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The Nature of Resignation

The Nature of Resignation

Nov 7, 2010, 4:19 AM 4

This morning I woke up and discovered that two nameless opponents had thrown in the towel and resigned here on chess.com.  Resignation is part of the game and occurs quite frequently in chess.  What got my attention today was the fact that both of the resignations occurred on before move 9.  Both positions were equal and most of the material was still on the board.  What on earth could have provoked such irrational behavior in a game such as chess?

Most of the reasons for resignation stem from a psychological basis.  It is too hard to bear the mental trauma of getting checkmated in a game, especially if you are rated higher or held a deep belief of victory at some point during the game.  This tendency is magnified when playing in OTB tournaments with other spectators watching over your shoulder.  I have also found myself caught in the frenzy and resigned almost all of my "lost" games of recent memory to avoid my opponent calling out "checkmate".

Once you get started down the resignation path, it can become a vicious cycle with no ending in sight.  When I first starting playing chess and was learning the basics, my teacher told me never to resign but play the whole game out regardless of the outcome.  This was good advice and I followed it religiously until my rating went up to a certain level.  At this point most of my opponents were resigning during "obvious" losing endgame positions such as queen vs. lone king.  I questioned this behavior at first but found myself falling into the same trap due to peer pressure.  Everyone else is doing it, so why not me?  Another line of thinking went "Why not just get it over with?" followed by "My opponent is too good of a player to make a mistake and cause a stalemate or draw.".  Looking back on it now, it seems silly to make such assumptions when playing other people regardless of their playing strength.  Even world champions such as Emanuel Lasker had "bad days" and botched "won" endings.

Moving on through my chess adolescence, as my rating went up, my resignations started to occur earlier in the game.  During postmortem analysis, I discovered that some of those positions that I thought were hopeless, in fact, could have been won or at least drawn.  But at this point, Resignation had become an ingrained habit in my play, much like going to sleep or using the toilet.  I wasn't even aware of it when I sat down to play a game.

Those two players who resigned before the game had even really started today woke me up and really made me question the nature of resignation.  I realized that that could be me down the road if I wasn't careful and to warn others out there about the pitfalls of resignation.  As Suzuki Roshi said it was important to have a "Beginners mind" when practicing Zen, it is also true when contemplating resignation in chess. 

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