To Draw or Not to Draw?

It’s the age-old question that has plagued both amateurs and grandmasters alike:  At what point should I settle for a draw?  As a player that’s encountered this question myself in numerous situations in the past, I always knew it was an interesting dilemma to deal with.  However, it was not until recently that I realized how crucial it truly is to make that decision correctly the first time.  It’s almost funny because we have all had those moments where we are completely bewildered as to why someone would take a draw in a position where it seems as if playing on is a decision that’s easy to make.  On the other hand, there are also those situations where it seems almost foolish to play on because the game should certainly end in a draw, right?  Well, there’s more to it than one would think.

I, speaking from personal experience, have been on the receiving end of all three outcomes.  Due to the knowledge that a draw as the end result doesn’t teach much, we will stick to the decisive results in this article.  Of the many that I have played, there is one game that stands out above the rest when it comes to being associated with this eternal question.

Samuelson – Kobla (Maryland Open, 2016)

If there was one thing I took away from this game, it was to never, ever let your guard down, no matter the situation.  My thought process was, “It’s opposite-colored bishops, he doesn’t have control over the only open file on the board, and my rook can cut off any entrance squares.  This is a draw.”  This mindset took me out of my zone of concentration, which led to the ignorance of any possible breakthrough on my opponent’s part.  Trust me, it’s something you never want to slip into.  I hadn’t really realized it myself until the damage was done.  There are lessons to be learned from this game for everyone:

  1. Never let your guard down, even if your brain tells you a draw is certain.
  2. Always consider the possibility of a breakthrough. This goes for you being the receiver and the propagator.  If you will yourself to find one, more often the not, you can, thus allowing you to either execute it successfully or defend against it before it can be sprung.

While most people, including me, would have taken a draw as White in that position, my opponent found a creative possibility for a breakthrough, and he was able to execute it with perfection.

I have also had my fair, albeit much smaller, share of games where I won as a result of an opponent that pushed too hard for a win.  The most recent of these examples was played this past weekend, so we’ll take a look into this one.

Kobla – Shahalam (Northern Virginia Chess League, 2016)

That was quite an eventful ride.  I went from losing early on to gaining compensation to drawing even in material and eventually winning in one of the rarest fashions today.  This is what I believe happened:  My opponent had been pushing the whole game, especially after I blundered a pawn before move 10.  Even after material became even, he still had the slight edge with the passed pawn.  However, after that last plus came off the board, he was just making moves with the hope that I’d blunder.  After my last move, 71. Nc5, it probably only then dawned on him that he was not going to win the game, which subsequently caused him to forget about the other factors of the game, such as the time.  It goes to show how the aggressor is walking a tightrope when pushing for a win.  By no means is there a clause stating that there is no way to lose.  Going back to the point I made earlier, this is one of the reasons that you sometimes see players declining the opportunity to push on for a win.  It’s just not worth it; this is especially the case when no clear plan for improvement exists.  I understand why my opponent played on when he had the passed pawn (I would, too), but after the pair of pawns came off, that should be the end of it.  Time is also a factor.  In my game, we each had approximately a minute left, which is obviously not enough to even make an attempt to play on in a dead drawn position.  The things we can learn from this can be summarized in a couple points:

  1. If it’s a completely, dead drawn position, take the draw. You won’t win a position like my opponent tried to do at the end there.  As a rule, only play on if there is a clear imbalance.
  2. Always take into account the amount of time left on your clock. Usually, gauging whether the time left is enough to push without too much danger is the best place to start.

In these two examples, we looked into the simple assessments of the positions and external factors to decide whether it was justified to play on instead of taking a draw.  The first game was a perfect example where it was indeed a smart decision to play on, as there was a clear breakthrough that was there for the execution.  The second game was a clear-cut example where the player had to take a draw, as there was nothing to really play for at that point.  There were certainly lessons to be learned from these games, just as any other, but these were all connected to the idea of taking the draw at the right time.

As always, I’ll see you next time, and I wish you luck in your future games related to the topics discussed today!

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