The draw offer etiquette

Mar 20, 2014
  Alina
StaffCoachWGMIMHelpfulLessenmakers 2560

Smaller or bigger, simple or complicated, written or unwritten, rules are playing an inherent role within our lives. The thorny road of a new born child is “clearly” marked with “do-s” and “don't-s” until reaching the final destination: social acceptance. Like it or not, appearance rules the world. Which is not bad of course, otherwise only Freud will be able to explain what happens with our conscious, subconscious and hidden desires.

But if some rules are clear: do not kill – you will rot in jail; do not steal – you might have the same fate, others are less obvious, especially if we speak about moral principles, about what is do-able and what is not.
When it comes to codes of conduct things are getting a bit more complicated...and if we take chess as our main target, we will surely remark the same patterns as in “real” life: the en passant rule is clear but the fair play principles (integrity, fairness and respect) are not quite so.

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The boundaries are less evident and practice might show that implementation can be a bit confusing. Something which is perfectly sound and legitimate for someone might turn to be completely out of the question for another. We now enter the grayish zones of...deciding for yourself and hope for the best:)

True, in some cases the right conduct is easier to perform: I remember when I was watching a judo competition for women in Yemen; obviously the ladies had to cover their hair, but in such a physical match you can imagine the scarves were not always kept in positions, which is: on their heads. The nice thing to do in such an unfortunate moment is to simply wait until the scarf is back where it belongs – on your opponent's head, and only after you can give her a knock out. But not when she is busy arranging her decent and socially accepted look.

  • The "right" way to decline a draw offer

And yet, what should one do when faced with a more subtle dilemma? For example when your opponent is offering you a draw? In case you still feel that the game should continue, what do you do: reply or just play your move without saying a word?

Opinions are different on this topic. If before, during the “dinosaurs' era” (I am just quoting a very good friend:)), one was morally “obliged” to say something, therefore showing respect and that he at least heard the proposal, nowadays (I believe) things are not so clear anymore...

I have personally encountered (and used!) both reactions (I actually faced even a third one, when my opponent replied twice; first time: “I would like to think”, right after I launched my peaceful request; and second: “I would like to continue”...when it was obvious that my friendly suggestion has been declined) – so then what should we employ: the silent or the audible treatment?!

Truth be told: I simply don't know! Maybe one should 'feel the moment', depending on the factors involved: how is the position (if your opponent is being annoying, asking for a draw in a completely lost position then ok, we might just ignore his rather ridiculous attempt to get half a point or to distract us); how strong your opponent is (maybe one feels that being as quiet as a mouse would look disrespectful if facing a 400 higher rated opponent); or how much personally engaged you are within the game and your 'enemy'.

And now we enter the never ending tendency of human nature: the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people...so let's assume that the unwritten “rule”says:

  • One should reply when asked for a draw, otherwise silence is a sign of underbred behavior

Is that really so?

What if the person in front of you is just...shy?

Or imagine that your opponent is in a gigantic time trouble and just offered you a draw. By replying not only on the board but also verbally, couldn't it be seen as an additional attempt to mess up with his head? After all, it is redundant to use a double negation: both the chess move and the rejection words, as if trying to provoke and disturb him further.
Another possible interpretation that your opponent could give to your 'legitimate' acoustic message might be: “You arrogant bastard! Just make the bloody move, I understand you want to continue the game, so there is no need to show me even more how smart and better than me you are!”. - when actually all you wanted to do was precisely the opposite, to present him your highest consideration...

  • The silent treatment

On the other hand: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.” (George Orwell)
And chess did become a top sport as of late, which entitles us to speculate further: the reaction to a draw offer can be used as some sort of psychological weapon (for both sides!). Therefore, not replying might be seen not only as an impolite 'answer' but also as a sign of weakness, as if all you want is to win the game without establishing any sort of contact with your opponent. But isn't this all that our vanity is aiming for: to win the games?! If the silent treatment helps us keep our concentration and, at the same time, irritates the opponent – so be it! Or...?

Well, it depends:) What if the desired effect doesn't appear and all you achieve is exactly the opposite: defying your opponent's words will only stimulate him to prove what an “insolent” person you are by not even replying to a normal request!
So then, if we really really want to win, wouldn't it be better to say something back, therefore emphasizing that our position is just better? In this way we add the personal dimension to the entire scene, we intertwine with the opponent adding even more psychological pressure. If that's the case, is this really the “nice” thing to do?!

  • So many men, so many minds

People are different and so are the chess players. There is no clear recipe for this and I personally found myself in all of the above scenarios. My point is: why would you let yourself distracted by the intentional or unintentional reply or the lack of it? It can be interpreted in so many different ways that only an in depth discussion with your opponent might reveal the truth; obviously this will never happen so why should we place the negative aspect upfront instead of just focusing on the game?! But then of course...if we lose it is so “nice” to blow off steam and judge the so bad mannered chess player we were forced to face...and if the result is a point in our favor, I doubt we would still remember how badly the opponent misbehaved:) We are suddenly more generous...

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Many times though we just accept the offer, to only realize later on what "chicken" we were, according to the engines:)

But replying or not to a draw offer is not the only gray area in chess; the white and the black squares of the chess board are able to produce a lot of darker or lighter shades of gray (I am not talking about the bestseller!). There is the-eating-behind-the-board scenario, the-talking-with-your-friends-during-the-game issue and so forth.

If we would have a list with the exact actions we should employ for every single situation, it will make our life much easier; no complicated decisions to take, just apply the rule! And how boring that would be...

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