Drawing conclusions: GM ALEX COLOVIC on the big debate in chess


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There have been many debates, and not only recently, about draws in chess. It is no wonder after the game’s flagship event, the World Chess Championship, saw a record 12 in a row.

A lot of different things have been suggested, the most popular being to ban the draw, as a result, to ban the draw offer and to change the result system (3 points for a win and 1 for a draw).

Sergey Karjakin, the Russian former world title challenger, even came up with his own suggestion, which he told Chessable about in this interview.

I have given this problem some thought. As I see it, the core of the issue isn’t the draw as a result, but rather the draw as a result of a not-played-out game.

Carlsen-Caruana Game 2
Carlsen-Caruana Game 2

Draws can be fascinating and if we are looking at things objectively, it is the most probable result of the game of chess. After all, there are two armies of equal size and quality and if their commanders deploy them well it is very probable that there won’t be a winner. 

The so-called Sofia (or Corsica) Rule seeks to ban the draw offer in an attempt to weed out the not-played-out games. This practice has generally been accepted as more or less normal, but I feel it does take away something of the psychological warfare that is chess.

The Sofia Rule

Often a chess player will offer a draw for various reasons: it can be a bluff, it can be a show of bravado (a weak player offering a draw to a strong one), it can be a distraction (giving your opponent one more thing to think about), it can be a confusion tactic (and not only in time-trouble), it can be a temptation.

The draw offer makes chess a richer game from a psychological perspective, but if made early in the game (for whatever psychological reason) the opponent may, in fact, accept it and then we return to the problem of the not-played-out games. I suppose you cannot have it all and the Sofia Rule is a compromise of sorts.  

I can live with the Sofia Rule, it has actually helped me on more than one occasion when I was tempted to offer a draw but I knew I couldn’t so I was forced to continue and eventually win. But I cannot agree with the proposal to eliminate the draw as a result.

Is there a solution?

The draw exists because if the drawn game is played until the end then either bare kings will remain on the board or one side will be stalemated. If you decide to call the stalemate a win for the stronger side the number of draws in chess will decrease dramatically. All King+Pawn/Knight/Bishop vs King endgames will be winning. But that is very wrong.

I will try to illustrate my point with an example. Have you ever tried teaching a beginner to deliver a mate with a King and Queen versus a lone King? You explain everything, making it as clear as possible what a mate is and what a stalemate is.

The talented beginner nods with understanding and yet he or she continues to deliver stalemate after stalemate. And here lies the chess (borrowing Walter Browne’s beautiful syntagm) – in chess you must be precise until the end! Stalemating an opponent with a King and Queen versus a lone King is sloppy and it should never occasion.

It cannot be the same if a player mates or stalemates you, receiving the same 1 point. How much degradation chess would suffer if it didn’t matter if a mate or stalemate was delivered? It would lose its appeal as the wisest game known to man.

There is never a “doesn’t matter” in chess (and neither there is in life) and mental effort is required to play it well. When executed accurately it is very rewarding and “it can make people happy” (Tarrasch).

Making the mate and stalemate equal will kill all that. It will become a “doesn’t matter” and chess will cease to be the game I fell in love with when I was 6. I hope we will never see that happen.

I don’t think there is solution” to the problem of not-played-out draws. Mostly because I think it is not a problem. Yes, they do exist and they are annoying, but with the social media having such a vast influence I think the players are aware of it and are becoming less reluctant to risk the wrath of the public. It is a normal process and I think it should suffice.

After all, there are “not-played-out” football matches that end 0-0 and there were attempts in the past to introduce penalties as tie-breakers as a way to eliminate draws, but eventually they were abandoned.

Chess is perfect as it is and we shouldn’t mess with its rules. If the players want to fight nothing can stop them. Even a finely-timed draw offer.

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