Why do we accept draws in winning positions?
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Why do we accept draws in winning positions?

BlakeyBChess
NM BlakeyBChess
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10

A couple weeks ago, I made a video for the ChessPathways YouTube channel, analyzing a game for Pierre - one of our members.  He had won this Game Analysis video as part of his prize from the ChessPathways Blitz Streak Challenge, so I was excited to take a look at the game he had to show me! (If you want to enter future contests, access exclusive content, and have access to a Master to talk about chess improvement with, sign up at Chesspathways.com today - it's free!)

The game (a tournament game - G/60!) was an exciting back-and-forth struggle out of a Stonewall Dutch.  Pierre and his opponent each missed some chances, and Pierre found himself in a completely lost pawn endgame. His opponent butchered it, and Pierre found himself, with the black pieces, in the following situation

And the game ended here. Surely white had resigned, and Pierre had completed the momentous comeback to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat! Right?

Wrong! A draw was agreed.

You can check out the video above to see my thoughts on the matter, at the end of the game. Pierre had explained in his annotations (always annotate your games if you're giving them to someone else for feedback!) that both players were extremely low on time here, and that he had under 10 seconds on his clock. Perhaps he accepted the draw in a clock-induced panic, not realizing the opponent was in Zugzwang? Maybe so...but this was a tournament game, with a 5-second delay! It's unfortunate that Pierre was unable to grab the full point, with it sitting right there to be taken.

Surely a Master would never accept a draw in a much better position...right? Wrong again!

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Just about a weak after analyzing Pierre's game, I played the following game in the Texas State Championships against Peter Peng, a young expert.  He played an innocuous line of the Exchange variation of the Caro-Kann, and I was essentially better the whole game. I got to play a minority attack on the queenside, playing ...b7-b5-b4 to isolate his d-pawn, but converting the advantage was no easy task...

I'm really not sure why I decided to accept a draw here. I didn't even really give it much thought. We were both down to around 10 minutes on the clock, my opponent had been acting a little exasperated for a while and had offered me a draw about ten moves ago, and my opponent had just tried to claim a draw by the 50-move rule (there had been both a capture AND pawn moves within the past 50 moves, so I'm not sure what that was all about!)

I guess I felt a little bad, at least on a subconscious level, that I was annoying my opponent (which is what I'm most upset at myself for - that's a huge mental error), frustrated with myself for failing to find any ideas to break through, and was at least a little bit amused that I could make use of an obscure rule here!  After contesting his incorrect draw claim, I thought for a bit and said "I accept" - making use of the rule that an incorrect claim of a draw also constitutes a draw offer to one's opponent!

But it wasn't too late to find a breakthrough. The computer's idea that I found after the game (to play...g5, bring the queen to f6, and alternate between pressuring the b-and-c files, threatening ...Bf4 or ...Qf4 at some key moments, and possibly threatening to break through with ...e5 if white's not careful at just the right moment) was still valid, and I'm sure there were other ideas too.

Why NOT play on?  There's no risk! White has nothing to do but sit around and wait. I KNEW black had an advantage and that I'd be kicking myself after the game, when a computer would show me some easy breakthrough idea. Where was the fighting spirit? Keep playing! Play ...g5 at some moment to reset the 50-move counter if it really comes down to play and play 50 more moves if that what it takes! What did I stop for?!

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I think there are three main reasons why we accept draws in better positions when we shouldn't...

  • Risk Aversion, otherwise known as Fear.  It's well-known that the pain of losing is much worse than the joy of winning! It's easy to get stuck in the trap of "why risk it, when I can take the half-point!"
  • Laziness.  I hate to admit that thoughts of "oh, maybe there is no breakthrough, and I'd hate to play a 5-hour game trying to find one when it's going to be a draw anyways and get no break before the next round!" started to creep up in this game. This is not a fighter's mentality - you can rest when you're back home! You're at the tournament to play chess to the best of your ability.
  • Frustration. Not being able to make progress when I knew I had an advantage was certainly frustrating to me in this game.

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Have you ever accepted a draw in a better position? Let us know why in the comments below! And don't forget to sign up at ChessPathways.com to never miss out on future content.