“If your opponent offers you a draw, try to work out why he thinks he’s worse off”
Mentioning draws in competitive chess brings up first Fischer’s approach to play for a win in every game; possibly close behind is Short’s advice, something quite popular in junior and club chess levels. Of course things are not as simple as they seem and the correct way to look at draws is to take a balanced approach, analyse the situation at hand and decide if you need to play for a draw or not. We all start playing with the intention to win; some might even know the saying:
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
It is however possible to look for a draw all along if the opponent is quite strong or famous. One of the latest examples in this regard is the first game between Magnus Carlsen and Bu Xiangzhi at the FIDE World Cup 2017. Bu sacrificed a piece to open up Magnus castle. All the pressure was then on Magnus who had to choose between going for a perpetual or playing ahead and proving the sacrifice was wrong. What would have you done in his shoes? It depends, right? Going back to Bu’s decision, it shows one of the right ways to go for a draw: attack the opposing King, offer a perpetual line and have a strong attack with practical chances as the other option. Time could also become a factor since the stronger player would have to use it to decide what to do and how to navigate the stormy waters of defending properly. Magnus did not handle it properly and Bu’s decision brought him a decisive win:
The second and decisive game between Bu Xiangzhi and Magnus Carlsen (same event) was another good display on how to play for a draw from the beginning. Bu played very solid and maintained a small advantage throughout the game. Magnus could not muddy the waters, nor was he given any opportunity to create a weakness in White’s position. It is very hard to play for a win with the Black pieces in such cases.
I am sure if you look in your own databases of personal games, you could find several samples where you were faced with the same dilemma: “draw or no draw?”. My next two personal examples have passed the test of time and will forever stick with me, proving that draws can also be memorable.
The first one comes from my junior years. My queen side attack was not very inspired and my piece placement proved to be unfortunate. I remember sensing something was wrong and hoping I could hold on. My opponent came up with a brilliant plan, only to follow it up with a huge blunder when all he had to do was to collect the win. That gave me the opportunity to force the draw in a unique position. See it for yourself:
The second example is also a personal milestone, representing my first result for the national team. Back in 1989 Romania managed to arrange a friendly correspondence chess match with Germany, a perennial powerhouse. A number of young and full of potential players were selected to represent both countries and I was fortunate enough to also be selected on our side. I did not know much about my opponent except his high ICCF rating at the time (2485), while I had no international rating. We were playing two games in the same time (one as White and one as Black), moves being sent back and forth by post. The pace was about 1 move a month; the postal connection between Romania and Germany was still very sketchy at the time. I got an interesting position as white in the semi-Slav and had my eyes on attacking at the first opportunity; for that purpose I was ready to take risks.
“He who takes risks can lose, he who doesn’t however will lose for sure.”
Black got in time trouble, played a couple of dubious moves and then decided to go for the available line leading to a draw by perpetual.
Hope I made a good case for looking at the draw option with an open mind. Today chess is played under fast time controls and holding a strong position where you could offer a draw at anytime is a strong choice for all of us. Looking at the FIDE World Cup 2017 semifinal, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had the chance to play for a draw in his Armageddon game versus GM Levon Aronian. He did not succeed, but the possibility to decide the winner of the match like this was/ is of major importance. We need to be prepared to play for a draw if the situation dictates and there is nothing wrong with that.
Valer Eugen Demian