On Short, Stalemates and Sofia

There have been many discussions in recent years about the draws in chess. To me the draw is an integral part of the game of chess: after all there are two armies which are equal in size and quality and if their respective commanders deploy them well, it is very probable that there won’t be a winner.

There are many types of draws, a drawn game can be of high quality (Carlsen-Aronian from the Zurich tournament comes to mind as the lastest example), but I understand that it is the short and not-played-out draws that bother the people. (Short draws can also be entertaining, see Ivanchuk-Vachier from Gibraltar, even though it wasn’t that short. But I’ll talk about Short further on). So they went to Sofia (a nice city, but personally I prefer Plovdiv) and started prohibiting the draw offer. This does solve the problem of not-played-out draws to a certain extent, and it is a drastic solution, but it takes away one important aspect of the psychological warfare – the exact draw offer they are trying to get rid of. Very often a player will offer a draw for various reasons: as a bluff, as an attempt to get the opponent thinking more or distract him, in time-trouble or as a sign of bravado. The psychology behind the draw offer makes chess a much richer game so this is all well and nice, the only problem is that the opponent may actually accept the offer and then we have the not-played-out draw which was the problem in the first place. I suppose you cannot have it all, you need to give something to get something and obviously we’re in an experimental phase, trying various things out (banning draw offers entirely, or before move 30, or 40. I still haven’t heard of the idea of introducing fees for each draw offer during a game – an idea that needs further examination, but I’m sure they’ll come to this in the future).

The draw exists because if the game is played out until the very end there will be a stalemate. Doctor Short (Nigel is a Doctor, in case you didn’t know already) is the most vocal adherent of banning the stalemate as a draw and proclaiming it a win for the stronger side. I don’t know how serious the venerable Doctor is in his claim, but I find it difficult to accept that he cannot see the idea of the Creator of the game when the stalemate was made to be a draw. How many times has it happened to you when you’re trying to teach a beginner to give a mate with a queen and he or she keeps stalemating you? How annoying was that? Here lies the ultimate finesse of chess (thanks to Walter Browne for the beautiful syntagm) – you need to be precise until the very end! Sloppiness cannot and shoudn’t be rewarded, how much chess would lose if we reduced it just to banging moves irrelevant if they end up in mate or stalemate? There is never a “doesn’t matter” in chess, just as in life and that is why chess is so attractive to people. Precision is the name of our game and it requires mental effort that is very rewarding when executed accurately. If precision and accuracy didn’t matter then chess wouldn’t be in harmony with Nature (where everything is precise and exact) and would stop being the wisest game ever invented. And I don’t want that.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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