Two knights defence, Wilkes Barre (Traxler) variation seems to me to be a sharp line which is quite drawish. After the following position:

[FEN ""]
[StartPly "15"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 Bc5 5. Nxf7 Bxf2 6. Kxf2 Nxe4 7. Kg1 Qh4 8. g3 

Black usually continues with 8... Nxg3 and some statistics show that more than 2/3 of the games in this position ended with a draw. I would call this line drawish. But as the same time, it also gives me the impression to be a sharp line (is it not?).

My question is, are there any other lines that are both sharp and drawish?

  • 3
    A lot of very sharp lines that are also sound tend to have forced draws in them (because the play is so forcing but objectively equal). Commented May 12, 2020 at 5:08
  • Traxler can hardly be called drawish, in fact Stockfish lost this opening to Lc0 in the recently-concluded TCEC S17 superfinal. Traxler with 5. Nxf7 might be, but that's why Nxf7 isn't played anymore.
    – Allure
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 7:22

3 Answers 3


Typically by sharp you mean highly tactical lines, with few alternative moves, where any wrong move leads to immediate defeat.

A sharp and sound opening would be one that is so far analyzed that you can claim to lead to more or less equal position.

Many sharp openings tend to be drawish if players know what they are doing. Reasons for that:

  • because moves are basically forced, you have a small branching factor and it is possible to analyze such openings much further, sometimes all the way to a perpetual or very drawish endgame
  • sharp lines are usually found in open positions, which tend to favour exchanges. The fewer pieces on the board, the more drawish it often gets.

I have a limited repertoire, but I believe there are many lines in the Sicilian which are said to be drawish.

In any case for many mortal chess players this is not an issue as it is unlikely that games are played perfectly through to the draw. Also people at lower level tend to fight for a win playing black and white, so there is not so much of a risk running into a drawish line as white (unles you play a much lower rated player).

  • Thanks! So logically if one is playing a game that he must win, he should actually avoid sharp lines as they usually tend to be drawish. Right? Here we assume both players are masters of chess and know most openings well.
    – Zuriel
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 15:37
  • 3
    @Zuriel: That's what people do at GM level or above, particularly if they play somebody below their level. Play a rather closed game with many pieces on the board, perhaps even giving up on any first move advantage. Of course you could also gamble and play a sharp line hoping that your opponent does not know it, but that won't happen too often. Commented May 12, 2020 at 16:00

A first example of a line that is sharp and drawish is the following variation of the Pirc with f4.

[fen "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 c5 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.e5 Ng4 8.e6 

Here are the statistics.

However, the very high percentage of draws is also explained by the fact that some titled players use the next line to make quick draws: 8...fxe6 9.Ng5

[fen "rn1qk2r/pp1bp1bp/3pp1p1/1Bp3N1/3P1Pn1/2N5/PPP3PP/R1BQK2R b KQkq - 0 9"] 

9...Bxb5 10.Nxe6 Bxd4 11.Nxd8 Bf2 12.Kd2 Be3=

A second example of a line that is sharp and drawish is found in the following Poisoned Pawn Variation, a line of the Sicilian Defense, Najdorf Variation:

[fen "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6 8. Qd2 Qxb2 9. Rb1 Qa3 10. f5 Nc6 11. fxe6 fxe6 12. Nxc6 bxc6 13. Be2 Be7 

Here are the statistics.

  • I've had that Pirc line against the Austrian attack in at least 5 rated, OTB games, and more online. I thought about quoting it but decided against it as it is not drawish, it is a stone cold draw!
    – Ian Bush
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 7:07
  • 1
    I don't disagree! I had the same feeling, but I thought this variant met the requirements: sharp and drawish in the sense that if both players agree, they can draw.
    – Kortchnoi
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 7:27

Everything is sharp and also drawish, depending on the inclinations of the players at the moment.

But if the question were 'which opening enables the most flexibility for one player to direct a quiet or a noisy path', then the Petroff. If Black wants to play the Petroff solidly, like Karpov, he can. If Black wants to play the Petroff with abandon, like Marshall, he can.

And it's a pretty big decision for Black following 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+. 5...exf6 can be a drawish thing, like Andersson showed. While 5...gxf6 leaves holes all over Black's position, but offers all kinds of dynamic counterplay (Bronstein, Larsen, Seirawan).

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