Sunday, November 22, 2009

the talented dumbass and the draw offer(s)

I had decided not to tell you this story, because it's unkind to make fun of children, but then Ron Young asked me to and this changed my mind. I guess I'm easily influenced.

Let me say three things quickly before I start:

1. The protagonist (we'll call him Vladimir) is an awesome kid, absolutely top notch, one of my all-time favorites.

2. I think the etiquette surrounding draw offers and chess rules in general is fairly nonobvious, especially to kids, in the sense that sometimes things are absolute and rigid (how to claim three move repetition, when you lose on time and when you don't, once you agree to checkmate the game is over no matter what) and sometimes they require you to make judgment calls, or think about your opponent's motivations, or have some chess experience (when to offer a draw, when you can claim no losing chances). So I think you have to cut kids some slack.

3. Even though I know that 2. is true, I'm more sensitive than average to annoying behavior from the opponent and will complain to the TD at the slightest provocation. (My favorite complaint story: I complained to a TD at the world open a few years ago that it was too cold and asked if they could turn the AC down. The TD put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a half-hug and said "You're just cold because you're female.")

It's 8:30 pm last Saturday, I'm sitting next to Vladimir in the downstairs tournament room of the Marshall. The other 10 kids I brought are upstairs playing blitz and bughouse, also running around and yelling, obviously disturbing the peace of the club somewhat, but having such a terrific time doing so that I can't bring myself to say anything.

Vlad's is the last game going-- he's down two pawns against an expert in a rook, knight, and opposite colored bishop ending. He's sitting motionless at the board, leaning diagonally over it, looking like one of those pointy nosed hunting dogs. I'm very proud of him for fighting so intensely, so I sit next to him to offer moral support and watch.

The knights are traded and Vlad wins one pawn back, now it's rook and opposite colored bishop, and Vlad is down a passed pawn. He offers a draw. His opponent ignores him. A few moves go by. His opponent shuffles the pieces around, trying different ways to infiltrate with his king. It's a complicated position, but Vladimir is defending well. Then, to my horror, Vlad offers another draw. His opponent doesn't flinch.

Maybe an hour later he offers the fourth draw. I'm cringing inside, but I can't decide which is worse: me interfering in their game by telling him to stop, or him continuing to annoy his opponent (who, showing superhuman restraint, does not react in any way). I'm having an energetic internal debate about this when the fifth draw offer comes.

This time Vladimir sticks his hand out across the board, almost directly in his opponent's face, whispers "DRAW" loudly and nervously, and leaves his hand there. I can't help myself, and hiss, "Vladimir, stop!"

To his enormous credit, Vlad draws the game twenty moves later. We have a good conversation on the train home about the rules and etiquette for offering draws and when offering a draw even makes sense. All is good.

The second day of the tournament was a beautiful sunny Sunday, I'm sitting out in the garden behind the Marshall in the afternoon, really enjoying myself, leisurely looking over kids' games with them. Last time I went inside to check on his position, Vladimir was down a pawn and worse against a 1900.

Around 3 pm, he comes out and excitedly announces his opponent agreed to a draw. I congratulate him and return to the game I had been going over.

Five seconds later, his livid opponent storms into the garden, red-faced and eyes-bulging, and says "You stuck out your hand when you were down a piece and one move away from checkmate! Obviously I thought you were resigning! If you don't want to resign, you have to continue the game."

Vladimir freezes, then turns slowly to me and replies, "I said 'Draw?' and he shook my hand. That ends the game. Those are the rules." His voice is very close to cracking. The opponent counters that if he said draw, he whispered it. Vladimir shrugs at this possibility.

Both of them look at me for a decision, and I can't help myself, I start laughing, and so do all the kids sitting with me. Vladimir pleads with me, "But those are the rules." I try to explain that I understand where he is coming from, but you can't trick your opponent into accepting a draw (even though, as he correctly points out, you kind of are allowed to trick him into incorrectly accepting that he has been checkmated).

Vladimir agrees to resign. I apologize to both his opponents. They are both very nice.
It's become a new joke in chess club: randomly, for no reason, you say "DRAAAAAAAAWWWWW?" and stick your hand in someone's face, and then everyone looks at Vladimir and laughs.


Ron Young said...

Thanks, wow, you really went all out, illustrative cartoon and everything!

It’s become a plague since the Waitzkin movie to think that sticking one’s hand in the opponent’s face is the way to offer a draw. I even remember a fiftyish-year-old longtime expert who did it, and explained to me he was following the kid in the movie. I’ll bet he was using “notation paper” too instead of a scoresheet.

Mark Howitt said...

Chess players are just weird.

dfan said...

Here's my kid draw story: a ten-year-old kid at a nearby board was having a good game against an adult (40s) opponent, but I guess simplified into an endgame with few winning chances. The kid sighed and said, under his breath and practically to himself, "I guess it's a draw," and a tenth of a second later his adult opponent said "I ACCEPT!" and stood up and stopped the clocks.

The TD was called in and ruled in the adult's favor. The kid was practically in tears.

Anonymous said...

He actually is allowed to offer a draw again if the position has significantly changed.

Bill Brock said...

Repeated draw offers may be permissible, but they're generally not considered good manners, especially when made by the lower-rated player.

LinuxGuy said...

I think people do weird things naturally during the heat of the moment.

After the game, the person doing the weird thing (hopefully) probably says to themselves "Oh shoot, I was an @ss for doing that, I hope that person doesn't stop coming back because I did that".

I've always thought that the idea of the "touch move" rule was messed-up. But it's just another one of those things that a player has to accept, part of the game(smanship). And people love their rules as in any sport.

But then it becomes "well they would call it on me, so I would call it on them" situation. I've never called touch move on someone, but if I do then it would be because it makes sense under that context.

I just looked up the origin of that rule. Yes, it is even funnier than I would have guessed.

So apparently it was for high-stakes games, but look at us, rarely is a game of chess a high-stakes affair except in a "big money" tournament.

I think it's a more honorable thing to forgive than to enforce rules, but my perception is that many people see it as the opposite, that it is more honorable to enforce the rules than to forgive.

Anonymous said...

The relative ratings shouldn't matter. It's whoever is worse on the board. It's just as bad for a higher-rated player to repeatedly offer draws in a worse position.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

chess is always a high stakes game.

Elizabeth Vicary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LinuxGuy said...

Ignore the last paragraph I wrote in my post, as I didn't articulate that thought correctly and what I wrote sounds really dumb (obviously I was referring to being gracious).

I suppose it's high-stakes now, but back when I was a new player, around 1300, at the local chess club, it did strike me as odd.

Once I upset a guy, long time ago, because I did not know the rule that I had to wait for him to press his clock before I could move ("completion of the move" rule) - I had to blitz to make the time-control. I still see people do that to me today, Class A level players that move after me but before I can reach to press the clock, and they aren't even in time trouble. I find this irony slightly amusing.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of bringing the whole Women's Championship issue up again, arbiter Geurt Gijssen at ChessCafe says that you DON'T have to wait until your opponent has pressed your clock to move; you simply can't prevent him/her from pressing your clock.

Rick Massimo

Anonymous said...

A random thought, which might be applicable outside of this situation. Why not have two small plastic laminated cards - one red and one yellow. On one reads "Draw 1/2-1/2?". On the other reads "I Resign".
Should end all future controversies and ambiguities.
Probably makes too much sense which is why it won't happen :)

Anonymous said...

This is why big tournaments require both players to sign the scoresheet with the result on it.

I think this should be standard practice in all tournaments; even scholastics, even if you have a scorebook. Then it's clear what the agreed result was and, if need be, you can show the TD the evidence.


Anonymous said...

BTW, I think offering a draw and holding out your hand at the same time is incredibly rude and just pisses me off; I don't care how old you are, it makes me want to crush you.


Bill Brock said...

[blockquote]The relative ratings shouldn't matter. It's whoever is worse on the board. It's just as bad for a higher-rated player to repeatedly offer draws in a worse position.[/blockquote]

That's true, too: rude is rude.

I was thinking of the narrow spectrum slightly better to slightly worse. The higher-rated player is more likely to have a high contempt factor.

I do admit to having made draw offers (one per game) that I believe will likely be *perceived* as annoying (when I have an 0.60 advantage in the middlegame against a much stronger player, hoping to goad them into kamikaze). But if there's an objective reason OTB for the offer, I don't think that's unsporting. YMMV.

LinuxGuy said...

I only hold out my hand to resign.

When someone holds out there hand for a draw I just think they are begging or something - as in "Please sih, can I have some mohre?"

If I do ask for a draw, and I usually don't, I will say "you wouldn't be interested in a draw by chance would you?" That way, it probably won't affend them too much. Even that usually gets a strong rebuke though.

Anonymous said...

(My favorite complaint story: I complained to a TD at the world open a few years ago that it was too cold and asked if they could turn the AC down. The TD put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a half-hug and said "You're just cold because you're female.")

That's a sneaky way to get a hug out of someone.

So can you codify for us exactly what is correct draw offer etiquette?

Anonymous said...

By the rules, you are supposed to make your move on the board, offer a draw, and THEN press the clock, so the draw offer happens on your time.

As to who, rated what, with what type of advantage, should offer when and how many times, just use common sense people: don't be an asshole.

Anonymous said...

"So can you codify for us exactly what is correct draw offer etiquette?"

I was told early on that it boils down to: A draw offer should be made by the side who is better, as a way of saying, "Nice defense. I give up trying to win, so I offer you a draw." If you are worse, then obviously you want a draw, so it's kind of annoying to offer.

Rick Massimo

Arne said...

Great story! Etiquette stuff is always difficult to explain to those who don't feel what it means instinctively.

I had the opposite of what happened in Vladimir's second game once: in an opposite bishop ending with a pawn down, I stuck out my hand to resign the game, but my opponent grabbed it saying 'Yeah, let's make it a draw' :-)

Leon Akpalu said...

@ "The opponent counters that if he said draw, he whispered it."

BTW, Vladimir was being rude, but this is just bull. You have to watch what you say during a chess game. There was a case in the late 1800s where a player opened with 1.e3, a not very intimidating move. His opponent, Blackburne, said sarcastically "Oh, well, I resign!" The TD held him to it.

There's no "oopsies, takeback!" or "I had my fingers crossed!" for saying "draw" or "I resign" any more than there is for making a move on the board.

Leon Akpalu said...

Another note is that you really have to fall back on basic person-to-person politeness in these draw offer situations, because (as we've seen in miniature here) almost no one has the same concept of what is correct.

So it doesn't matter what you do: the other person will almost always think you're offering incorrectly, and it just comes down to whether they're going to be a jerk about it or not.

Personally, I knew a master in California who said that he would offer a draw when he was tired of the game, because he found that it always took a decisive turn within four moves of an offer. Most of my draw offers since then have been of this nature, and I've found it to generally work out that way. Sort of like Bill was saying, but acknowledging that you're summoning more than one possible outcome.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid the standard reply was "get your grubby hand out of my face".