Why do grandmasters draw so much? Here are the facts

Draws in chess have become saturated due to the intense financial consequences of losing, the ability of grandmasters to draw easily, and energy-saving for tournament-related reasons.

Drawing is a part of any grandmaster’s life on their devotion to the beloved game. Whether we like it or not, draws have become a common result in top games for a reason.

The environment in which chess is played and the likes play a role in this. That is what we are going to discuss today, to shed a light on this interesting question (why are there so many draws?)

There is just so much to explore in this interesting idea. It gives us a peek at how the daily life of these top players goes on a deeper scale. Let’s not waste any more time and talk about it.

Why do grandmasters prefer to draw than risk a win?

A win of course is valued more than a draw in a game of chess, but it’s the risk involved in getting the win which makes players hesitate. Participants would rather play it safe then have a chance to be defeated.

Grandmaster prefers to draw to avoid the extreme consequences of losing, mainly financial reasons that they have to face.

Grandmasters don’t earn as much as you think. They prefer going for draws since their little money would even be lower if they risk it and lose. 

Yes, a win technically will put more opportunities to acquire the prize money. But chess is a game of uncertainty, consistently winning is just very difficult for anyone.

And with the players having to rely on the prize money to support their pursuit of chess they just can’t afford to lose altogether.

You will not lose money on a draw, in fact, it can even give you a decent chance to at least win some runner ups (which is still money).

Losing is too costly it can put you on the negative if you’re someone doing this for a living. The matter goes beyond the board, you would have to figure out how to live the future away from the thing.

Due to this grandmasters rather draw than lose. You can’t really blame them since it is actually the best option in their financial situation.

“All I want to do, ever, is just play Chess”

-Bobby Fischer

Is drawing strategically beneficial in a tournament setting?

From people who are not that invested in the game, they are led to believe that one match speaks everything. This is of course not true since chess played in a tournament setting where some games matter more than the others.

Players play more drawish to conserve energy on games that really matter, tournaments after all are very tiring where participants have to save before going all-out.

Matches that start at the beginning of the round are not as important as those that come at last. Later rounds are much more essential to the overall standings of the tournament.

Competing players will have the opportunity to adjust the game if you are leading early. Of course, you should take the lead if there’s an opportunity to do so.

That is if there is an actual opportunity, it becomes harder to convert as the round goes on (since they’ll be drained). So players want to save their energy on rounds that really matter, those that will have a huge effect on the standings.

You get ½ a point for a draw and 0 for a loss, by playing safe early you give chances for other players to dig themselves. While you are on “ok” standings, players who took the risk are more likely to have lower scores.

Then you can go all out to fight for the top when half of the participants give up on winning the first place. Tournaments last for hours, grandmasters only want to fight when it counts.

Does excessive preparation contribute to the prevalence of draws?

Yes, logically the tournament setup is partly responsible for the prevalence of draws. But it is not the main culprit of the scene that we see today.

Tournaments exist even in the early time of chess, and they have draws but not a lot of it. Why is that the case? Has something changed with the game which diverts to this specific result?

Modern chess is played in a very prepared fashion, some games have even been fully memorized beforehand leading to more draws. This is due to the domination of chess engines that change how players prepare.

There are tons of preparation at high level, so much that both sides almost always play the “sound moves”. It is rare for these people to commit a huge mistake that is enough to be converted to a win.

Especially on higher levels, there is extensive conditioning that is involved before the game itself. Due to this, participants are more likely to know what to do even from occasional surprises.

It is just much easier to not lose if you have a “hidden sleeve” you can turn to in unexpected situations. And since this is played in the hands of a very competent player, it’s just more likely to be used appropriately.

This is why draws are much harder to see in lower-rated tournaments even with opposing players of equal strength. Because one, they don’t really prepare anything at all (maybe perhaps psychology) before the game, or two, they are not knowledgeable enough to use it to its full potential.

Some games even appear as a carbon copy of other games, which when both players analyze should lead to a draw. And since it usually is a recommendation from an engine it is unlikely that the preparation is second-rated either.

So we got an environment where everyone has the optimal conditioning before the game, plus knows how to use it. Obviously this will lead to more equal results where one side is hardly any better than the other.

“Chess is a fairy tale of 1001 blunders”

Savielly Tartakower

Does a grandmaster’s skillset contribute to so many draws?

I would be lying to you if I say that the grandmaster’s skillset themselves is not a part of this. Top players just naturally have the active ability to lead draws than weaker participants.

Grandmasters know when a position is drawn and how to play it, as well as how to get to that position, and make fewer mistakes on the way resulting in very excessive draws.

This is a factor that most people fail to consider this equation, which is the competent player’s capability to make draws. A much weaker aspirant usually has a decisive match since they are less likely to apply equality in positions.

It’s either they are very bad or very good, and even if they are skillful most lower elo can’t draw on will. That does not apply to grandmasters, top players know how to draw their games.

Most of them can hold on to equality enough to limit the chances of losing. And as some of you may know, playing safe (drawish) is extremely hard to get a win from since there are fewer opportunities.

Adding to this, grandmasters know when a position is theoretically drawn, and how to convert them. Less adept players are less likely to spot drawish moves even if they are possible.

Top players usually don’t let something like this pass on, where they take advantage of them when possible.

Not even just that, grandmasters can even hold losing positions. Even some theoretical loss ones can still be saved in the right hands.

Some mediocre player will just resign after being down a pawn which is much rarer on elite levels. These people take the game very seriously and will seize the chances if there are any.

And the fact that they are almost always playing against someone like this and you know why there are so many draws. A win is usually not that clear as you might expect.

The point is they usually play on someone near their level, making it harder to win. If one player is significantly better than the other then it’s likely that there will be a decisive result, which is not the case.

Does playing against stronger opponents make players likely to draw?

Playing against stronger players will make it likely that you’ll lose, unless you are a strong player yourself.

Grandmasters usually play against someone with comparable strength that doesn’t commit as many mistakes and play as long as there are chances, making draws more prevalent.

It is just easier to draw if one of the players gives the opening to do so. This is usually not the case, elite players don’t commit as many blunders and mistakes as others do.

This forces one of the players to take a risk if they want to win which they likely won’t. Players are very likely to be waiting for a chance rather than create one on their own.

Being in a safe zone that is not vulnerable to any penetration, it will cost one of the players a lot to just win one game.

And one other thing, did you notice that most grandmaster games usually play until the endgame? They can play on equality so well that a middlegame triumph is rarely seen.

Obviously they are very well equipped to handle this phase too which most players mess up. There are a lot of theoretical drawn positions lurking in this particular stage.

And you bet these people got it written down to the very last detail and know how to apply it. Most decisive games end either early or late middlegame, endgames are usually drawn.

Speaking of risk, there are large consequences of taking it but there are times where it is the best idea. Like when playing against a weaker opponent for example?

I’m sure anyone would still risk losing if it meant playing against a weaker opponent since they are likely to win. That is not the case usually, people in this field oftentimes have a deep respect for one another making them avoid even trying.

Players don’t have much confidence that they can convert when facing a strong player, leading them to just draw the game. Even some of the elite’s strategy is to just draw against someone they respect and win from the others they are confident against.

I mean in a way we can understand them, but it just limits the possibilities that these individuals can achieve if they took more calculated risk.

“Without error there can be no brilliancy”

Emanuel Lasker

(Emanuel Lasker)

Will you play for a draw?

I know a lot of people are frustrated with seeing so many draws ay elite play. But there’s nothing we can do about it (for the moment) the players have become too good to make mistakes.

If you want to draw your game but don’t know how here’s a guide (will open in a new tab) I’ve written about it. Though I don’t really recommend this for improving players, it’s just a good concept to practice with.

Of course you should win if there is an opportunity, but just the ability to attain equality in itself requires talent. And it’s not like you’re not going to take chances if they do appear. That is all, Sleep well and play chess.