In this video: Levon Aronian vs Magnus Carlsen Round 1 - 2013 Candidates Chess Tournament

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1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Bd2 Bxd2+ 5.Qxd2

And now, Kevin said: "You can tell that the game is going for a draw."

My question, how can you play a game knowing that you are going to draw? Do you have to defend? Exchange minor pieces? Mirror your opponent's move?

In theory, white always plays for a win, so how can black say: "I'm going to play this game and I'm going to draw". Carlsen seemed that he decided to go for a draw from the get-go, so what's the game plan for black in order to get a draw?

  • 1
    I'd say Carlsen is not so much playing for a draw as he's playing not to lose. Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 23:06
  • @OmnipresentAbsence well you cant win by playing the way carlsen played, please see the video, i didn't post the entire game, it's clear that he wasn't going for a win. If you're not playing to win, and you don't want to lose, then you want to draw
    – Lynob
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 23:29

7 Answers 7


I imagine Kevin's comment was somewhat hyperbolic. My local database has 1464 games with the position after 5.Qxd2, of which only 47% were drawn (although I imagine that percentage goes up as the players' strength increases). That is still enough to give the variation a reputation as drawish, but not enough to reliably predict that the game will end in a draw.

There are certainly variations that are more drawish than others, for concrete reasons. The best current example is the Berlin variation of the Spanish, where Black gets the queens off the board early and White has had trouble making anything of his positional advantages in the ensuing endgame.

In general the way that a game becomes more likely to have a decisive result is due to imbalances between the virtues of the two sides. The obvious example is a gambit, where one player has better development and the other player has an active pawn. In a situation with few imbalances (for example, the Exchange French or Exchange Slav), it is more difficult to play for a win.


Keep in mind that I am no expert, but these players know opening theory so well that they know the exact types of moves to make and positions to get in to achieve a draw. No one goes into the game (White or Black) with the mindset of that they want to draw today. However, they do not want to lose, and maybe for White, there is a slight advantage having the first move, so Black will just settle for a draw rather than a loss.

It seems the most common way the Grandmaster's do it is to trade off material so material is very low and insufficient for a mate or they really close up the game. So it is hard for anyone to make a move without destroying their position.

I do know that after following every game in the candidates match so far, that in this particular game, Magnus surely went into it wanting to win. But for him as Black, a draw is like a win. This is because he will face Aronian with the White pieces next, and that should be an advantage to him. As a matter of fact, Magnus faces Aronian today as White. So this will be a very important win for either one and I don't think either one wants to settle for a draw.

  • Yeah, on move 4, white's main choices are 4.Bd2 and 4.Nbd2. AFAIK 4.Nbd2 is considered the less drawish alternative. Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 13:38
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    I don't think your first paragraph is accurate. When paired, Russian players were well known to settle for early draws, ostensibly to conserve their strength.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 14:36

Carlsen is famous for playing on in quiet mid-games and "dead drawn" endings and actually winning them. He sees very deeply into positions, and as a result plays very accurately but also sets questions for his opponents that they must answer correctly or lose. So his acquiescence to a "drawish" opening, particularly as Black, can be regarded as playing to his own strength.


It's a bit early to say that the game will be a draw when only one pair of pieces has been exchanged (the dark squared bishops).

What IS true is that both sides "dodged a bullet," the complications that arise in e.g. the Nimzo Indian when Black exchanges his dark-squared bishop for a knight, and the doubling of White's c pawns.

Therefore, it may be said that "if both players continue in the same "peaceful" vein, the game will likely end in a draw."

But one of the players (probably White) may be "setting up" the other player for a "peaceful" game and planning to stir the pot later on. In a crucial game against future world champion JR Capablanca, world champion Emmanuel Lasker did just this by exchanging queens early in the "Exchange variation" of the Ruy Lopez.


My question, how can you play a game knowing that you are going to draw? Do you have to defend? Exchange minor pieces? Mirror your opponent's move?

Generally playing for draw is difficult psychologically. It is tempting to avoid risk by exchanging pieces and simplifying the position; however, it easy to end up making concessions on every simplification and end up in a worse passive position. This is a very good recipe for a loss.

I don't think there is a good method of playing for a draw, but if all you need is a draw try to play normally. For example, if you are normally a sharp tactical player who plays the Sicilian go ahead and play that even if all you need is draw. Trying to play ultra safe chess that is not your strength in, say, Caro-Kann that you don't know will expose your weaker side and you are more likely to lose.


The first step in playing for a draw is opening preparation. Ideally you know what your opponent usually plays and can prepare something against that. The key, obviously, is to pick calm openings with little in the way of tactics. If you can get the queens off early so much the better.

Kramnik gave the ultimate example in his match with Kasparov when he used the Berlin Wall variation of the Ruy Lopez. Time and again he quickly reached a queenless middlegame with simple, clear themes and a clear plan to achieve and maintain equality.

In general aim to strengthen your position rather than launch attacks. Pay attention to Nimzowitschian themes like over protecting the center, finding good squares for your pieces, completing your development harmoniously, putting your king safe by castling. Of course you would normally aim to do these things anyway (wouldn't you?) but when aiming for a draw make these your priority before any tactical plans you might be tempted by.

When tactics do arise put the emphasis, where possible, on simplifying via exchanges rather than complicating the position. At the same time don't make the mistake of chasing exchanges. If your opponent is stronger he will not try and avoid exchanges completely but will instead try and make sure that if exchanges do occur then they are on his terms and his position is marginally improved by the exchange.

Be aware that, particularly in the endgame, playing for a draw does not mean playing passively. Unless you achieve a fortress position where your opponent simply can't make progress you will still have to take care in the endgame to play actively. Rooks are better attacking enemy weak pawns than defending yours if possible. Your king should be active aiming to attack enemy pawns if possible and opposing the enemy king when he tries to threaten your pawns rather than just passively defending. If you have a pawn majority on one side and a minority on the other try and push the majority and play on that side rather than move the other pawns except for absolutely necessary for defense.

Playing for a draw is a mindset and you mustn't let yourself be distracted by tactical ploys by your opponent.


There is no "playing for the draw" in chess.You always play for win.

  • 1
    Yep. Playing to draw is playing to lose.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 0:48
  • 3
    answer is -2,comment saying the same thing is +1
    – Dchris
    Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 9:48
  • 1
    I was once in a game where, being 0-4 in a five-game tournament, I wanted to not go 0-5, and managed to come up with a mutally-locked pawn formation such that neither side could break through without sacrificing a piece; since neither I nor my opponent wanted to do that, the game was drawn. I'm not saying such a thing would happen between good players, but I was certainly actively playing for a draw, as distinct playing passively.
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 2:14
  • Usually I play good moves and don't think about aiming for a draw or win except at a few rare moments.
    – Diisciiple
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 17:40

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