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What is a proper moment to resign a game?

  • GM Gserper
  • | Feb 4, 2013
  • | 29442 views
  • | 136 comments

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.

Comments


  • 22 months ago

    FakeName6

    Never resign in a live game, your opponent may accidently disconnect or something. I do, however, sometimes resign in real-life and correspondence games.

  • 22 months ago

    Seraphimity

  • 22 months ago

    seaeagle

    @chesst22. agreed. The resign button is only there to be considerate to your opponent.  No other reason.  People who refuse to use it, and instead find some way to waste their opponent's time are just being rude.  Period.

    Granted, you have a right within the rules to not be considerate and resign, but it doesn't make it any less rude.  To be clear, I'm not talking about when you have a legitimate chance to draw or swindle a win. I'm talking about when people quit playing, disconnect, purposely dump material, make spite checks, that kind of thing.  

    Just be a grown-up and resign.

  • 22 months ago

    chesst222

    I find it rude when people disconnect or stop playing with a good amount of time left on the clock and make you just sit there..the resign feature is there for a reason..

  • 22 months ago

    Spektrowski

    In the serious tournament play before the advent of computers, it would just have been too much strain for the players to play all games until checkmate/obvious overwhelming advantage. You play your 40 moves, then adjourn the game because you (or your opponent) are stubborn, have to spend some time analyzing it, and you also have to prepare for another game tomorrow. This game also gets adjourned because of the same reasons, this all piles up until you can't take it anymore, and the quality of the games suffers much as the result. So, in the OTB play, resigning early was something like saving time, playing strength and nerves of both you and your opponent.

    In online chess, on the other hand, any kind of attitude is possible. Just don't expect to be treated better than you treat your opponent.

  • 22 months ago

    sammyndad

    When you dont resign at a hopeless position the oppenent feels offended sometimes.

    One guy got seriously frustrated when i was roaming around the tournament area that he lost his control of the position and drew the game!

  • 22 months ago

    maDawson

    I agree to the "fight to the death and make your opponent earn that 1-0" mentality. I rarely resign again.

    Playing a game holds up a friendly competition. 

    No possibility of counterplay AND continuing a game derived of poor performance is engraving into my mind.

    I also play to the majority culture customs.

  • 22 months ago

    pastoryoshi

    "timlawson...."

    I agree with you and have a similar interesting story. Saddly the true end result is simply that I am disgusted by my own faulty play, but am inspired to go on stronger.

    A "weak club player" that I am playing but infomally sort of coaching, who is also a very respectful friend and is my favorite person to play; he never resigns ever, until today was his first time ever to resign and I felt hurt by it. Although I new I am going to win, I judge my own skill by whether or not I can finish the mate in less than 10 moves or less or do i need more endgame practice. Is there a quicker way to mate or should I just do the old march and promote with all my pawns, If I am skillful I can mate with just my rook and bishop and not need the extra Qs to make it happen.

    Anyway, there was a game where we were at a definate draw and it was by repetition because we were at a mirror image of eachother and if either one of us deviated by even one square, the other would definately win. After repeating the position three times I was pleased with myself that I was able to pull off a draw because he had been beating me the whole time. I was ashamed of myself because I was at the time rated 1800  and him 1400 and I made to many moves at night while half asleep, (can anyone sympathise?). Nevertheless, I was playing on my phone app and pressed the button to "claim draw" and then for some strange reason it came back, then again after claiming the draw 3 or 4 times I realized that the app was not recognizing the claim, but my friend was also making moves from his iphone and when he was tired he decided to just "try something else" and I was completely SHOCKED! He deviated from the one and only possible move that could prevented a win. And I went on to slaughter him the long way just to make him suffer. Purely out of my own love for him and to help him remember to never make that mistake again. Then on my little cell phone typing pad I chewed him out over and over and over about how dissapointed I was in him for making a ??? tripple blunder like that and how he should have beat me.

    I did not resign, but I won, and still I had no satisfaction in the win because I know I didn't deserve it. Still it was a memorable experience and I have increased my studing to ensure that I never let him him beat me again!!!

  • 22 months ago

    scooby068

    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.

  • 22 months ago

    timlawson

    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!

    Laughing

  • 22 months ago

    AlexinWinnipeg

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

  • 22 months ago

    James90210

    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.

  • 22 months ago

    scramblesuit

    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".

  • 22 months ago

    DmitriNet

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

  • 22 months ago

    vannorden2

    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.

  • 22 months ago

    eagles_claw

    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)

  • 22 months ago

    kaichess

    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!

  • 22 months ago

    Martin0

    @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.

  • 22 months ago

    PorterToHell

    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.

  • 22 months ago

    Wuehler

    [COMMENT DELETED]
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