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Friday, September 22, 2017

Saint Susan On Chicken Chess


    While visiting  Susan Polgar's site I saw a post where she asked the question, “Why are draw offers allowed in chess? Only stalemate, 3-fold repetition, perpetual checks, and no mating materials can result in a draw.” and commented, “...why not eliminate draw offer, period? There should be no arbitrary 30-40-50 move no draw offer rule. Just get rid of this option!...You cannot stop chicken chess. You can only hope to contain it.”

     Prohibitions against short draws have never worked. According to chess historian Anne Sunnucks until 1867 tournament games that were drawn were replayed. The Paris tournament of 1867 had so many drawn games to be replayed that it caused organizational problems. In 1868 the British Chess Association decided to award each player half a point instead of replaying the game.
     In 1929 the first edition of the FIDE laws of chess required thirty moves to be played before a draw by agreement, but the rule was discarded when the rules were revised in 1952. In 1954 FIDE rejected a request to reinstate the rule, but it did state that it is unethical and unsportsmanlike to agree to a draw before a serious contest had begun. FIDE stated that the director should discipline players who repeatedly disrespect this guideline, but it was largely ignored.
     Chess trainer Mark Dvoretsky, writing in a column for the Chess Cafe website, suggested that agreed draws should not be allowed at all, pointing out that such an agreement cannot be reached in other sports. Dvoretsky says that compelling players to carry on in “dead” positions is a small problem, adding that the effort required to play out these positions until a draw can be claimed by repetition or lack of material, for example, is minimal.
     In 1962 FIDE reinstated a rule against draws by agreement in fewer than thirty moves, with the director allowing them in exceptional circumstances. FIDE had the intention of enforcing the rule and the penalty was a loss of the game by both players. However, players ignored it or got around it by intentional threefold repetition. Directors were unable or unwilling to enforce the rule.
     In 1963 FIDE made another attempt ruling that draws by agreement before thirty moves were forbidden. The penalty was forfeit by both players. Directors had to investigate draws by repetition to make sure the players weren't just circumventing the rule. The rule was dropped in 1964 because when it didn't work as expected.
     In 2003, GM Maurice Ashley proposed that draw offers not be allowed before move 50. That same year, an international tournament in New York City had a rule that draws could not be agreed to before move fifty, but draws by threefold repetition or stalemate, were permissible any time. Players agreeing to premature draws were to be fined 10 percent of their appearance fee and 10 percent of any prize money they won
     The Sofia 2005 tournament employed a similar rule, which has become known as "Sofia rules". The players could not draw by agreement, but they could draw by stalemate, threefold repetition, the fifty-move rule, and insufficient material. Other draws are only allowed if the arbiter declares it is a drawn position. Anti-draw measure was adopted in the Bilbao Final Masters and the FIDE Grand Prix 2008-2010 which did not allow players to offer a draw. The draw had to be claimed with the arbiter, who was assisted by an experienced GM. The following draws were only allowed through the Chief Arbiter: threefold repetition of position, fifty-move rule, perpetual check and a theoretical draw.
     In 2016 the World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and challenger Sergey Karjakin they could not draw a game by agreement before black's 30th move, but they could claim a draw by threefold repetition.
     There have been various proposals to change the scoring system so that a win is worth more than two draws, but they have not been accepted.  Back in 2005 John Nunn wrote that he believed the rules did not need to change...the simple solution was for organizers to not invite players known for taking short draws. 
       But what of Susan Polgar? I looked on chess.com for her games and out of the 982 games, 408 were drawn and they included some of these masterpieces: a draw in 11 moves against Dimitry London in the Manhattan CC Championship, 16 moves against Milan Nrdja at Baden-Baden, a 12-move draw against Humberto Pecorelli Garcia in Trenciaanske Teplice, a 9-mover against Nigel Davies at Wijk aan Zee, 14 moves against Smyslov at Copenhagen and 10 moves against Peter Szekely in the 1987 Hungarian Championship...and so on.
     So why is she complaining about short draws? The answer, I guess, is the one provided by Dr. Milan Vidmar when he complained of players making quick draws and was reminded that he also used to be guilty of the same thing. His response: "All saints were sinners in their youth!”


  1. It is perfectly consistent to act in your own best interest within the existing rules while still calling for those rules to be changed. No player is required or expected to act against their own interests, as long as they play by the rules. So there's nothing hypocritical about Polgar's complaint.

  2. That is correct. As long as all follow the same rule. If draw is allowed, players need to do what is best for them. A quick draw may be smart after a super long game. However, if all have the same rule, the advantage/disadvantage is no longer there. Therefore, the author of this article missed the point entirely. SP

  3. But thank you for covering it :) Good research!

  4. hmmm...why does ms. polgar refer to premature draws by the deprecatory term chicken chess.

  5. To discourage draw offers, make any draw offer valid for a longer time period than 1 move. For example, a draw once offered gives the opponent draw odds until the next time control or even for the rest of the game.