04 September 2019

Video completed: "Why You Should Always Think Before Taking a Draw" by Tatev Abrahamyan

"Why You Should Always Think Before Taking a Draw" is the fifth video in the new Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. It is shorter than the others, at around 7 minutes, which I think is appropriate for the topic. An opening quote summarizes its main idea nicely, in the context of thinking about what to do when a higher-rated player makes a draw offer, although I believe it applies to our general approach to the game as improving players:
We want to be able to play objective chess, rather than emotional chess...and be able to play the position, not so much our opponent.
In the first game example, taken from the Bundesliga where White has a 300-point rating deficit, White took a draw when there was essentially zero risk of losing and he had all the winning chances.  "Playing with zero risk against a strong player, it's something we have to do all the time [meaning every time]. We owe it to our position to actually play the game out." The second game is similar, with the Black player down 300+ points, but after the coming forced sequence being up a pawn and having all the better chances.

The third example acknowledges the role that time pressure can play in accepting a draw, but Abrahamyan argues that if you can play "easy" moves until a time control, you can then do deeper calculation once you have more time. In other words, don't try to calculate all the way to a win if that's not possible, rather take obvious (but with a tactics check!) ways to at least preserve your existing advantage. In this particular game, Black's king position was weak and White had some easy follow-up attacking moves that would not have let Black get any counterplay.

In each case, a contributing factor is the "visual" evaluation of the board, in which superficially the side offering a draw seems like they may have some counterchances or threats. The third game was a good example of this, in which Black had a passed pawn on d4. However, when concrete analysis shows there is no actual opportunity for your opponent to implement a threat, it is worth playing on. In this particular case, White could keep making threats against Black's permanently weak king. In another example from the first game, White could at any time just force a draw via perpetual check, so that provided a sufficient safety net to play for a win.

In addition to being simply good, objective chess, the principle of playing out a favorable position I think is one of the practical keys to advancing your chess strength (and rating). It helps build mental toughness - remember Fischer's motto "No draws!" - and there's also the simple fact that "you can't win if you don't play." Unfortunately time pressure does sometimes interfere with an objectively best decision, along with emotional pressure - but the latter is something which you put on yourself and is subjective, not objective.

I would therefore suggest mentally rejecting the idea of a draw - including offering one yourself - if the decision would be made on a purely emotional basis. I remember having to repeatedly fight down the impulse to hope/wish for a draw in my best game ever, and was very glad that I did so. Yes, losing is then a possibility, but once you accept that fact for each and every game, it makes it mentally easier to give yourself the chance to win more often.

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