Thursday 4 August 2016

No half measures

By the time this publishes I ought to be on my way to Prague, to play in the Summer Open, my first proper chess since last August. I played two tournaments that month, the first of which, in Sitges, featured, on my part, a draw offer in a position that was won for me.

I've always been a little too keen to take the draw, especially where the opponent is stronger than I am or the clocks are running short or to be honest, or any other reason. Drawing is better than losing, I tell myself, and it surely is, but drawing when you can actually win might be more embarrassing than losing when you ought to draw.

I have a solution to this problem - I don't claim that it'll work, I just claim that it's a solution - but as it happens, while I was drafting this piece there was a similarly embarrassing incident in the eighth round of the British Championships, where Matthew Payne, having survived a mutual blunder earlier on that would have seen him a piece down for nothing, had the opportunity after 29....Bd4?? to knock over an opponent rated almost three hundred points his superior.

With 30. Rxh7+! he took his chance...

...and then after 30...Kxh7 he threw it away again, playing 31. Qh6+ Kg8 32. Qg6+ Kh8 33. Qh6+ and agreeing a draw

...when in fact he has a mate in five with 33...Kg8 34. Qg6+ Kh8 35. Qh5+! Kg8 36. Ne7+! Kg7 and now 37. Qg6+
and mate next.

It will have added to his frustration - when he found out that he'd missed the win - not only that he still had it available when he agreed the draw, but that he had already passed up two chances to deliver it (and yet still had it in hand nonetheless). More than that, he must have already seen the right idea, in good part, siince in order to play the sacrifice, she needed to understand that 32...Bg7 would have lost to a knight check on e7.

This is funny, or painful, or some balance of the two according to taste and inclination, when it happens to somebody else. But I might fund it funnier if I wasn't pretty confident that I would have done the same thing that he did, and force a draw before you find yourself losing instead.

As it happens, almost a decade ago I wrote about the Spanish Grandmaster Juan Manuel Bellón López, who, according to an El País article I saw at the time, had not offered a draw since 1978.

He agrees draws, all right. He just doesn't offer them. (Or he didn't. I don't know if he's kept it up for the last decade.)

It's the solution suggested by my friends when we were discussing what happened at Sitges and a perceived tendency - perceived by me, at any rate - to grasp at a draw when tension was high, even though there might be more on offer. Sit on the hand that offers the draw. More than that, tie it up. Forbid yourself to use it.

So that's the plan, for Prague at any rate. No draw offers.

It might not work. It presumably wouldn't have worked for Matthew Payne (since although he offered a draw, he could just as easily have forced it) but it might be a good discipline to acquire. Why not give it a go?

One thing I wonder, though. What if Bellón López turned up?

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