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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.


  • 2 years ago


    Nice lecture

  • 2 years ago


    I will only resign if faced with a mate I cannot prevent AND my opponent has shown enough skill in the game for me to know he wont fail. The laws of chess allow, stalemate, perpetual check and repition of position. These rules are there so if losing we can look for a draw. So quit whining about disrespect when your opponent is playing by the rules. They are allowed to.

  • 2 years ago


    @eagles_claw: It's not the same as just hanging a piece. These "dubious sacrifices" offered some positional compensation for the piece; it was generally not enough to be entirely worth it, though.

  • 2 years ago


    Resigning in chess first of all is disrespectful to the origins of the game, but also disrespectful to yourself, unless you have something better to do Cool 

  • 2 years ago


    In a recent game at a local tournament, one of the best players in our area made a blunder and stalemated a rook up. I'm sure his opponent was glad that he didn't just resign!

  • 2 years ago


    If my opponents choose to resign and save time, that's fine, but if not, I can hardly blame them.  I have blundered enough times in my career to justify their decision to play on!

  • 2 years ago


    Nice article. I agree that there is some weirdness in the chess.com community with draws/resigning here but I feel as though that's probably because it's online chess instead of over the board. 

    I usually don't resign in live games and definitely do switch my play to time based if I am seeing my position as lost. I consider the clock an important factor in these quick online games and don't always play for mate...

    I do feel insulted when a draw is offered by someone who is completely lost but even more insulted when a game is in zugswang and the opponent would rather we move our king back and forth until time runs out than do a draw. In those situations I usually just resign because frankly, I don't care enough.

    I do get annoyed with the online games where a position is hopeless for my opponent and they have a 14 day move limit.

    When playing over the board games just for fun I'll resign winning positions as well. When no clock is in play and I get tired but know it's over I'll just say "Hey I'm headed to bed, thanks for the game." and walk away.

    All that being said, in over the board tournaments I usually give it all I've got!

  • 2 years ago


    For many players losing a single piece unintentionally means losing the game. But I have read articles that Paul Morphy and M. Tal made dubious sacrifices and still have won games! Did they really make those dubious sacrifices because they didn't want to resign? or simply they didn't respect the playing strength of their opponents?  I also observed in live chess bullets in chess.com that many do not resign because they are hoping to win on time, and they really succeed in their efforts! hehehe..

  • 2 years ago


    I resigned once when I miscounted the number of rooks on the board Embarassed

  • 2 years ago


    Here's one game where I wanted to resign after I blundered into a fork that lost me a rook.  I didn't resign because I had a few tricks up my sleeve, and I wanted to make sure my opponent wasn't going to fall into them before resigning.  Luckily, he finally did!

  • 2 years ago


    If you're a beginner, I would say don't resign. If you're advanced, as the writer says, as a rule resign at the point where your opponent would need to have a heart attack to lose. The exceptions apparently being when you want to show something off to the spectators, like a checkmate that isn't obvious to beginning players.

  • 2 years ago


    with all DISRESPECT to all kinds of self profecied nerds who advocate never to resign a game, n even those who are'OFFERING' (HA .. IT OUGHT TO B CALLED BEGGING IN THAT CONDITION) A DRAW in an obviously lost condition, i just wanna say that these cheats depend upon others blunders or bad connections to win(in online games in the later case) n therby defeat the very motive of chess , which is to pit ur wits, concentration power n ability to analyze wholistically , against ur quarry.  hence, at the risk of sounding too biblistic...........curse b to them all ,amen.hail dignity shun begging.....

  • 2 years ago


    Resign when you know your opponent knows he can checkmate you. Laughing

  • 2 years ago


    My older brother always resigns early when we play.  It is his level of frustration that overwhelms any hope of an objective assessment.  I've analyzed many of his lost games when he played me and most were even.  Emotions sure can cloud good judgement!  Especially if your younger brother is gaining the edge in chess Tongue out

  • 2 years ago


    When I was like 1600-1700, I played an IM who was sleeping/snoring at the board. He won a piece, and I made him play until checkmate because he was being a jerk. Then he got all mad and said "what the hell was that?"...happened at Team East, which Im going to next week. Luckily, for everyone, I am 2100 now, so an IM will have to apply a modicum of effort to win.

  • 2 years ago


    There's another thing about online games. In the live chess games at chess.com, for instance, many people seem not to resign because they hope the opponent will disconnect and lose on time/get into horrible time trouble.

  • 2 years ago


    I resign when I know that I could turn the board around and beat Kramnik (or Anand, or Carlsen, ...). Until then, I can learn something from my hopeless position. 

  • 2 years ago


    Thanks for an interesting discussion! Not a chess whiz, I have resigned several won positions because my brain was so fatigued that I couldn't see the obvious winning move. Just sitting there with my eyes closed for a minute would have saved the point for me. Often in patzer play I beat myself by envisioning everything my opponent can do to me, only to find my opponent isn't as smart as I thought and will beat himself if I let him. Of course it's different in master play, but among amateurs one should never underestimate human fallibility. Alekhine said, "To win against me, you must beat me three times: in the opening, the middlegame and the endgame."

  • 2 years ago


    i won a game in the chess olympiad last year where i was a completely rook down ending game and still won at was aruba playing south korea on the 10th round

  • 2 years ago


    I normally think of resigning after 1.e4 because I am so crap.

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