I didn’t really follow the Reykjavik Open this year, but I saw what seemed to be the organizer’s writeup on a few sites (Chessbase, Chessvibes, etc). Soon after those articles went up, I also saw a question from Wesley So on Facebook as to whether what he did was so wrong to warrant the skewering. (He took a 3-move draw as Black against GM Pavel Eljanov to secure a tie for first; one other player ended up joining them on the podium thanks a final-round win; the draw also took So to 2700 FIDE)
I wasn’t inclined to say anything about this – in the grand scheme of things, those articles will be forgotten pretty quickly I imagine. But after reading something over at the USCF site by Ian Rogers, I was kind of annoyed. I don’t even have any particular beef with Rogers, or whoever wrote the Reykjavik article for the other sites. I think it’s all just fluff that most people seem to lap up without thinking about.
After detailing the 3-move draw, Rogers writes: “However the spectators, both at the Harpa tournament hall and online felt ripped off. Bobby Fischer was probably turning in his grave.”
[When I first wrote this, I thought I read the entire article, but I must have missed the very end where Rogers puts in a disclaimer about some of his own short draws. So I'll strike some of the below comments.]
That’s an amusing line. I don’t have ChessBase on this computer, so I’m not going to dig around too much, but I was willing to search chessgames.com for Rogers’s games, and it’s not that hard to find 10-move draws in his chess past. Or maybe it’s just the quick draws in closed, high-level events like Reggio Emilia and Wijk aan Zee that he is willing to excuse.
As they say, “it’s easy to sacrifice your opponent’s pieces.”
If you want to change the draw behavior, it’s silly to throw stones from the sideline when
(a) you don’t acknowledge that you’ve done the same before and (b) that you expect all the change to come from the players themselves, without any change in the surrounding organizations and organizers.
Would it be nice to have interesting, fighting games on every board in every round? Yeah, sure. But why would you think that will change because some writer – who has essentially done the same thing before – says it should?! On top of that, even organizers who have such anti-early draw rules don’t enforce them when the players are pretty good! Gibraltar has had a 30-move minimum policy for a few years at least, but it can be skated around pretty easily – either if you have any old, nonsensical 3-time repetition on move 5, or if you’re over 2700. Ironically, those are usually the games that “need” the anti-draw rules.
(There are many more examples of players skirting the spirit of the rule – Anand-Adams from Baden-Baden just now, or many of the Zurich games would all qualify. In other words, almost nobody is a saint by this measure, but this is much tougher to police I think.)
For what it’s worth, I think I’ve had 4 pre-arranged draws in my past, but none as a GM actually. I don’t remember even being offered a pre-arranged draw as a GM – one time when my roommate at an event was made such an offer, I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or not that the same player hadn’t extended the same “courtesy” to me.
Looking back, I think I was more willing to acquiesce to a draw when I was playing regularly. When I began playing a few events a year again in 2006, I started to develop a habit of turning down draw offers, often to my own detriment. There were lots of refused draw offers with interesting stories – in worse positions, equal positions, better positions.
In the 2008 US Championship qualifier, I was on board 1 against Becerra in the final round; a win would get first place, a draw would qualify me, and loss would leave it up in the air. He offered a draw in the middlegame. I declined. I lost. I missed qualifying by one spot.
On the flipside, in a much smaller event some time before that, I declined a draw as black in the final round against an opponent with the same rating; I ended up winning that one and taking clear first instead of sharing it.
Another interesting mid-game offer came from friend of mine, GM Aroshidze. It was the final round of 10-round event; he had the black pieces and was slightly higher rated than me. While neither of us could take first place, if one of us won, we’d tie for 2nd or 3rd place maybe; the win would be worth maybe 500 Euros more than a draw. The position was objectively equal, but there were still serious imbalances that suggested a decisive result might be possible. I thought about the offer for a while but then declined and played on. After the game actually did end in a draw quite a while later, he actually apologized for the draw offer (even though there wasn’t anything wrong with it in my view).
I don’t think I’m particularly anti-draw though – it’s a normal result, it’s there as an option, and I certainly had some quick draws as a GM. In those cases, I usually would go into the game with some idea of how I was feeling and what opening I was hoping to see; if I wasn’t feeling great and my preferred opening line didn’t come up, then maybe I’d offer a draw before things got too hairy.
One such case was in the last round of a tournament in Seville in 2010, as White against GM Vazquez. We were tied for first, but my tiebreaks were worse than his, and as is common in European events, tiebreaks determine your place (so it’s not all a shared pot). He was expecting me to play for a win (as he told me after the game), but after a dozen moves, I realized I knew absolutely nothing about the opening and would be in a main-line Slav without any concrete knowledge. An early morning round, no knowledge of the opening, and possibly giving up shared 1st led me to offer a quick draw that he happily took.
It might be that chess is unlikely to attract a mainstream audience anyway; but even for the sake of the “chess fan”, it’s not so simple as just saying you’re against quick draws in the last round of an open tournament …