Monday, 4 November 2013

The "draw problem"

While I get some more articles prepared at my site, another quick blog on a chess-related issue that interests me: draws at grandmaster level.  ChessBase has a two-part series on draws:

Having read various recent issues of Chess Monthly, it does seem to me that the problem of uneventful draws and players striving not to lose has declined at the grandmaster level over the past 5-10 yearss or so.

For me, the main issue is that chess has a large "drawing margin" and that when you reach a very high standard, you run into the following problem.  I quote from Michael Goeller's review of the book "Beating Grandmasters More Regularly" at

C]hess is one of the most drawish of sports, and trying to complicate matters, especially with Black, can easily lead to disaster against opponents who are willing to set up a solid position and just wait. I have literally chosen to lose games rather than acquiesce to a draw against such players, because I could not bring myself to accept that my superior knowledge and understanding were insufficient to yield enough winning chances when facing them. Therefore, I would often consciously take excessive risks and lose. Being uncompromising is, in general, a disadvantage in chess, as having the "serve" ...of the white pieces is too hard to overcome. Had I realized this fact at the beginning,I would have probably played chess only as an amateur, and chosen a
different sport to make a professional career.

Such a statement makes you feel good to play as an amateur, where there will always be winning chances in every game you play even if they tend to exist for both sides!
The above issue represents the main reason why I don't have an ambition to reach GM level and play professionally- for me chess is a hobby and, while I'd quite like to break the 2000 Elo barrier, my main ambition is simply to have fun and to give something to the chess community for the benefit of fellow amateurs.  A lot of people assume that playing chess is about maximising results and that the goal is always maximum improvement, but I don't go along with that.

I don't think there's a lot that can be done about the above issue of drawishness at the highest levels of chess.  Magnus Carlsen, who I discussed in my last article, was known as a developing player to have a bold, attacking style and a strong willingness to trade material for activity (e.g. see Carlsen-Ernst, Wijk aan Zee 2004 at which is in keeping with the theme of the opening systems discussed in this blog, but when he reached a high grandmaster standard he realised that it is often hard to make those sort of attacks work at that level and the associated openings are vulnerable to being neutralised by deep computer-assisted opening preparation, so he chose to become more subtle and positionally-based in his ways of generating winning chances.

For now, though, I think chess is in pretty good health, because grandmaster chess is still capable of producing some excitement, and less than 1% of players are grandmasters- for the other 99+% of us, games will typically feature numerous winning chances for both sides.  There is a risk that computers could end up "solving" chess in the way that they have with draughts/checkers (i.e. being able to prove a draw against best play), which would be likely to cause a problem at grandmaster level, but it is unlikely that amateurs would even come close to remembering any of the "solutions".

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