Grandmaster Draws Persist, but So Do Fights to the End
Published: NEW YORK TIMES
Grandmaster draws, the scourge of competition, are unfortunately alive and well.
A grandmaster draw refers to when players engage in a short, effectively uncontested game, often in the last round of a tournament, and then agree to a draw. Such draws usually occur among leaders of a tournament, and the purpose is to guarantee that each player gets a share of the prize money. For spectators and organizers, the draws are anticlimactic and disappointing.
For a long time, people struggled to come up with ways to combat grandmaster draws, but two systems emerged in recent years that seemed to work fairly well. One was to forbid players from drawing a game before a certain number of moves had been played, often at least 30, or to forbid the players from even proposing a draw unless the offer was first approved by a tournament referee.
The other method was to use a soccer scoring system in which wins were worth 3 points and draws worth only 1. That effectively penalized players who drew games.
Many tournaments adopted one or the other of these methods, and grandmaster draws seemed to be waning.
But in two recent competitions that did not use either system, players who were leading the tournaments resorted to grandmaster draws in the last round.
In the Cappelle la Grande Open in France, which ended on March 2, Alexei Fedorov of Belarus and Sanan Sjugirov of Russia drew after 13 moves. They tied for first with six others, with Sjugirov taking the title on tiebreakers.
An even more egregious draw occurred in the last round of the Reykjavik Open in Iceland, which ended on Feb. 27. Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine and Wesley So of the Philippines drew after only three moves — before some of the other players had even sat down. Eljanov and So ended in a tie for first with Bassem Amin of Egypt, who won his last game.
Of course, players who were not tied for the lead before the last round had incentive to play hard, and many did. One was Eric Hansen, a Canadian grandmaster, who beat Evgeny Vorobiov, a Russian grandmaster, in the last round of Cappelle la Grande to be among the players tying for first.
Vorobiov adopted the King’s Indian Attack, as he wanted to stabilize the center and attack on the kingside. But Hansen quickly got a counterattack on the queenside rolling.
Vorobiov erred with 18 Nd3; he should have taken the pawn with 18 ab3, though Hansen would then have had a slight edge after 18 ... Rb8.
Hansen’s 22 ... Nb4, which ignored the attack on his light-squared bishop, broke through Vorobiov’s defenses. Vorobiov did not play 25 Nc5, because 25 ... Bc4 26 Nb3 Bb3 would have been hopeless.
Vorobiov resigned after 38 ... a4 because he could not stop the pawn from eventually promoting to a queen.