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Playing for a Draw

  • GM dbojkov
  • | Jun 19, 2012

Mikhail Tal once described a typical case in his book. In 1959, at the Candidates Tournament (which was won by him, and which gave him the right to challenge the world champion at the time Mikhail Botvinnik) Tal was leading by 2.5 points ahead of his main rival Paul Keres. There were only five more rounds left to play, and Tal had the white pieces. He knew that a draw would be sufficient for the desired visit to the champion. And at the same time he was hoping to level the mini-match against his main opponent. For the first time in his life he understood during that game, that playing for two results (noone plays for a loss normally) is impossible. He started the game, aiming for a long, five-hour game, but somehow burned out during the game. Keres for his part, finely adjusted to the situation, and won a beautiful game:


Tal experienced a difficult psychological problem in this game. He did not know what he was playing for.

            In reality though, we sometimes find ourselves in a situation in which we need to make a draw. Either to achieve a norm, or to gain a good prize, or just to make a good result.

            I have not been in a lot of situations like this. Commonly, the situations in which I am are must-wins. Still, this summer I had a tournament in which a draw was the desired result. I was playing as Black, against GM Benjamin, when a draw would almost certainly secure a tie for the first place. A win would be sufficient for a clear first (or in the worst possible case-shared first). In a situation like this, it is advisable to take away one of the results from your mind. This is how this short game went:

Why did I offer the draw that early? Was I not afraid that he would reject it?

            Both yes, and no. Offering a draw is giving to your opponent some extra confidence. Therefore, I usually try not to do so, especially if the situation is in his/her favour. Here though I offered, and I consider this a good decision. There are two possible answers, and both of them are good for me.

1)      He accepts the draw- the job is done, the aim is achieved, the prize is taken. This is that simple.

2)      He rejects the draw. The game goes on, but I have profited from the situation. At least now, I know what I am playing for- the game is getting normal, and we will both be fighting for the point. Who will prevail? You never know, but as the position is equal already, it might well be me. There is an additional reason for offering the draw that early. This draw offer puts the ball into the opponent’s corner. He/she is the one who needs to prove something, to show that he is playing for a win. Sometimes they have to take risks to do that, subconsciously looking for ways to avoid the draw, and at the same time the players who reject the draw in such a situation might tend to gamble unnecessary.

GM Joel Benjamin did not want to risk. After all, he was sharing the tournament win with the draw too. And as he pointed out in the post-mortem, after having a good tournament he did not want to risk and spoil it at the last possible moment. The colour of the pieces here did not matter at all either, as the final position is completely leveled. 

Not always do we have such an understanding person facing us. On the second board at the same tournament GM Rozentalis needed a win only against GM Arencibia to catch us. At the same time his opponent was happy with a draw. Here is that game:


The Cuban GM played extra solidly and achieved his aim.

However, I would like to end this article with one more story of Tal's. Even as a junior player, he had the reputation of a "hussar", a gambler, ready to sacrifice anything. This was not the kind of player which a trainer might need in a team competition, and his trainer by that time prohibited him from playing too aggressively, and being against all draws. 

In his next game Tal sacrificed a pawn (it was a theoretical line where the sac was usual) but then, when the position required drastic measures (a piece sacrifice) recalled his trainer's advice and made a solid, but passive move. Naturally, he did not get the compensation he was looking for, and lost the game.

And this happened always when he was betraying his style.

The moral of all this is that the best advice one can get when playing for a draw is- be yourself, and play your usual chess. A draw can also be achieved with colourful and full-blooded battle, which will increase your satisfaction.

Good luck!


  • 2 years ago


    Very interesting and heplful. Thank you!

  • 3 years ago


    I think if one can be rational at the crucial moment, they should, theoretically, be able to avoid a psychological pressure from refusing a draw. Refusing a draw doesn't necessarily mean you think you will win, or that you need to prove that you can win; it just means that you want to keep the result flexible -- it could still end in a draw, but you also keep the possibility of winning or losing as well. And if you do lose a game in which you refused in a draw in an approximately equal position, you don't necessarily have to beat yourself up there, either. It doesn't mean your decision to refuse the draw was foolish -- if you refuse lots of draws, it's only natural that you will not only get more wins, but more losses as well; thus, occasionally getting a loss in these situations should not necessarily be so shocking. It would really be your subsequent play that is to blame, not the reasonable decision to refuse a draw.

    However, this is all in the theoretical; in practice, it's really tough to keep your emotions from getting involved -- I know it's hard for me.

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you for this nice article

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you for the article. It was insightful and offered something new to me in chess to ponder and learn.

    Also, I very much agree one has to always play true to their style. 

  • 3 years ago

    GM dbojkov

    Well, one thing for sure is that you cannot offer too many times a draw. In fact you have the right to do it once, as doing it more is irritating your opponent and is illegal. Therefore, you need to pick up the best moment. In your case you did it then Cool

  • 3 years ago


    By experience, when I need a draw for anything, qualify or win in the tourney, and I play for draw I had bad experiences ... even when facing a "bad" oponent :P

    But the "offer draw" is a great great weapon!!!, in my last game against an IM (Gustavo Mahia - 2401 FIDE), I reach a position with no less material, but not so god position, after I thing about 20 minutes I play fast and ofer draw (hopping he wont accept!), he replay fast the "correct continuation"  (most clear move, but not the best!) and I archived a extra pawn :P after a sacrifice in the center! (I will put the position, don't had the scoreboard here :P), conclusion to me is that not only a little level player, even IMs get "SHAKED" with the "draw?" question :P

  • 3 years ago

    GM dbojkov

    Does ths work with you? Foot in mouth

  • 3 years ago


    How to draw early - shake your opponent's hand and ask "Draw?" you will note the position is quite even. This, of course is at the start of a game...

  • 3 years ago

    GM dbojkov

    mopaska, it was Tal who wrote many years later that he had to play in his usual style. He could have lost too, but his chances would be much higher in any case. This is just his style, there was  not much that he could do. lifesenigma, I know what you mean, I've done this for my team as well. This is a normal stuff in team competitions, the ego is obeying the team. 

  • 3 years ago


    Yes! it is very important.sometimes we need ONLY DRAW-but how to do it?Just look at the last game by Caruana (Tal memorial 2012).Funny case-he can play only sharp positions and only for victory ....

  • 3 years ago


    I can really relate to the concept of offering a draw when I'm in a winning position. On my high school chess team in the semifinals I offered a draw to my opponent who I was clearly beating at the time to secure a place for my team in the finals. It didn't take him too long to accept.

  • 3 years ago


    Приятна статия. Благодаря!

  • 3 years ago


    GM Bojkov, given Tal's situation, what should have been his outlook? Keres obviously had only to play for a win, being 2.5 points behind. Should Tal have played in his usual style, given that Keres would be likely unwilling to avoid complications?

  • 3 years ago


    I agree with you regarding the draw offer pushing an opponent towards greater agression if they decline.  It can be a way to achieve some wins in even or near even positions at lower rating levels as the person declining the draw will often overextend or get overaggressive to prove they can win. When I offer a draw, I need to believe a draw is an acceptablte result.  The "no draw" also awakens some of my fighting spirit to battle on.

  • 3 years ago

    GM dbojkov

    Stella, I suggest that you read the article... Juninjos, actually you too.

  • 3 years ago


    it is unsporting to just play for a draw by defending the whole game ?

  • 3 years ago

    GM dbojkov

    juninhos, you are right about the pre-arranged results. But if a game is actually played a draw is a normal result. You need to make the difference. Compare a single game to a 2-2 result at the chess Olympiad after four quick draws and might understand the difference. Your comparison is politically incorrect.


  • 3 years ago


    Such a great arcticle, that`s why I keep coiming back to this section...All the best GM dbojkov, follow your own path and find some time for another articles. I would risk opinion that in chess the very psychological point of view on such matters must be still developed. Great work!

  • 3 years ago


    Draw like one you made is embarassing for both you and your opponent.So much abaute sportsmanship.If Spain and Croatia draw 2-2 yesterday all world would spit on them and probably there would be investigation.Well i think chess is not so popular and things like that can happen without any consequences.Nevertheless its embarassing

  • 3 years ago

    GM dbojkov

    Thank you for the positive feedback, благодаря Smile

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