Drowning in draws
By Joel Benjamin   
August 3, 2006
Quite often when my opponent requests a draw, and I refuse, I end up losing the game. I attribute this to being distracted by the question. What is the correct way to decline a draw? I guess I hate to say no! Thank you.

Franky in Duluth

Different players may have different ideas on the etiquette of answering draw offers. I believe that if a player makes a reasonably appropriate draw offer, they should get an answer. Upon hearing the draw offer, I will generally say "I'll think about it," or "I'll consider it." If I decide to play on, just before making my move I will say, "I would like to play on (or continue)." This is me at my most polite.

Occasionally draw offers will displease me. Like most players, I hate when my opponent offers a draw in a lost position. Outside of low-level scholastic chess (where it actually works fairly often), this should never be done. It's insulting! Players should rarely offer draws to much higher-rated players. If you do, it better be dead-drawn or you have the advantage! Finally, when one player has clearly been trying to win all game long, it is better for the other player to wait for a draw to be offered.

If I feel a draw offer is clearly inappropriate (or I really don't like my opponent), I may pretend it never happened. [If I like my opponent I might cut him/her some slack] On rare occasions I will give a quick "No!" to show my intentions of winning the game.

Masters have often sought the best answer to an inappropriate draw offer. IM Larry Kaufman told me once someone offered him a draw with almost no pieces left. Kaufman thought for ten minutes, looked up and said, "mate in eight." I once saw a vastly out-rated opponent offer a draw to the venerable GM Viktor Korchnoi in the National Open. Viktor the Terrible replied, "Excuse me, I have a winning position."

It's best to say something in reply to a draw offer. Recently an opponent gave no answer and eventually made a move, leaving me to wonder if he had heard me at all. For your purposes, almost any rejection will do. "No", "no thank you", "I'll play on" are all suitable answers. You should never feel guilty for saying no!

Often players will offer draws for psychological purposes (I've seen articles in Chess Life on the subject). Turning down the draw is the easy part. You might be feeling extra pressure to justify rejecting the half-point that was readily available to you.

Joel Benjamin