Draw offers are an important part of the game of chess. Now, I won’t enter the debate about whether or not draw offers should be banned, but I’ll discuss my opinion about draw offers during the game.
I have a few stories involving draw offers. Once upon a time I got yelled at by my (higher rated and significantly older) opponent during the game for offering a draw. Long story short: I was freshly 10 and rated 1900+; the position was a dead draw to my eyes, and I offered a lot of draws. He was right. I indeed shouldn’t have offered draw repeatedly. I was right about the position being a dead draw, and we eventually drew. I never did that again. Lesson learned.
At scholastic tournaments, I’ve seen kids offering draws on practically every move, and that is simply obnoxious. Please don’t do that!! Another principle I learned was that if you’re defending or pseudo-defending, you shouldn’t be the one to offer a draw. Once your opponent gives up hope of winning the endgame and offers a draw, you should take it.
I’ve made a few hilariously quick draws (2 moves, 7 moves, 9 moves, etc.) in the last round of different tournaments, usually because either my opponent or I would win or tie for first place. That’s pretty typical for last rounds, and I’m quite sure just about everybody has done that at one point or another. Nevertheless, I’m not here to talk about my personal experiences, as those are usually pretty boring and have little or no instructive value.
First I would like to discuss the technical aspect of draw offers. The “proper” etiquette is to make your move and offer a draw immediately after it. Though there’s nothing illegal about offering a draw say 5 minutes into your opponent’s think, it’s not cool. If, on the other hand, your opponent offers a draw when it’s his move, then it’s perfectly within the rules for you to ask him to make his move, after which you can either accept or decline the draw offer. I’d recommend doing that, especially if your opponent has a tough decision to make.
As for draw offers themselves I’d split them into a few categories:
It’s equal draw offers
If the position is completely equal, then offering or accepting a draw is a natural thing to do. If, however, there is still life in the position and you want to play on, then play on if you feel like. This is not a justification to play rook vs. rook for 50 moves, as the only way you could win that in a game without increment/delay is if your opponent has a heart attack. What I’m saying is that if there is a reasonable chance that you will win even if the position is equal, then there’s no reason to agree to a draw.
One player offers a draw fairly early into the game, maybe around moves 15-20, in a position where neither side is clearly better and there is plenty of life left in the position. In my experience, most of these draws are in a tournament situation when neither my opponent nor I would win first place or any prize. I’ve accepted many of these draw offers, and a lot of people do that. Here’s an example I had this summer:
I was black. My position appeared to be more pleasant, but I didn’t have any concrete advantage. My main masterplan would be to orchestrate a minority attack with b5-b4 (after the bishop trade naturally), but white can stop it with Nf4-d3, after which I’ll have a hard time playing b4 and the white knight can land on c5. In view of that, I could play Nd6-e4, after which white would probably play Nf3-d2 trading off a pair of knights. Black has nothing—for the record, my engine evaluates this position as -0.1—and I accepted my opponent’s draw offer.
My stance on these kinds of draws is that as long as it’s a “here and there” kind of thing, it’s fine. A word of caution though: if you agree to a draw in less than 20 moves on a regular basis, then you’re not really learning anything from those games.
One side is worse draw offers
This is a typical scenario: player A is higher rated than player B, but player A is in big trouble and he offers a draw to try and escape. Player A is hoping that player B doesn’t want to risk it and wants to grab some rating points. Here’s an example from my own practice:
With his move 16.Bxe4, my opponent offered a draw. Black is clearly better, as white has several weaknesses (d4, h3, b2 could drop). White does admittedly have the bishop pair, but if black simply plays 16… Be7, white won’t preserve the bishop. Long story short, black has a risk-free edge, and white has a tough defensive task ahead of him. Nevertheless I decided to accept the draw. In retrospect I should have played on, but more on that later.
This is another game where I, as white, accepted a draw against a higher rated opponent. Unlike in the previous example, there is fire in this position. It could go both ways. The fact remains that white is better here. Much better to be precise. After 26.Rf1!, white has a variety of powerful ideas: Ng4 attacking the e5-pawn could be very strong. If black moves the king out of the way, than I could go Bh3 hitting the e6-pawn. Meanwhile, what is black going to do? While I can luxuriously play moves like Kb1, black is in dire straits.
Declining those kinds of draw offers can be hard. After all you are playing a higher rated opponent. It all depends how much better you are and how you feel about your practical winning chances. If you’re completely winning, then you really shouldn’t take the draw. If you’re only marginally better, it depends. In principle, you should play on. Even if you end up losing the game, what’s most important is that you learned something from the game. You can usually, however, come up with excuses/reasons to take the draw.
There are also times when the lower rated player offers a draw in a better position. I actually never really did that. There have been times when I’ve felt that if my opponent offers a draw, I’ll probably take it, but in those games I never found a good opportunity to offer a draw. I can’t remember the last time I offered a draw against a GM, and I don’t mind that. Most of my draws against higher rated players have ended after a) I was defending but survived, and my opponent offered a draw, b) it was equal for most of the game and my opponent and I squeezed the life out of the position, c) I was pressing but wasn’t able to win, so I repeated moves, or d) “quick draws” as described above. Where’s the room to offer a draw against stronger opponent? When I’m worse, I shouldn’t offer a draw unless my opponent is short on time. When I’m pressing, I should press.
Philosophical chat aside, what are my thoughts about draws in better positions? Honestly, I think it’s okay to agree to a draw in a better position as long as you don’t make it a habit. If you make a draw every time you get into a better position against a higher rated player, then you’re damaging your chess improvement. To get better at chess, you have to beat higher rated opponents and take risks. Period. If you’re pressing but can’t get through, and the game ends in a draw, then you’ll feel better than if you accepted that draw early on. It feels right. If you have a risk-free advantage, there’s no harm playing on. After all, you’re agreeing to a draw if you’re afraid that you’ll end up losing.
What about the higher rated player end? If you’re completely busted, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try offering a draw to a lower rated opponent. If you’re worse and don’t see a way out, offering a draw can alleviate suffering. Strangely, however, I can’t remember doing that in any particular game. I’m serious here. Nevertheless, offering a draw in a worse position as a higher rated player can make your life easier. If you’re in big trouble and your opponent offers you a draw, then you should take it. A draw is better than a loss. No question about it. If, however, you have swindling chances and want to gamble, you can turn down the draw. It’s your decision, after all.
There’s a special case called time trouble where you can forget most of the things I’ve said above. If you’re worse but your opponent has no time, then you could offer a draw. Your opponent might be relieved to accept it, and you’ve just snagged a half point. If you’re better and low on time and you feel things are going to go wrong, then you should consider offering a draw. If the position is unclear and complicated and both you and your opponent have no time, then offering a draw is reasonable. After all, it’s an easy way out of potentially disastrous mistakes/blunders in a time scramble.
For some reason I don’t offer many draws, and it’s hard for me to decline my opponent’s draw offers. Say you’re 250 points lower rated than your opponent, you’re a bit better, and he offers you a draw on move 15. Are you going to really be principled and reject my draw offer? You gain rating, you’re tired, you want to get some rest, etc… The reasons are just piling up.
Going through my game database today, I’ve also found that I’ve had more “chicken draws” in the past. Back in those days playing someone who was 200+ points higher rated than me wasn’t as rare as it is now. Once in a while I’d get a good position, my opponent would offer a draw, and it would be hard to resist… In principle I shouldn’t have accepted any of those draws, but just about everybody breaks those rules. I believe that I did accept too many draws. That’s my feeling looking back at those positions a few years later.
Here is my final conclusion. It’s okay to make chicken draws here and there, but don’t make it a habit. Everybody does it once in a while, but you should play positions out. How else are you going to improve your chess? If you’re not willing to take risks, then why are you playing chess?
Until next time!