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Greg on Norms & Draws: "I Was Wrong" Print E-mail
By IM Greg Shahade   
February 17, 2013
Photo Elizabeth Vicary, San Diego US Chess School
After getting back into chess and playing on a regular basis, I’ve softened my views on taking easy draws in final rounds order to earn norms. See my earlier stance in CLO articles from November and December 2011, Greg on Norms, Please Stop Caring & For My Birthday, Please Stop Asking About Norms.  

The Grandmaster title opens up so many doors: it makes all tournaments free and you can charge more for every chess related business activity you do. In theory it’d be nice to not care about titles, but you can't expect someone to ignore the huge benefits.

For example, when Hikaru Nakamura was about 11-12 years old, we played in a tournament in which he was in contention for a GM norm. Hikaru was paired against me with the black pieces and I believe he needed a plus one score in his final 3 games to make his norm.  So obviously someone with Hikaru’s great fighting spirit tried to crush me off the board right? Wrong! He offered me a “strategic” draw somewhere around move 7 (I declined).

Hikaru Nakamura is widely regarded as one of the biggest fighters in the world, so if even he was willing to try to take a draw for a norm, maybe it's not THAT bad. Though I must note that he failed to make the norm in this particular event.  

So I’ll revise my viewpoint as follows. There are certain goals in chess that are very important to achieve. These are mainly winning major tournaments and earning FIDE titles. If a draw will help to facilitate one of these two things, it’s totally acceptable to lose the opportunity to play one single chess game in order to achieve these goals.  

  The real problems are as follows:

1.       The tendency to more readily accept draws against higher rated players, even in good positions

2.       Not putting enough value on the opportunity to have a serious fight over the chessboard against a strong player.

So before you call me a total hypocrite, I wrote this piece to admit I’ll be willing to acquiesce to a draw if it makes me a GM norm. I probably won’t give a draw to an opponent who needs one to make a norm however. There is no easier opponent to face than one who is happy to have a draw at any moment, since as soon as my position becomes bad I can usually just get away with a draw. So in these cases, you don’t want to make your intentions known to your opponent.

This assumes the rules of the tournament allow you to take a quick draw- more and more events require 30+ moves. Events which attract lots of press and media attention may also be a particularly poor choice for taking quick draws- you may lose the opportunity for future invitations or sponsorship. I still think quick draws are not good for chess, but the onus on disincentivizing lifeless draws should be on organizers more than on players. 

It is not easy to be a professional chessplayer, or even to be a jet-setting semi-pro hoping to see the World or get a leg-up on college applications and scholarship opportunities. Travel for tournaments and training expenses like laptops, software, books and coaching can add up. Since achieving a FIDE title quickly can help a player reach financial stability, there can occasionally be more pros than cons in taking a quick draw to achieve a norm. Though I see people over-use this rationale. 

I still believe an amazingly talented player who didn’t pay even the slightest bit of attention to taking a strategic draw (Bobby Fischer is the clearest example of this), will have an even greater chance of greatness. 

Luke Harmon-Vellotti
Recently I played Luke Harmon-Vellotti in the Contintental Class Championships. He has attended quite a few of my US Chess School programs and in some earlier ones I noticed some tendencies to simplify too much against higher rated players. I had just finished a 5.5 hour game (I lost), desperately tried to nap for the 30 minutes in between rounds (wasn't very successful) and realized that I had to finish the game within 4.5-5 hours or I might be stranded in Washington DC for the night. 

After 11 moves we had a relatively boring endgame that I didn't think would be easy to win against such a strong talented player like Luke. I offered a draw, yet I was happy that he didn't even consider it, making his move in just two minutes. Not every young player rated 150 points less than me would have declined the draw, and this type of mentality bodes well for a chess player's future chances of success. Also I'm happy that students at my camp pay attention to my lessons. We weren't playing for his final GM norm after all. 

Greg won two "Best of CLO 2012" awards, for his essays on time controls (#4) and Opening Books (#10).