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Draw (chess)

In chess, a draw is one of the possible outcomes of a game (the others being a win for white and a win for black). In tournaments, wins are worth one point to the victor and none to the loser, while draws are worth one-half point to each player.

In games played at the top level, a draw is the most common outcome of a game: of around 22,000 games published in The Week In Chess played between 1999 and 2002 by players with a FIDE Elo rating of 2500 or above, 55% were draws. It is generally believed that a perfectly played game of chess will always result in a draw. At lower levels of play, the frequency of draws falls: of around 40,000 games with players both rated between 2300 and 2499 in the same time-frame, only 45% ended in a draw, and of around 22,500 games involving players rated between 2100 and 2299 the figure is an even lower 34%.

Rule 5.2 of the official FIDE laws of chess detail the ways a game may end in a draw:

  1. Stalemate - if the player on turn has no legal move but is not in check, this is stalemate and the game is a draw.
  2. Impossibility of checkmate - if a position arises in which neither player could possibly give checkmate by a series of legal moves (because there is insufficient material left, as for example, king and bishop against king), the game is a draw.
  3. Mutual agreement - a player may offer a draw to his opponent at any stage of a game; if the opponent accepts, the game is a draw. Article 9.1 of the laws of chess states that the draw should be offered after making a move and before pressing the clock, but that a draw offered at any other time during the game is valid so long as it does not distract an opponent. Once made, a draw offer cannot be retracted, and is valid until rejected. A draw may be rejected either verbally or by making a move.
  4. Three-fold repetition - if an identical position has occurred three times, or will occur after the player on turn makes his move, the player on move may claim a draw (note that in this case the draw is not automatic - a player must claim it). Article 9.2 states that a position is considered identical to another if the same player is on move, the same pieces of the same colour occupy the same squares, and the same moves are available to each player (that is, each player has the same castling and en passant pawn capturing rights).
  5. Fifty move rule - if fifty moves have passed with no pawn being moved and no capture being made, a draw may be claimed (again, the draw is not automatic).

It is popularly considered that perpetual check - where one player gives a series of checks from which the other player cannot escape - is a draw, but in fact there is no specific provision for this in the laws of chess. However, any perpetual check situation will eventually be claimable as a draw either under the fifty move rule or by three-fold repetition.

In addition to the above five ways, article 10 of the FIDE laws of chess states that when a player has less than two minutes left on their clock during a rapidplay finish (the end of a game when all remaining moves must be completed within a limited amount of time), they may claim a draw if their opponent is not attempting to win the game by "normal means" or cannot win the game by "normal means". "Normal means" can be taken to mean the delivery of checkmate or the winning of material. In other words, a draw is claimable if the opponent is merely attempting to win on time, or cannot possibly win except by on time. It is up to the arbiter to decide whether such a claim will be granted or not.

It should be noted that although these are the laws as laid down by FIDE and, as such, are used at almost all top-level tournaments, at lower levels different rules may operate, particularly with regard to rapidplay finish provisions.

Discouragement of draws by agreement

Although many games logically end in a draw after a hard-fought battle between the players, there have been attempts throughout history to discourage or completely disallow draws. In many World Championship matches, draws have not counted, the winner instead being the first player to win a particular number of games (this rule was most recently dropped after the 1984 match between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov was abondoned without result after 48 games with neither player winning the required six). Similarly, in the very first international round-robin tournament in London in 1862, drawn games had to be replayed until there was a decisive result.

More recently, there has been concern in some quarters about agreed draws in positions which are very unclear and in which either player could still play for a win. This may be for a number of reasons: in the last round of a tournament, for example, two players who are tying for the lead may agree a quick draw in order to guarantee a share of first place; one of the players may be short of time and so agree a draw to avoid losing on time or blundering in time trouble; or the players may simply not be in the mood to fight for a win, and so take a draw to effectively have a day off.

Because such quick draws are widely considered unsatisfactory both for spectators (who may only see half-an-hour of play with nothing very interesting happening) and sponsors (who suffer from decreased interest in the media), various measures have been adopted over the years to discourage players from agreeing draws. For example, a small number of tournaments in the past have adopted an alternative scoring system, whereby a win is worth three points, while a draw is worth only one (a recent tournament using such a system was Lippstadt 2003). Similarly, there have been proposals that certain kinds of draw should be worth more points than others - for example, awarding only half a point for an agreed draw, but three quarters of a point for a side delivering stalemate (one quarter of a point going to the side who is stalemated). These proposals have never been widely adopted.

The 2003 Generation Chess International Tournament in New York City had a rule that draws could not be agreed before move 50 (draws by other means, such as three-fold repition or stalemate, were permissible at any stage). Players agreeing to premature draws were to be fined 10% of their appearance fee and 10% of any prize money won. In a similar vein, the tournament organiser Luis Rentero (best known for organising the very strong tournaments in Linares) has sometimes enforced a rule whereby draws cannot be agreed before move 30.

The respected 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 such as boxing. Although some have claimed that outlawing agreed draws entirely requires players to carry on playing in "dead" positions (where no side can reasonably play for a win), Dvoretsky says that this is a small problem and that the effort required to play out these positions until a draw can be claimed by reptition or lack of material, for example, is minimal. He also suggests that draw offers could be allowed if sent through an arbiter - if the arbiter agrees that a position is a dead draw, he will pass the draw offer on to the opponent who may either accept or decline it as usual; if the arbiter believes there is still something to play for in the position, the draw offer is not permitted.

There is no indication that any of these proposals will be adopted by FIDE in the near future, and it seems likely that except in specific tournaments expressly forbidding them, draw offers will continue to be allowed at any stage of the game.

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