Your Questions Answered: Offering a Draw

Your Questions Answered: Offering a Draw

| 82 | Fun & Trivia

Doomclaw asked:

When do you think is the right time to offer a draw? I have been confused by this question since I started learning about chess.

Dear Doomclaw:

An interesting question! There is actually a bit of etiquette related to draw offers. For example, one should only offer a draw when it’s your move. Don’t offer it when the opponent is thinking since that could distract him and thus be construed as a deliberate shady attempt. The proper way is to make your move and then offer the draw BEFORE pressing your clock. Once you offer the draw, then press the clock. At that point the opponent can accept it at any time before he makes his move and presses his own clock.

Of course, you can offer a draw before you move (while your clock is running), but that puts you in a strange situation since a street-smart opponent will (or should) say, “Make your move and I’ll consider it.” This means that if you make a move that forces mate in two, he can shake your hand and accept a draw. However, if you hang your face, he’ll say no and beat you. So for your own protection, think hard about your move, play what you feel is the best in the position, and only then make your offer, after which you can press your clock.

It’s also considered to be “bad form” if you offer a draw to a far stronger player. The idea is that if the superior player wanted a draw, he would ask you for it. So, if you are rated 1800 and are paired with a grandmaster, you really shouldn’t make any offer – if you’re winning, why chicken out and offer a draw? If it’s equal, play chess and if the chess god wants a draw he’ll offer it to you (trust me, he knows you want a draw – it’s not a secret!). If you’re worse and offer a draw to a far superior opponent, it amounts to an insult and a deliberate attempt to bother him. Perhaps you were hoping to go over the game with him afterwards. Making an insult offer like that will only ensure that he will refuse any attempts at a postmortem.

In general, I tell my students to never offer a draw unless there’s simply nothing left in the position, and to never accept a draw unless the board is devoid of play or if they are seriously worse. It doesn’t matter if they are playing Kasparov, accepting a draw means they will miss out on an important learning experience. The fact is, a player that fights to the bitter end becomes feared, with even higher rated players knowing such an opponent has no respect for anyone and will take you to the brink each and every time he sits down.

I remember hearing about a simultaneous exhibition given by Spassky (I think he was playing somewhere in the area of 40 to 50 people). After about 10 moves, one of Spassky’s opponents offered a draw. Spassky, who was delighted, happily shook the guy’s hand and said, “Good game!”

Suddenly hysteria broke out! Everyone started offering draws and Spassky happily accepted – he was being well paid, and if these misguided individuals wanted to throw away a rare chance to play the World Champion (10 book moves isn’t playing), then why should he care? He was just happy to have a quick night.

Something similar occurred with Kasparov, who was giving a small clock simultaneous against a handful of the most talented young players in the US. One guy pounded out a few books moves and then forced a well-known repetition, thus getting a draw in a handful of moves. Afterwards Kasparov criticized his opponent, telling him that this wasn’t even a game, and that he might never get the chance to play Kasparov again. In other words, the guy threw away a huge learning experience (nobody will care when you say, “Look, I played 8 book moves and then shook hands with Karparov.”).

There are also quite a few draw-offer oddities. Here are some typical cases:

* I’ve noticed that some players, from losing positions, offer one draw after another (literally for every move!) when playing online blitz. They don’t expect the opponent to accept the draw, but they know it takes a second or two for them to refuse it, and this might easily cause a time forfeiture. In other words, they are cheating. Doing this kind of thing makes you the lowest of the low – a virtual leper of the chessboard.

* I saw one game where White offered Black a draw. Black thought about it for 50 minutes, leaving himself only 20 seconds on the clock. He then said, “Okay, I accept!” and reached out to shake hands. White replied, “You accept what?” Black: “You offered a draw!” White: “I never offered a draw!”

Fortunately for the guy playing Black, I witnessed the very clear draw offer, and told the director that White was a scumbag. Black, of course, got his draw.

* Decades ago, one famous grandmaster would often ask his opponents, “Are you playing for a draw?" If they replied, "Yes, I accept your offer!" he would say, "Oh no! I didn't offer a draw, I just wanted to know if you were playing for one!"

* I’ve had many games where a far weaker opponent offered me several draws during a game. In one sense I don’t mind this, since he’s (in effect) offering me draw odds on top of the fact that I’m a higher rated player. In some cases I would push too hard to win against such an opponent, and, when I realized that I had committed suicide, I’d offer the draw. Then, without any thought, his hand would leap out and shake mine. Don’t let this happen to you! Don’t offer draws, and always play to beat anyone of any rating!

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