To Draw or not to Draw?

Sherwood, Russell  Friday, December 22, 2017

When should a player consider accepting/offering a draw in CC?  The answer to this question is very personal to the player, based on a number of beliefs, which we will now try and untangle!

The first area to consider is the player's approach to draws. Depending on the event player’s will adopt a number of different strategies, ranging from “Win with White, Draw with Black” – at the higher levels against peer level opposition to the frantic “Win at all costs with either colour” seen in some of the large ICCF Open events. (Interesting side note, often high rated players underperform in Open events as they struggle to move from the first strategy to the second!)

This strategy (or even the middle ground of taking it as it comes) will all introduce a level of Bias into our acceptance/rejection decisions.

So what does a draw offer actually entail? Effectively we are saying that “I don’t think I can win this game” and by implication “I don’t think you can either”. So how do we reach that conclusion? This varies between players but from discussions with a number of players a few (not mutually exclusive) approaches include


  • #1 Statistics for this position indicate it likely to be a draw – e.g. the last 100 games played from this line all ended in draws.
  • #2 My engines(s) evaluation of the position as 0
  • #3 My Chess sense tells me that the position is dead
  • #4 The Rating (or more precisely rating difference) of my opponent


We also have a number of other reasons for draw offers, not related to the position (or opponent)


  • #5 The position of the tournament – If a draw is only needed to win/qualify/…….
  • #6 Title Norm Requirements – I only need a draw
  • #7 Rating reasons – Either the player wants to “leech” rating points or wants to take the gain/or hit to their rating before the end of a rating period


Then to add to this we have psychological reasons


  • #8 They are  in an inferior position but want to cast doubt on your evaluation
  • #9 They want to “buy” their way of a bad position
  • #10 They are bluffing, having seen a lost position (and hoping you have not yet)


Mixing all these together we then see a range of behaviours ranging from: Offering a draw around move 20 or earlier – these tend to be related to players who rely on #1,#2 or #7 to grinding out a position to very end – they tend to be players who focus on #7 and on a factor not yet discussed – Fudge Factor: How likely is your opponent to make a mistake in a draw position.


So how should the intelligent player approach draw offers?


First, forget any nonsense about the higher-rated player having to offer the draw. Ratings are rather more fluid now than they were 20 or more years ago, so this just does not make sense!


In my opinion, the criteria should be considered:


  1. What are my goals for this event and this game? This should have been done at the start of the event but may have been modified as the game/event progressed. So what was the expected result at the start of the game (determined by your preparation) and does a draw meet the needs of this event?
  2. What is the state of play on the board (#3)? This is not what an engine or opening books tell you but what you actually think. The key here is, to be honest with yourself, don’t delude yourself that your position is better or worse than it really is. If we do come to the conclusion that our position is much worse, then a tactical draw offer may be on the cards
  3. What do the Engines say about this position? Remember that an evaluation of 0 does not mean it is drawn, simply that the engine considers the position to be balanced. A few helpful things to consider here (and in #2) are the imbalances in the position (based on Silman’s theory of imbalances) – what is different about black and white – pieces, mobility, pawn structure.
  4. What do the Databases say about the position?  There are a number of factors to consider – the performance level, the percentage of draws, how recent the games where.
  5. Am I content with a draw (and is my opponent likely to be content? This is the least analytical criterion to consider but, even with recent rules changes, draw offers are still limited.
  6. What type of Guy/Girl is my opponent? This information should have been gleaned in your preparation but how often do they win/lose? Do they take early/late draws? What is their recent form? (Always difficult to assess as games in the public domain tend to have been won/lost a year or more before!) An example of this was an opponent I kept bumping into Regional events. He would play like a 2400 rated player for about 30 moves, then 90% of the time blunder in the middlegame – so I knew against him the approach was to never take early draws.


Unless you can find support for a draw from most of the  6 of these criteria then a draw offer should not be made or accepted (#2 is the exception if all the others are green as Engines often have favourable scores in what are in reality drawn positions).  There is a 7th criterion which is related to your time – both in an individual game and for CC in general. It used to be the case that you could recover your time in almost any event – even if down to less than 1 day on the clock but with the event of Tri-Bi your relative clock positions becomes something you should consider on a regular basis.



Anyway, I hope these thoughts are helpful!

Updated Friday, December 22, 2017 by Russell Sherwood

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