General Nov 20, 2019 | 3:20 PMby FM Joachim Iglesias

The ultimate blunder: unnecessary resignation

A recent misadventure by the legendary Swedish player Pia Cramling, who resigned an equal position against Alexandra Kosteniuk in the Skolkovo Women’s Grand Prix, inspired chess24’s FM Joachim Iglesias to write a two-part article with a collection of resignations and draw offers that were made at the most inopportune moment.

Pia Cramling had a tough Skolkovo Grand Prix, losing 7 games, but the chess legend stormed back to get silver on board 1 in the European Team Championship and gold on board 2 in the European Club Cup | photo: David Llada,

No game was ever won by resigning,” declared the French Grandmaster Savielly Tartakower (he gained the title when it was created by FIDE in 1950, when he was already French). Tartakower has gone down in chess history thanks to his games, his famous Bréviaire des Echecs (“A Chess Breviary”), which has trained more than a generation of chess players, and also, especially, thanks to his aphorisms. Alleged to be the inventor of the Orangutan Opening (1.b4) and the Catalan Opening, he summed up that, “The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake”. In this two-part series we’re going to talk about that last blunder, the ultimate blunder, that is committed not by playing a bad move, but by refusing to play, preferring to end the game either by drawing or resigning. 

1. Resigning a drawn position

Cramling-Kosteniuk 2019

Let’s start with the Cramling-Kosteniuk game mentioned in the introduction. The Russian Grandmaster has just played 34…Qa1, attacking the a6-knight, which cannot be defended. The Swedish player therefore resigned, missing 35.b4! Qxa6 36.bxc5, when the piece is regained with equality.

Incidentally, 35.Bf4!? would also make it possible to continue the game: 35…Qxa6 36.Rd2 and Black must play 36…Bxf4! 37.Qxa6 Bxd2 with an advantage, but not 36…Rd8 37.Rxd6! and White is actually better!

Giri-Shankland 2019

Sensing that his opponent was unhappy, Giri bluffed with 45.b6!? The position was in any case drawn, but this move poses no problem to Black, who only needs to play 45...Kd6 46.Kg4 Kd7 47.Kxh3 Kc8 and even after 48.Bf4 we get a well-known fortress: if the white king gets too close it will be stalemate with the black king on c8 or a8! It’s amazing that a 2700+ player didn’t know the fortress or grasp it during the game, but the American resigned! 

Peter Svidler commented at the time (and we'll get to his own adventures soon!):

A nice psychological calculation by Anish… but obviously a very heart-breaking experience for Sam, one with which I’m quite intimately familiar, having resigned in drawn positions. Mainly the one game where I resigned in a completely drawn position was in Wijk, though I have done some other silly things as well. I have offered draws in winning positions. I know just how horrible of a feeling this is and I feel for Sam. This will be a very bitter pill to swallow for him.

Even changing continents didn't help Sam forget what he'd done!

Aronian-Bacrot 2005

The semi-final of the 2005 World Cup. After a draw in the first classical game the players got this opposite-coloured bishops ending. Etienne has just played 50…Ba7 and resigned the game without waiting for the response of Levon. The position does look like a schoolbook example of how to win an opposite-coloured bishops ending: the h3-bishop is ideally placed, protecting the f5-pawn while preventing the advance of the h-pawn in accordance with the one-diagonal principle. White only has to bring the king to b7, push a7, capture the bishop and return to the kingside. This winning plan has only one slight flaw: the white king will never get to b7 as Black can put his king on d7 to prevent it! 

After 50…Ba7 you can imagine the game ending 51.Kf4 h5! 52.Ke4 Ke7! 53.Kd5 Kd7! 54.f6+ Ke8:

The position is drawn since the white bishop can’t defend the f-pawn and stop the pushing of the h-pawn on the same diagonal. If White plays Be6 then wins the bishop with Kb7 and a7 Black will only have to play h4-h3 to deflect the bishop and win the f-pawn. Otherwise, Black just places his king on f8, the pawn on h4 and defends it when required with Bf2. No zugzwang is possible. 

Kramnik-Svidler 2004

Big Vlad has just played 49.Bb7 and the star of chess24 commentary simply resigned. After 49…Be1, the only move to defend the a5-pawn, White has a straightforward winning plan: play c5 and then Bh1 and bring the king over to the h6-pawn by playing c6 at the appropriate moment. The h6-pawn will fall by force and Black will defend the g5-pawn with Bh4. The white king will then go back towards the a5-pawn. Black will find himself in zugzwang because his bishop must keep an eye on the h4-square, otherwise the h3-h4 pawn sacrifice will create a decisive passed pawn.

It all looks convincing, but Black doesn’t have to defend the a5-pawn! After, for example, 49…Bg1! Black leaves the bishop on the g1-a7 diagonal and the black king helps both to prevent the pushing of the queenside pawns and the white king coming to the kingside. “A dead draw”.

Carlsen-Topalov 2007

Magnus Carlsen, 16 years old at the time, has just played 64.Qg6 against the world no. 1 at the time, Veselin Topalov. The young prodigy is threatening to win the g7-knight with check with 65.Qh7+ Kf8 66.Qh8+ Ke7 67.Qxg7+. The former FIDE World Champion resigned without playing the "spite check" 64…Qd5+. Indeed, after, for example, 65.f3 Qd2+ 66.Kh3 Black has no more checks and White is still threatening Qh7+ but also mate-in-2 with Qf7+ and Qf8! Unfortunately for the Bulgarian, just after he resigned the future World Champion took pleasure in showing the missed draw: 64…Qd5+! 65.f3 e5!, controlling the f7 and also the g8 squares. 66.Qh7+ Kf8 67.Qh8+ could then be met by 67...Qg8.

This was 7 years later during the 2014 Sinquefield Cup live coverage, but it would fit perfectly! 

Yusupov-Ivanchuk 1991

This game is a special case: in the tiebreaks of the Yusupov-Ivanchuk Candidates Match Vassily absolutely had to win with Black to level the scores as otherwise he would lose the match. After Qb3+, winning the b5-pawn, Yusupov offered a draw, whereupon Ivanchuk instead resigned and left the playing hall. The arbiter, who had heard Ivanchuk, wanted to declare a win for White, but Yusupov insisted that the game instead be considered a draw. 

Making a draw in a won position

Lautier-Kasparov 1997

All French players, at least of a certain age, know that Joël Lautier has a positive score in classical games against Garry Kasparov (+2, -1, =7). The score could have been equal if in this position after 20.Rc7? Garry had, instead of taking a draw, played 20…c5!, winning the b4-pawn by force since 21.bxc5?? Rb8 loses the bishop. The lesser evil would have been 21.b5 Rb8 with an extra pawn for Black.

Svidler-Anand 1999

Black has just played 69...Kf7 and White accepted a draw offer. It’s easy to believe that it’s a fortress: Black will play Kf6-f7-f6, if White advances one of the pawns it’ll be lost, if Kxd4 Nb5+ the a7-pawn will drop, and if the king leaves the square of the d4-pawn that pawn will queen. Nevertheless, there’s a forced win: 70.Kxd4! Nb5+ 71.Kc5 Nxa7 72.Kb6! Nc8 73.Kc7 Ne7 (73...Na7 74.Kd7 followed by h7 and f6) 74.h7! Kg7 75.f6+!

To these draws “by mistake” you can add draws that were equivalent to victories, which litter the history of matches:

Euwe-Alekhine 1935

Euwe only needed a draw in this 30th game of his match against Alekhine to become World Champion. Before the game he had taken care to make explicit to his opponent what went without saying: “I will accept a draw at any moment of this game”. Two pawns down in the endgame after 40.Rg1, Alekhine decided it was a good moment to say farewell to his crown: “Dr. Euwe, I accept your draw offer.”

You can find similar examples in the last games of the Kasparov-Karpov World Championship match in 1990 and in the 1971 Korchnoi-Petrosian Candidates Match where Korchnoi, who needed to win, said to his opponent, “I offer a draw and, otherwise, I resign” (Tigran took the draw!). My favourite story of voluntarily taking a draw in a won position is the following: 

Tal-Benko 1959

Sixty years before his death, the late Pal Benko had to face Mikhail Tal with Black in the final round of the 1959 Candidates Tournament. In their previous five games Tal had won every time! But he needed only a draw to qualify for the match against Botvinnik and, in agreement with his second, Tal offered a draw on move 12. To his surprise, Benko refused! It has to be said that Benko believed that Tal hypnotised his opponents, and believed he’d found a miracle cure by playing with sunglasses...

Five moves later, Benko could resign… What happened next is best described by the English proverb, “to add insult to injury”:

Black has just played 22…Kh8 and instead of 23.Qg5!, which forces the exchange of queens and an ending two pawns up, Tal took the draw with 23.Qf6+ Kh7 24.Qf5+.

Tal then said: “When I want to win against Benko, I win; when I want to make a draw against Benko, I make a draw!” This is how Tal qualified for his World Championship match that he went on to win against Botvinnik.

In the second part of this series we'll see the worst of these ultimate blunders: resigning in a winning position.

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