When Should One Resign?

When Should One Resign?

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
Aug 16, 2011, 12:00 AM |
88 | Chess Players

No one likes to resign, but we are all happy to accept the opponent’s capitulation. So, when is it the perfect time to wave the white flag?

Of course, you have heard the cliché 'it’s never too late to resign' and 'no one has ever won a game by resigning'. However, one shouldn’t keep playing in totally hopeless positions. This is both disrespectful toward your opponent and a way of squandering your own resources, such as energy and time, which you may need in later rounds. If it’s dead certain that you will lose, why keep suffering instead of going home and spending the evening with your family, relaxing, and preparing for the next game?

Now, let’s try to come to an agreement on a critical concept: which positions are dead lost? Of course, we could rely on computer engines’ evaluations, but this is not very good for humans. Indeed, sometimes the machine sees an incredibly sophisticated path to victory, while the players don’t. These very positions can be drawn or lost, not only by you, but by top players, if the player in question does not see that one path to victory.  Let’s try a different approach: if the position is simple and technical, and your opponent has an obvious way to a win without any possible blunders, you may resign.  

The “golden rule” can be formulated in the following way: 'you should resign when the weaker of the two opponents understands that the position is winning and knows how to convert the advantage'. If you are stronger than your opponent, you should make sure he also understands what’s going on. Let’s say you are rated 2000, and your opponent is 1600. Somehow you ended up in a king vs king + B+N endgame. Who knows whether your opponent is familiar with this checkmating technique? Why not test and find out?

If you are a lower-rated player, don’t resign because your opponent looks formidable or impatient. For example, let’s say you are down a pawn. Ask yourself: would you play this position against someone of equal skill? If the answer is 'yes', i.e. you are still interested in the game, then keep playing even if your opponent is much stronger. This will allow you to avoid premature resignations and, even more importantly, improve in chess. For instance, you might be playing a rook vs rook + pawn endgame and consider your position to be lost. But you are not sure exactly how you would win it if colors were reversed. Even if your opponent is a grandmaster, let him teach you how to win. He may make a mistake; the position may objectively be a draw.  If you play out the game, you will learn by doing, and that is more efficient than trying to grasp the same technique by reading a book.  Your memories and experience will prove extremely helpful in the future.

Sometimes top players are so confident about their opponents’ abilities that they resign in drawn or winning positions. Let’s review a few classical examples:


Playing for a team is a different story. Losses affect the mood of your colleagues in a negative way; so one should try to play safely and avoid letting one’s teammates down. Even if you have lost, you should keep playing for moral support because sometimes having a 'shoulder' next to you is very important. For instance, at the recent World Team Chess Championship, Judit Polgar kept walking around the playing hall instead of resigning in a hopeless position against Ian Nepomniatchi. It could have been the result of disappointment, or an attempt to postpone the loss and thus ease the situation for other members of the Hungarian team. As long as the clocks are ticking, the game is still going. Also, sometimes the situation might change: your opponent will relax, start following other boards, and may get shocked or disappointed by what is happening there. This may make him nervous or cause him to play too adventurously. If you have some time left on your clock, don’t hurry. Ponder the situation for some time and either keep playing, or resign.

Summing it up, don’t resign too early or too late. Give up only when you are dead certain you have lost and are confident in your opponent’s ability to convert the advantage. Don’t waste both players' time by having your opponent checkmate you with an extra queen (unless you are a complete beginner). Remember, if you find the position unclear, you should always keep playing.

Finally, let me show you my most recent loss, which happened at the Polugaevsky Memorial against GM Pavel Maletin.

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