Quick Draws (or why Ian Rogers is partly wrong?!)

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 …


10 responses to “Quick Draws (or why Ian Rogers is partly wrong?!)

  1. From the point of view of the professional chessplayer, what you write makes sense.

    It makes less sense for spectators, organizers and especially sponsors. If 3 (!!) move draws continue to happen, chess has no hope of climbing out of its present obscurity.

    And I do think there is a big difference between a 3-move draw and a 25-move draw, even if the latter is just theory. The former is no better than an insult to the organizers.

    Chess is not and should not be all about appearances, but appearances still matter.

  2. Ian Rogers did acknowledge that he has short draws in his past, right at the end of the article.

  3. @weng siow: Thanks for pointing that out – I thought I read the whole article, but I guess I missed the end. I’ll modify the post.

    @unshod: Agreed on all counts. Actually, I think the time spent is an even better metric than the number of moves, but it’s impossible to tell in any current database. If I were organizing a tournament and trying to attract sponsors, spectators, etc, a 25-move draw that is banged out is much worse than a 17-move draw that takes 2 hours.

    Also, I remember coming up that I thought there was a minimum number of moves before a draw could be agreed (something like 6 or 8 moves comes to mind). I can’t find any evidence of that being an actual rule though. Maybe that was just something I heard and believed without checking. Looking at my own games, the shortest draw I ever had was 7 moves.

  4. GM Ian Rogers have a beef with Wesley So. He had another article in Chess Life mag awhile back about the kid who beat him in Kuala Lumpur in 2006 when this kid is just 13 years old and not even a GM yet and barely 2330 elo.

  5. Magesh Panchanathan

    Nice read Vinay! This is a very interesting topic, being a player and having taken short draws myself, I understand the players perspective, Making money in chess is hard enough that they cannot worry about entertaining spectators. Having said that, it is still not good for the game. It is not the players fault or the organizers fault – it is just a circumstantial problem in my opinion. The concept of agreeing to a draw is maybe just a bad tradition that we chess players have enjoyed and we cannot get out of that concept. Most of the games where there was a rule against draw and i was forced to play longer, i realized there was a decisive result. An equal situation right now doesn’t mean it will have to be equal through out right? Towards the end, stronger nerves will prevail. The more i think about it, the more i feel the draw by mutual agreement cant be a part of the game! This is not because i am comparing this with other sport, but just the feeling that two people can just feel like not fighting a particular day and call it off, that too during the final game of a tournament seems wrong!

  6. Yeah, I agree it isn’t good for appearances. But I don’t think we can magically wish this away or claim it’s all on the players – organizers and sponsors have to make it clear, otherwise why should a professional player change his behavior? So, for example, when in Gibraltar, a 2700 “gets away” with a quick draw, it’s the organizers that people should be upset about. They set up the rules and then selectively enforce them. Most people will change their behavior if the institutions around them change as well.

    As for no draws at all … I guess if you think chess has a real shot at mainstream viewing/acceptance, then the draw is a bad result (even a long, hard-fought one). In those cases, a few people have already suggested playing a rapid or blitz game afterwards. That seems reasonable to me. (3 pts for a regular win; 2 pts for a tiebreak win; 1 point for a tiebreak loss; 0 pts for a regular loss)

    But if you implement that across the board, that’s a pretty dramatic step I’d say. Does that kill tournaments in the US with multiple rounds per day already? The usual reason in the US is that you save on hotel costs or days away from work.

    In addition, on average, maybe players like Wesley So and Pavel Eljanov split games if there’s a forced decisive outcome. On average then, they probably come out even, but in the short-term, there are bigger swings in terms of take-home money. And bigger swings make it less likely someone can realistically make a living from playing chess.

    As it is, it’s tough to make a living; take away what little “guaranteed” money the traveling GM can make, and maybe they don’t play chess. Maybe some GM who is a little weaker than Eljanov, and who similarly has a law degree, decides to practice law instead. There’d be many consequences to removing draws as a possible outcome.

  7. Thanks for tackling the issue from your perspective. While I have some sympathy for people struggling to make a living, pre-arranged outcomes in all other sports are illegal. It’s hard to make the case for supporting professional chessplayers at all if the practice is so blatant and they do not conform to sporting standards, regardless of whether it makes financial/professional sense for the players in question. I’m sure those who have fixed matches in other sports also found good monetary reasons to do so. The phenomenon of draws in chess I think is a completely different topic than what occurred with the 3-move fixed game.

  8. I think I might have been misunderstood, since I started with the 3-move discussion, the pre-arranged draws I’ve had, and then some of my draws in general.

    Anyway, I’m not in favor of pre-arranged draws. However, I also haven’t read anywhere that the Eljanov-So draw was pre-arranged. For what it’s worth, my pre-arranged draws weren’t always my shortest draws in terms of moves.

    And as my later discussion said, as I got stronger, I generally preferred to play than to agree to an early draw. I’ve also made suggestions on this blog about creating unbalanced incentives so that while draws don’t disappear, these mutually-beneficial, short-draws become much less frequent.

    Anyway, as it’s all a bit jumbled as I jumped around in this post, my real point (I think) is this:
    (1) if you’re an organizer or a sponsor, and you’re really anti-(quick)-draw, then you need to put up or shut up when this stuff happens in your tournament – set up the rules and then follow them when they are broken in name and/or spirit;
    (2) if you’re a player, and you’re really anti-(quick)-draw, nobody is forcing you to take a quick draw; if you have done so though, then you need to admit to that;
    (3) and if you’re neither an organizer nor a sponsor, then like the (1) above, you need to put up or shut up: either need to get involved or swallow the complaint – I’m getting a little tired of hearing about it from those who perpetually stay on the sidelines

  9. Pingback: All About Draws | There and Back Again

  10. Fair enough. I’m also in favor of (reasonable) organizer rules regarding draw offers and the like. For me, no draw offers at all seems a bit much, but something like a 30-move rule seems about right. I think the burden of proof in a 3-move game is on the players to show it’s not a pre-arranged outcome, however.

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