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What is a proper moment to resign a game?

  • GM Gserper
  • | Feb 4, 2013

The subject of today's discussion might sound bizarre for most of you.  Indeed, all the chess coaches as well as books, magazines and Web sites teach you how to win your games and here we talk about when to resign? And yet, I think any experienced chess player knows what I am talking about. Just look at the following games :

"So what?", many of you would ask, "we see this kind of games every day in our chess club".  Indeed, this kind of 'endgame' where a lonely King fights practically the whole opponent's army is very common in the games played in parks or in your local Elementary School championship. But unfortunately all the games above were played in the Invitational US Championship (an adult Championship, mind you!) and the 'Player X' played all the games till a checkmate regardless of the position and the opponent's title. Some of you might call the last 15 - 20 moves in every game just a waste of time, but look at the situation from a different angle.  In all the games the opponents of the 'Player X' were Masters or International Masters, so playing out this kind of a position is like saying " I know that you have a ginormous material advantage , but are you good enough to checkmate me with an extra Queen?".  Some people probably can get insulted. 

Another extreme is when a chess player resigns too early. Sometimes he does it (or at least has the temptation to do it) for a reason. Look for example at my own game:

After Kramnik played 18.f4! (somehow I totally missed this simple move), I immediately realized what happened, but of course it was too late. With absolutely no counter play in the center or on the Queen's Side, Black can only helplessly wait till White annihilates him on the King's Side. Black's position is absolutely hopeless, but it was a Super Tournament (Karpov won it) and we played in a theatre packed with spectators. This explains my comment to this game published in the New in Chess magazine: "I should have resigned on the 18th move but was afraid that spectators wouldn't understand." By the way, I think professional chess players should never forget that sometimes we need to play even absolutely clear positions for other people.  Like in my last week's story I kept playing an absolutely drawn endgame for my wife (http://www.chess.com/article/view/should-your-girlfriendwife-play-chess), here I played a completely lost position for the chess fans who wanted to see the beautiful finish of Kramnik's positional masterpiece.  So I thought that I had the right to resign only when it was absolutely clear that my King was going to get checkmated very soon.

But sometimes chess players resign a position which is not lost.  Moreover, there are some examples where a game was resigned in a completely winning position!  Here is probably the most infamous and old example where Black resigned in a winning position:

So, what is a proper point to resign a game?  As always the answer is : "it depends!"  If you are a beginner, then you should never resign: Play till checkmate. First of all, your opponent, who is probably a beginner himself, may possibly stalemate you despite (or because of) his huge material advantage.  But even if he does beat you, you'll get another lesson how to convert a winning advantage in to a win. But if you are an advanced chess player, then playing every single game till your opponent actually checkmates you is not the strategy I would recommend. Use your common sense because only you can decide what is the exact point when there is absolutely no hope to save the game. Just ask yourself from time to time what is the chance my opponent doesn't win this position.  If the answer is "only if he has a heart attack right now," then probably it is time to quit.


  • 18 months ago


    When I winnig I only play one game,  to win.  If I am losing, I start playing the second game..to draw, on a position that is clearly my opponents advantage.  I have had suprisingly good success, enough to continue this practice.  I seem to learn alot more playing out games from a lost position than from a winning one.

  • 18 months ago


    I have never believed that knowing when to resign is a matter of "respect". The rules of the game are simple - checkmate your opponent and you win! I totally agree with GM Gserper that at the highest level, spectators would have queried a resignation on move 18 but it also stands to reason that even if you realise YOU are lost, does your opponent know this?! It was definitely worth playing on after move 18.

    I see a lot of videos/games where the presenter is boasting about how they are totally winning or are losing (and go on to win!) so it can happen even at the highest level. It's always worth fighting on.

    Longislandmark makes an excellent point - I always encourage juniors to play right to checkmate because this forces the winning player to demonstrate he can win and also, importantly, in a lot of situations, there is an endgame worthy of study and endgames are very important. A player learns more from defeats than from wins.

    I agree with Chapdaw that playing on is sometimes good but disagree with the three reasons he states (sorry Chapdaw!!). Going back to respect, this is shown with a handshake at the start and end of the game, regardless of the result and of course, obeying the rules of the game in the meantime.

    One could also argue that offering a draw in a level position or when slightly worse also shows a lack of respect. Again, I'd disagree with this because if you don't ask you don't get! Incidentally, no one ever scored any points by resigning!

    When to resign is a personal thing. For myself, if I am particularly disgusted with the quality of my play (and that happens a lot!!) I might resign a bit sooner than I should but if there's even a glimmer that something could happen, I'll hang in there.

    One opponent recently said to me "well that's pretty decisive" when he knew he was totally lost but carried on anyway and even gave me the pleasure of a checkmate (that's rare these days). The fellow in question is a really nice chap and I have the utmost respect for him as a person and a chess player.

    Another opponent recently, for the third time in two years, resigned against me and refused to even acknowledge or shake hands. You can probably work out which of the above two people I have more respect for.

    If I am in a winning position, I see nothing wrong with an opponent refusing to resign; afterall it's their right to carry on to the bitter end. In fact, years ago, I was playing against someone who I now regard as a "weak club player". He was a pawn up in a rook and pawn ending. I battled and battled until eventually succumbing. I learned a hell of a lot about rook and pawn endings as I resigned once it was obvious I was lost.

    His comment, rather than say "well fought" was "finally, he resigns". To me this represented a lack of respect and in fact, that turned out to be this particular gentleman's one and only win against me.

    I had the attitude that he felt he was above me but unlike him (probably in his 50's at that point and had never improved beyond a certain level) I went away and did improve, reasonably quickly as it happens.

    I am still unhappy with the standard of chess I produce and I know I don't do enough to improve myself but I think that refusing to give in easily says more about that person's strength of character than it does about someone who moans that  their opponent won't resign just because they think they should.

    Important messages for junior players;

    As long as you can come away from the board knowing you tried your best, you'll never be ashamed regardless of the result.

    Be honest with yourself.

    Never give up!


  • 18 months ago


    it is a great sign of respect to resign when your opponent is a skilled player and the position is hopeless.

  • 18 months ago


    IT DEPENDS--------This reminds me of a quote from a drawn Fischer game....

    "I could play on Mr. Fischer, but I have a family"

    There are innumerable reasons why on any given day you resign or play on.

  • 18 months ago


    Never resign! No-one should ever resign. It is an act of supreme arrogance and childishness to submit in this faux superior manner.  Quitting is quitting. No wonder chess struggles for commercial success. Audiences want to see a fight to the "death".

  • 18 months ago


    Your opponent is not a machine and even if position looks lost, keep setting up traps and fight.  Even Gary Kasparov blundered.

  • 18 months ago


    mr. Eagles,

    probably your own time was finished. In those cases, normally your opponent wins unless he has unsufficient mating material, in this case only his king. Then it is a draw.

  • 18 months ago


    My funny experience in other online chess website was this: I was playing 5-min blitz - I had King + few pawns + rook vs. lone King of my opponent. Adding to his misery was that he was also in time trouble but he was stubborn! I was already smiling because a few moves ahead and he's done. Suddenly, right after I moved my rook there was a dialogue box appeared: "Insufficient mating material, game is drawn." What? How could this be? I couldn't believe what I was reading! (See? stubborness in chess sometimes is good.hehe)

  • 18 months ago


    Very interesting article Gserper, of course amateur & pro player have different points of view and in my guess resign or not resign is connected with skills. I respect and feel glad with the chance to read about all professional chess players, very good lesson. Well, since amateur can opinion near them and maybe they will read I must leave myself, begginers like me would not resign because almost of this class don't know how finish a game in very different conditions. I usually think amateurs resign looks like watch a movie and stop before "The end", even you know (or believe know) what could happen at final, follow the paralel the hero of the story win, the bad guy die, etc.. As a begginer player I only resign of game if the game looks really lost+opponent ask to my resign+opponet skills shows better then mine. In almost of situations, my King die only when find the checkmate!

  • 18 months ago


    @Edgehopper, I consider it thoughtful by players who let their opponent finish their combination instead of resigning. Depends on the position though as it's like a bad joke to hang all your pieces to prolong a mate for example. I don't think it's either polite or impolite if the choice to not resign doesn't prolong the game much, but of course you should never resign if your not certain your opponent knows how to win.

  • 18 months ago


    I played a game on this site a few months back where I resigned after realizing my opponent could force mate in 4 moves. Afterwords, he messaged me asking why I resigned. When I told  him, he said that he hadn't seen it.

  • 18 months ago


  • 18 months ago


    Do not resign before playing move 40.  

    My advice is to never resign, but if that seems too harsh try "never resign before playing move 40."  Or, don't resign if the game could still hold a lesson useful in a future game.  (Learning something new is a partial win.)

  • 18 months ago


    You resign when they play d4.

  • 18 months ago


    Also when playing a timed game it is good to check the time, and if you are losing, and both you and your opponent's time left is low, then you should play on and frustrate your opponent who will shed time away as he looks for a way to checkmate you. 

  • 18 months ago


    I resign when, if the board were turned around, I'm certrain that there is no way I could loose.  Exceptions are time trouble, and those rare occasions when I feel the need to force my opponent to prove the win.

  • 18 months ago


    cool Sealed

  • 18 months ago


    As you say....I'm a beginner so I play until checkmate and rarely resign. That's how I learn. Thanks for the information! Cool

  • 18 months ago


    thanks for the article

  • 18 months ago


    Resigning in a game of Chess is basically a SURRENDER as in war!

    Hence even if YOU have a slight hope of a WIN or WIN on time; a DRAW or a STALEMATE; keep playing!  In saying this; in a hopeless situation; it is better to resign; and start a new game with your newly gained experience!

    A winner has to WIN the game; ie: force a check mate to really win the game; hence let him prove it.  Just having material advantage does not mean he has won the game!  There are a zillion games where people have won or forced statemate with tactics; in a less materially advantageous position.

    If a 15 minute game is played and your opponent is not allowing you to use your 15 minutes to think; then he should not be playing a 15 minute game in the first place!  He should play a one minute game; if he wants quick results.

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