What's the matter with draws?

by Donny Gray
12/20/2017 – At the beginning of the London Chess Classic, in December 2017, the first 19 out of 20 games were drawn. Only Fabiano Caruana was able to win a game. Folks writing about the high percentage of draws called it disappointing and absurd. But why? Why is having a draw in chess such a bad thing? Only three things can happen in a chess game: White wins, black wins, or draw. Why such a hatred towards one of the out comes? | Photos: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


The draw life


Many times getting a draw in a chess game is celebrated. Play someone 300+ rating points higher than your self and see if you are not happy if the game ends in a draw!! Of course you would be happier if you would have won, but you will be happy just the same with a draw.

The draws to me are just as amazing many times as the wins when I look at the games of a super tournament, or any tournament for that matter. For example if someone of any rating draws against Magnus Carlsen the current world champion, that is an accomplishment.  To not lose to Carlsen borderlines on a miracle these days. So why wouldn’t I want to see how someone survived their encounter with Carlsen? Why wouldn’t I want to see a game where two 2700+ players tried to annihilate each other? Just because it ended in a draw does not mean it was not a good game.

Fabiano Caruana and Sergey Karjakin by Lennart Ootes

The handshake the broke the draw streak: Fabiano Caruana and Sergey Karjakin | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

To me if I am following a tournament and there is a high percentage of draws, this just makes the tension about the tournament outcome that much higher. Sooner or later some player will surge ahead. Sooner or later someone will win and take 1st place. Isn’t that worth waiting for? Why do folks just automatically think that if two GMs draw their game that they are not trying?

Over a hundred years ago, Capablanca and others bemoaned the fact that there were too many draws and soon the game of chess would be played out. How wrong was that belief? Extremely wrong! If Capablanca had had a chance after he made that statement to play matches with Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, Anand, and Carlsen in their prime, do you think he would have changed his mind? I certainly think so.

Former world champion Kramnik once made the statement that the depth of chess scared him. If chess is so played out why would one of the best players ever say such a thing? There may be periods of time in chess history that draws are common among the grand masters but there is always one of them that pushes ahead and takes chess to new levels. Carlsen is a great example.Magnus Carlsen by Lennart Ootes

Always trying to assign new ways to score black extra points for draws is in my opinion bogus and irritating. Just a case of organizers and others to try to force their way into the results. By making white take chances and play incorrectly they claim is the way to go. I would rather see a hard fought draw any day of the week than some wild crazy game that is full of mistakes just because some organizer or some group of people wants to tweak the game of chess.

As for myself I am for sure old school. At 62 years of age I have seen a lot of changes in the way the game of tournament chess is played. For one there was no such thing as scholastic chess at least in the way it is now when I was young. My first rated tournament I was at the ripe old age of 18. Now days you are almost considered over the hill if you don’t have a GM title by age 18. It was not until I was 35 that I made it to the ranking of United States National Master. There was no such thing as computers or DVDs, just books and tournaments. We learned chess the old fashioned way!!

Of course not all changes in tournament chess in the past 25 years have been bad. What we did have in those days was no increments time controls and plenty of adjourned games. There are several 9-10 hour games in my history due to never ending games thanks to no sudden death time controls. If you made a time control there was an never ending supply of others. If you ran out of time to finish the game and you had to start the next round, you adjourned and finished it later. There was no such thing as increments. You played and if you ran out of time you lost.

Chess is about who is the more talented, fastest in calculations, and better prepared.  Adding increments to time controls in my opinion does nothing to change who will win.  Still the players that are more talented, faster in calculations, and is better prepared will still win.

Chess is fine just the way it is. We don’t need to realign the pieces at the beginning just because you don’t want to study openings. We don’t need to assign a win to stalemates just because you don’t think it is fair. And we certainly do not need to force white to play recklessly and give black extra points just because you don’t like draws.

Just be patient. You can be rest assured that sooner or later some player will break out of all the draws and will start winning. It always happens this way.

Donny achieved the title of United States National Master back in the stone age (1988). Now he teaches chess full time for the ICC (Internet Chess Club) under the name “Curmudgeon”. He also writes a monthly article for the Georgia Chess Association, georgiachessnews.com, and is in charge of the ChessThinker website, ChessThinker.com


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register