When should you resign in chess? (Solved and Explained!)

The time that we will be defeated in a chess game will always come, no matter the skill level nor training, it is inevitable. However I don’t want you to be always resigning if there’s still a chance, there should be a guideline that we need to follow.

This is to make sure that the statistics will always be in our favor, that we do not miss any potential wins. Here’s what I’ve learned from years of playing:

One should only resign if there’s a significant material disadvantage (usually, two pieces or a whole rook) and there are no drawing chances (Perpetual checks). Resignation is also warranted when there are no counter-attacks or learning opportunities that a player can get by continuing.

There is no clear-cut answer to when one should reside in chess, there’s always a gray area since chess is a complicated competition. However, I want to bring this article to you in order to spew out some interesting perspectives. Let’s begin the discussion.

Should you resign in chess when you have a huge material disadvantage?

Being down a lot of material most commonly at least two pieces or a whole rook, especially when in time trouble should warrant a resignation in chess.

This is the most obvious time to resign when there’s a huge disparity in the material count and the opponent can easily convert a win. There’s no singular answer that I can give you to define a huge material disadvantage, however, whenever these scenarios pops up it is likely to be the case:

  1. You are down a piece.
  2. You are down two pieces.
  3. You are down three to four pawns
  4. You exchanged a queen/rook for a regular piece/pawn.
  5. You lose a whole queen/rook.

Being in this situation makes it unlikely to ever come back unless the opponent made a blunder in continuing games. Don’t get me wrong your opponent can blunder, but if there is too much advantage than position can cope, you can resign.

This is especially the case (when being down in material) when one is in time trouble, about 1 minute left on the clock or so. It takes extreme precision in order to overcome the pressure of time, having a huge material disadvantage does not help.

You should only play on when having a huge material disadvantage + time trouble in these cases:

  1. You are confident in your ability to play in time pressure.
  2. The position on the board is extremely complicated.
  3. The opponent is in time trouble themselves.

Unless the opponent is incompetent, these three scenarios should already be enough of a guideline to know when to resign. The element of material and time when both are against your favor will warrant a complete resignation, in fact, even top players do it.

Should you look for counter-attacks before resigning in chess?

If one is done down material in a complicated position where there are attacking opportunities, he/she should not resign since there could be chances for counter-attacks.

Another thing that you can look for is not only the material count but actual attacking opportunities for a checkmate. It doesn’t have to end in checkmate as well, it should be just enough to disturb your opponent into making concessions that could get you back in the game.

There are attacks that could win material in order to prevent a checkmate, this will allow you to equalize and possibly win in the end. Because of this, if a player is down on material in a relatively stable position without a counterattack, he or she could resign. 

I say that you need to be down in a huge way in order to be resigning, being down a pawn for example is not applicable to this. It’s just hard to find opportunities in stable positions where everything can be defended in one move, plus the opponent is unlikely to blunder.

Likewise, if you have a position that cannot be defended from attacks (even if there are no material disadvantages), one can also resign. Such attacks are where the kings are about to be checkmated, the queen is about to be captured, or you will be down largely on the material count.

You should resign when there is a checkmate since you will lose, and when there is a huge material disadvantage due to the reasons above. A lot of grandmasters resign when they are in a mating net (checkmating pattern that cannot be prevented), hence why there are little to no checkmate in elite levels.

These people could calculate enough to see that there’s no point in trying, if you are able to do that then resigning is fine.

Should you look for drawing chances before resigning in chess?

The conditions to force a draw in chess are a stalemate, perpetual check, or insufficient material, if there is a likelihood of these things transpiring then one should not resign.

Stalemate is when the king cannot move and there are no other pieces/pawn moves possible without the king in check, this is considered a draw. A perpetual check is a never-ending check where both sides would agree to a draw since every other move loses.

If you cannot see any of these things happening then resigning is within the realms of possibility. A stalemate usually doesn’t occur when:

  1. The match is still in the opening or the middlegame.
  2. The opponent in the endgame has an overwhelming material advantage.
  3. There is still a lot of material left on the board even if it is an endgame.

A perpetual check usually doesn’t occur when:

  1. The king is wide open (since there are more escape tiles to move into).
  2. The king is too protected (since there will not be an opportunity to deliver any check)
  3. There are no queens left on the board (since the queen is usually the one who delivers a perpetual check).

Take note that this is not a cut and dry answer and a stalemate or a perpetual check could definitely occur despite of these, it is just a guide. As you get better in chess you would gain the ability to get a feel of whether a stalemate or a perpetual check is likely, follow this until then.

A draw by insufficient material to checkmate is pretty self-explanatory, when you feel that a position can transpose into an endgame with little material for checkmate then you shouldn’t resign. If there are no drawing opportunities then resignation is very much acceptable, especially if there also aren’t any attacking chances.

Is the skill of the opponent a consideration when deciding to resign?

Even being down in material against a weaker player may not call for a resignation since they are likely to blunder, one should continue to play if they think the opponent cannot convert the advantage.

The strength of the opponent will determine if it is appropriate to resign, after all, weaker players are likely to make mistakes that could be exploited. Even being down a significant material, it can still be feasible to continue playing if the opponent can be outplayed.

It is still good to follow the guidelines above but be a little laxer, if you are down a piece against a weaker opponent then you can still play. In fact, even if you are down two pieces/full rook you can still win as long as there are attacking opportunities or the position is complicated.

If the opponent is more or less equal to your own strength then it is within your discretion. If you think your opponent can convert the position then resignation is reasonable, which is not always the case with opponents of equal strength.

Maybe they are up a pawn but you are sure they will have a hard time converting it, then it might be wise to continue. Or maybe they are up a piece but you know they will have a hard time defending an attack, such as also applicable.

But what if you blunder a piece against a significantly stronger opponent? what should you do?

“No one ever won a game by resigning”

– Savielly Tartakower)

Here’s a match between Magnus Carlsen (world champion) and Daniil Dubov, a knockout match if he is defeated here by Dubov. Daniil blundered a piece mid-game but still continued without resigning since he saw something, the world champion’s king is weak.

He then led a series of attacks being down a piece and eventually checkmated arguably the best player of all time, truly incredible. If you want to learn why Magnus Carlsen can be the best player ever then you can see the comparison between him and Garry Kasparov here (will open in a new tab).

But really, my advice is you should only resign if there is no apparent learning experience that can be acquired by continuing. Even if you will lose eventually as long as you have gained some knowledge out of it, then it is worth the time.

There’s a case where it is ok to go on, for example, you don’t know how to convert the position yourself and wanted to see how your opponent would do it. You could cut down on the books and learning by just having a hands-on experience, which is the best teacher.

Can resigning be good in a chess tournament?

Resigning early in a chess tournament especially against a strong opponent can be a good idea to conserve energy, effort, and time. In team tournaments, it’s better to continue a hopeless position instead of resigning in order to motivate allied players to push for a win.

Resigning is a good idea when you want to conserve your energy and time for future rounds. After all, the goal is not only to win the individual matches but the entirety of the tournament as a whole, which you need energy to do.

Wasting some one to two hours in a game that you know is going to the pits is just not a good idea long term. You would rather rest or analyze the things you did wrong in order to prepare for the next game, a much smarter move.

The only exception to this is a tournament team chess, there is a situation where you shouldn’t resign even in a hopeless position since you don’t want the rest of the team to be demotivated by the loss. A perfect example of this is a team tournament that I participated in my school, my teammates have a lot of hope in me.

I was the strongest player in our group enough to be positioned in the board one, so you know I carry the morale of everybody. I faced a very strong player in round 1 which is the favorite to win the tourney, at board 1 it was a fierce battle.

I played a lot of blitz at the time and was not used to the rapid time control, falling into an unstoppable mate just at move 20. What I did is I let the clock run down even though I know I’m going to lose, since everybody is so cheerful and believed they can win. 

This is a behavior that you should do if it was a team tournament battle, individual competitions though are different. I honestly forgot what happened to that pairing but we did pretty well in the early stages of the tourney.

Do you now know when to resign in chess?

Resigning really takes a little bit of understanding the position if it really is warranted, we don’t want to miss any chances. You should learn to identify the factors both on and off the board if doing so is reasonable, since it is important.

But I will repeat it, you will learn a lot especially as a beginner if you don’t resign even on losing games. Things will be more memorable as you get toasted for it, you should utilize that if you want to improve fast.

This article provides an entire guideline of when one could resign, hope you learned something, sleep well and play chess.