrifice at move 38 to really damage black's king safety. Spassky was also so impressed that after the game he joined the audience and applauded Fischer's win. The astounded Fischer called his opponent “a true sportsman”.

Fischer's handshake with Spassky in their 1972 match looks more heartfelt
than is usually seen

[Event "Reykjavik WCh"] [Site "Reykjavik WCh"] [Date "1972.07.23"] [EventDate "?"] [Round "6"] [Result "1-0"] [White "Robert James Fischer"] [Black "Boris Spassky"] [ECO "D59"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "81"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bg5 O-O 6. e3 h6 7. Bh4 b6 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. Nxd5 exd5 11. Rc1 Be6 12. Qa4 c5 13. Qa3 Rc8 14. Bb5 a6 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. O-O Ra7 17. Be2 Nd7 18. Nd4 Qf8 19. Nxe6 fxe6 20. e4 d4 21. f4 Qe7 22. e5 Rb8 23. Bc4 Kh8 24. Qh3 Nf8 25. b3 a5 26. f5 exf5 27. Rxf5 Nh7 28. Rcf1 Qd8 29. Qg3 Re7 30. h4 Rbb7 31. e6 Rbc7 32. Qe5 Qe8 33. a4 Qd8 34. R1f2 Qe8 35. R2f3 Qd8 36. Bd3 Qe8 37. Qe4 Nf6 38. Rxf6 gxf6 39. Rxf6 Kg8 40. Bc4 Kh8 41. Qf4 1-0


One is naturally attracted to brilliant games and brilliant sacrifices, and often these games have decisive outcomes. A requirement of the much celebrated brilliant games is for one side to blunder, and sometimes they are called “Immortal”. There is some confusion sometimes when claims are made that a game should not be called “Immortal” if it contained inaccuracies. One of the most famous disputed immortals of all time, is the following game by the American chess legend Paul Morphy:

Paul Morphy playing in New York in 1857

[Event "London"] [Site "London"] [Date "1858.??.??"] [EventDate "?"] [Round "?"] [Result "0-1"] [White "Henry Edward Bird"] [Black "Paul Morphy"] [ECO "C41"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "58"] 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Ng3 e4 7.Ne5 Nf6 8.Bg5 Bd6 9.Nh5 O-O 10.Qd2 Qe8 11.g4 Nxg4 12.Nxg4 Qxh5 13.Ne5 Nc6 14.Be2 Qh3 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Be3 Rb8 17.O-O-O Rxf2 18.Bxf2 Qa3 19.c3 Qxa2 20.b4 Qa1+ 21.Kc2 Qa4+ 22.Kb2 Bxb4 23.cxb4 Rxb4+ 24.Qxb4 Qxb4+ 25.Kc2 e3 26.Bxe3 Bf5+ 27.Rd3 Qc4+ 28.Kd2 Qa2+ 29.Kd1 Qb1+ 0-1


Some of the draws of the 1972 match I had simply not covered on Youtube. The activity of chess is such that new brilliant games are being played each week with a decisive result, or a brilliant combination. Perhaps this is an injustice to the level of understanding that readers of magazines, and chess media can get from these drawn chess games. It may also serve to heighten the disappointment when matches actually have drawn games that they are not used to seeing as much as the well-publicized decisive games.

For example, the following game from the 1972 match, quickly ended in a drawish rook and pawn endgame:

[Event "World's Championship"] [Site "World's Championship"] [Date "1972.08.01"] [EventDate "?"] [Round "9"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [White "Boris Spassky"] [Black "Robert James Fischer"] [ECO "D41"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "57"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Nc6 9. Bc4 b5 10. Bd3 Bb4+ 11. Bd2 Bxd2+ 12. Qxd2 a6 13. a4 O-O 14. Qc3 Bb7 15. axb5 axb5 16. O-O Qb6 17. Rab1 b4 18. Qd2 Nxd4 19. Nxd4 Qxd4 20. Rxb4 Qd7 21. Qe3 Rfd8 22. Rfb1 Qxd3 23. Qxd3 Rxd3 24. Rxb7 g5 25. Rb8+ Rxb8 26. Rxb8+ Kg7 27. f3 Rd2 28. h4 h6 29. hxg5 1/2-1/2

It has some theoretical interest because of the 9..b5 move which was fairly rare at the time. Simplifications later occurred leading to a rook and pawn ending in which both sides had four pawns on the kingside each, and the players agreeing to a draw after 29.hxg5.

Fischer-Spassky, game 21 of their match in 1972

Games 14-20 of the Fischer-Spassky match were drawn, but these were really fighting draws. All of these games were 40 moves or more. With each draw, Fischer's possibility of winning the match increased.

One of the most controversial and perhaps annoying type of draws to spectators and fans are early agreed draws. Sometimes these occur in the last round of tournaments, when players may like to have more time to get away, and the final round often being played earlier than usual to facilitate travel arrangements. However, often these final round games carry high stakes. Agreement of draws is a risk-free method of helping ensure some prize fund reward which is often essential to the professional chess player.

In the very strong Sofia 2005 tournament the organiser employed a rule, which has become known as the "Sofia rules". The players could not draw by agreement, and could draw by stalemate, threefold repetition, the fifty-move rule, and insufficient material. Other draws were only allowed if the arbiter declared it a drawn position.

Topalov was in supreme form and won Sofia 2005

In our current world championship match of 2013, the first two games were drawn by a forced repetition of moves, to the disappointment of chess fans. Although the second game had more moves played, it actually ended quicker than the first game. What added to the disappointment was perhaps the promise of a bloodthirsty battle when both sides had castled on opposite sides.

Magnus Carlsen has a reputation of grinding out wins where most grandmasters would have agreed a draw many many moves ago. Here are two interesting examples of Magnus doing this. The first is shown in his win against Karjakin – a mammoth 92 move game:

Another game that cemented Carlsen's reputation for squeezing blood from a rock

[Event "Tata Steel"] [Site "0:17:33-0:03:33"] [Date "2013.01.20"] [EventDate "2013.01.11"] [Round "8"] [Result "1-0"] [White "Magnus Carlsen"] [Black "Sergey Karjakin"] [ECO "A11"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "2"] 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 c6 4.O-O Bg4 5.c4 e6 6.d3 Nbd7 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Qc2 Be7 9.Nc3 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 d4 11.Ne4 O-O 12.Nxf6+ Nxf6 13.Bd2 a5 14.a3 Nd5 15.Rab1 Qd7 16.Rfc1 Rfe8 17.Qc4 Nc7 18.h4 a4 19.Bb4 Nb5 20.Kg2 h6 21.Bc5 g6 22.Qb4 Bf6 23.Qd2 Kg7 24.Rc4 Ra6 25.Qd1 b6 26.Bb4 c5 27.Bd2 Nc7 28.Rcc1 Nd5 29.Qh1 Be7 30.Kg1 Rd8 31.Rc2 Qe6 32.Qg2 Ra7 33.Re1 Rad7 34.Kh2 Rc8 35.Qh3 Qxh3+ 36.Kxh3 h5 37.Rb1 Ra8 38.Kg2 Ra6 39.b3 axb3 40.Rxb3 Bf6 41.Rc4 Rd6 42.Kf1 Kf8 43.a4 Nc3 44.Bf4 Re6 45.e3 Nxa4 46.Bd5 Re7 47.Bd6 b5 48.Bxe7+ Bxe7 49.Rxb5 Nb6 50.e4 Nxc4 51.Rb8+ Kg7 52.Bxc4 Ra7 53.f4 Bd6 54.Re8 Rb7 55.Ra8 Be7 56.Kg2 Rb1 57.e5 Re1 58.Kf2 Rb1 59.Re8 Bf8 60.Rc8 Be7 61.Ra8 Rb2+ 62.Kf3 Rb1 63.Bd5 Re1 64.Kf2 Rd1 65.Re8 Bf8 66.Bc4 Rb1 67.g4 hxg4 68.h5 Rh1 69.hxg6 fxg6 70.Re6 Kh6 71.Bd5 Rh2+ 72.Kg3 Rh3+ 73.Kxg4 Rxd3 74.f5 Re3 75.Rxg6+ Kh7 76.Bg8+ Kh8 77.Kf4 Rc3 78.f6 d3 79.Ke3 c4 80.Be6 Kh7 81.Bf5 Rc2 82.Rg2+ Kh6 83.Rxc2 dxc2 84.Bxc2 Kg5 85.Kd4 Ba3 86.Kxc4 Bb2 87.Kd5 Kf4 88.f7 Ba3 89.e6 Kg5 90.Kc6 Kf6 91.Kd7 Kg7 92.e7 1-0


And more recently his win against Levon Aronian, where he turned down a draw offer which was all that was needed to secure first prize in the tournament:

[Event "Sinquefield Cup"] [Site "0:02:33-0:00:33"] [Date "2013.09.15"] [Round "6"] [White "Carlsen"] [Black "Aronian"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C88"] [PlyCount "143"] [EventDate "2013.09.09"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. a4 b4 9. d4 d6 10. dxe5 dxe5 11. Qxd8 Rxd8 12. Nbd2 h6 13. a5 Bc5 14. Bc4 (14. h3 Bb7) 14... Ng4 15. Re2 Be6 16. Bxe6 fxe6 17. h3 Nf6 18. Re1 (18. Nc4 Rd1+ 19. Kh2) 18... Rab8 19. Nc4 Rb5 20. b3 Bd4 21. Bb2 Rc5 22. Ra2 Bxb2 23. Rxb2 (23. Nxb2 Rxc2) 23... Ne8 (23... Nxa5 24. Ncxe5) 24. Ra2 Nd6 25. Nfd2 Nb7 (25... Nd4 26. f3 N6b5 27. Nb1 g5) 26. Nf3 Kf7 27. Kf1 Kf6 28. Ra4 Nbxa5 29. Ne3 h5 30. Rea1 Rd4 31. Ne1 (31. Nxd4 exd4 32. Nd1 (32. Nc4 Nxc4 33. bxc4 Rxc4 34. Rxa6 Rxc2 35. Rb1 Ke5) 32... d3 33. cxd3 Nxb3 34. R1a2 Rc1 35. Ke2 Ncd4+ 36. Ke1 a5) 31... Ke7 (31... Rxe4 32. Nd3 Rb5 33. c4 Rb6 (33... bxc3 34. Rxe4 Nxb3 35. Ra2 Ncd4 36. Nc4 c2 37. Re1 e4 38. Nc1)) 32. f3 Rd2 33. Rd1 (33. Nd3 Rxd3 (33... Rdxc2) 34. cxd3 Nxb3 35. Rd1 a5) 33... Rd6 34. Rda1 Kd7 35. Nd1 Rd2 36. Nf2 Kc8 37. Nfd3 Rb5 (37... Rxd3 38. Nxd3) 38. h4 Kb7 39. R1a2 Ka7 40. Kg1 Kb6 41. Kf1 g6 42. Kg1 Kb7 43. Kf1 Kc8 44. Nf2 Rd8 45. Ned3 Kb7 46. Ke2 Kb6 47. Ke3 Kb7 48. Nd1 (48. Nh3) 48... Kc8 49. N1b2 Rd6 50. Ra1 Kd8 51. Nc4 Nxc4+ 52. bxc4 Rb8 53. c5 Rd7 54. Rxa6 b3 (54... Nd4 55. Ra8 Rxa8 (55... Kc8 56. Nxb4 Rxa8 57. Rxa8+ Kb7 58. Rg8 Re7 59. Rxg6 Re8 60. c3 Nb5 61. Rh6) 56. Rxa8+ Ke7 57. Nxe5 Nxc2+ ( 57... Rd8 58. Nxg6+ Ke8 59. Rxd8+ Kxd8 60. Kxd4) 58. Ke2 Rd4 59. Nc6+) 55. Rxc6 bxc2 56. Ne1 (56. Rc1 Rb3) 56... Ke7 57. Nxc2 Rb3+ 58. Ke2 Rb2 59. Rc1 Ra2 60. Ke3 Kf7 61. f4 Kf6 62. fxe5+ Kxe5 63. Ne1 Ra3+ 64. Kf2 Rd2+ 65. Kf1 Rd7 66. Nf3+ Kf4 (66... Kxe4 67. Rxe6+ Kd5 68. Rxg6) 67. Rxe6 g5 68. hxg5 Kg3 (68... h4 69. Rh6) 69. Rf6 Ra2 70. Ne5 1-0

Indeed this particular game may have been making a wider statement about the world championship match we are now experiencing.


Thankfully the last two games of our current world championship have shown hugely interesting battles of epic proportions, the largest being that of game four. Such “fighting draws” deserve to be annotated and publicised not just in the current times but in years to come.




What was particularly fascinating about game four is that the opening choice made no claims of excitement that spectators were aware of. The opening was the dreaded “Berlin Wall” which Vladimir Kramnik had popularised after defeating Garry Kasparov in the Classical World Chess Championship 2000, known at the time as the “Braingames World Chess Championship”. In fact there were only two decisive games in this match – games two and ten. Vladimir Kramnik had seemingly used a rock solid system to neutralize the legendary dynamic and attacking play of Garry Kasparov.

Game four also echoed culturally the classic first game of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match, where Fischer took a risky pawn on h2. This was after a symmetrical pawn structure from the opening was established, which generally promises a dull draw, especially in conjunction with queens coming off the board.

[Event "Reykjavik WCh"] [Site "Reykjavik WCh"] [Date "1972.07.11"] [EventDate "?"] [Round "1"] [Result "1-0"] [White "Boris Spassky"] [Black "Robert James Fischer"] [ECO "E56"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "111"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. e3 O-O 6. Bd3 c5 7. O-O Nc6 8. a3 Ba5 9. Ne2 dxc4 10. Bxc4 Bb6 11. dxc5 Qxd1 12. Rxd1 Bxc5 13. b4 Be7 14. Bb2 Bd7 15. Rac1 Rfd8 16. Ned4 Nxd4 17. Nxd4 Ba4 18. Bb3 Bxb3 19. Nxb3 Rxd1+ 20. Rxd1 Rc8 21. Kf1 Kf8 22. Ke2 Ne4 23. Rc1 Rxc1 24. Bxc1 f6 25. Na5 Nd6 26. Kd3 Bd8 27. Nc4 Bc7 28. Nxd6 Bxd6 29. b5 Bxh2 30. g3 h5 31. Ke2 h4 32. Kf3 Ke7 33. Kg2 hxg3 34. fxg3 Bxg3 35. Kxg3 Kd6 36. a4 Kd5 37. Ba3 Ke4 38. Bc5 a6 39. b6 f5 40. Kh4 f4 41. exf4 Kxf4 42. Kh5 Kf5 43. Be3 Ke4 44. Bf2 Kf5 45. Bh4 e5 46. Bg5 e4 47. Be3 Kf6 48. Kg4 Ke5 49. Kg5 Kd5 50. Kf5 a5 51. Bf2 g5 52. Kxg5 Kc4 53. Kf5 Kb4 54. Kxe4 Kxa4 55. Kd5 Kb5 56. Kd6 1-0

Both players immersed in the complications of game four

Move 29 Bxh2 was criticised by many as a terrible blunder by Fischer. However more likely perhaps is that it was the result of a subtle miscalculation for how the king could be used to travel to a certain square and stop the bishop's escape. This is explained in the following video:


When Magnus Carlsen played 18.Bxa2, there seem to be a very powerful paradox at work.

How could we have reached this exciting position from the Berlin Defence?!”

It really confused spectators live of the game. The game had become unexpectedly interesting. And with no Queens in sight either. Was this pawn sacrifice part of Vishy's preparation?! Was it a blunder of some sort?! Engine analysis at high depths seemed to indicate it was safe to take the pawn. The game had taken a truly dramatic turn. And this wasn't just the first dramatic turn the game would see as Vishy sacrificed a pawn quite deliberately later with the move 35.Ne4

An amazingly intense dramatic draw of 64 moves – the same number as squares on the chessboard.

The match now is truly alive!

About the author

Tryfon Gavriel, also known as "Kingscrusher" on the Internet, is a FIDE Candidate Master (CM), British Regional Chess Master, and has run a popular Youtube channel for many years. He also does the weekly "Kingscrusher Radio show" on Playchess.com on Tuesday evenings at 21:00 GMT. Kingscrusher is also the Webmaster of the correspondence style chess server Chessworld.net. Tryfon has an instructional broadcast on Playchess – Tuesdays at 10 p.m. Server/European time.

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