In nearly every non-chess field of competition I can think of, it is generally considered poor sportsmanship to quit before the game or match is played to completion. When playing other board games* (Monopoly or draughts/checkers, for example) participants are expected to continue until one player has won. In athletic competitions**, it is also considered poor behavior to leave the field of play before the game is complete, regardless of the score. This is the case even if a competitor or team is trailing by a huge difference in score, there is only a little time left, and the risk of injury when continuing to play might be fairly high. Suffering through a complete game/match, even when it is lost beyond hope, seems to be an accepted part of entering into the competition.

On the other hand, chess not only allows a player to resign when they believe they are losing, but it can be considered poor sportsmanship if a player continues to play in such a situation. If you blunder and drop a queen or rook early in the game, you're insulting your opponent if you don't resign. Down a passed pawn in an endgame and your king is not "in the box"? Time to resign or face people saying you were disrespectful toward your opponent .

Thus the question: Why is it considered good sportsmanship in chess to quit before a game is fully played out?

* There are a few board game exceptions, such as Risk, where it can become obvious who is going to win. but playing the game to completion might still take hours. Even in such situations, all remaining players usually need to agree to end the game.

** In some youth sports there are rules that cause a game to be terminated early when one team has a very large lead in the score. Still, a certain minimum amount of the game must be played.

  • 1
    @BrianTowers: Yes, I know I asked a previous question about resigning and that there are other questions about it also - I looked through them. Nothing seems to get at the reason why it is often expected in chess, but considered poor sportsmanship in other games. – GreenMatt Jun 25 at 21:12
  • 6
    I think you are underestimating how common resignation is in other fields. In golf, it is common for a player to have a maximum stroke cap per hole (usually +5). "Throwing in the towel", a synonym for resignation, has its roots in boxing and indicates a boxer giving up in a fight. In many sports, a 'Best of X' series rarely goes a full X games once one side has won (X+1)/2. In racing, DNF (Did Not Finish) is a common result. In eSports RTS games, it is customary to say 'GG' and leave once defeat is inevitable. These are all forms of resignation and are accepted practices in those fields. – DongKy Jun 25 at 23:12
  • 3
    ...In Backgammon, the player who is ahead can use the doubling cube to force their opponent to resign, lest they pay double for the impending loss. In Major League Baseball, managers often throw tantrums and (are forced to) leave the game. In poker, people fold and in American football, people punt. Both are tactical, short-term resignations. In elections, if the early results indicate a candidate will not win, it is customary for them to give a concession speech before all votes are tallied. And in war, which many liken chess to, generals surrender to prevent an unnecessary loss of life. – DongKy Jun 26 at 0:28
  • 1
    I too thought of boxing ("throwing in the towel") and other combat sports ("tapping out"). Still there's a difference: in those sports, as in actual combat, if you don't give up you may suffer serious bodily injury or even death; in chess, the worst that can happen is the opponent will pull a stunt like promoting to eight Bishops before bothering to actually checkmate you. – Noam D. Elkies Jun 26 at 1:57
  • 1
    @DongKy the poker and backgammon examples aren't analogous at all, since in those cases you are accepting a particular game result rather than carry on and risk a worse one. That's more like forcing stalemate to avoid losing. And in the case of "best of n", usually there is not even an option to play on and once someone has won (n+1)/2 they are declared the winner. – Especially Lime Jun 26 at 9:53

To follow up on Brian's answer about war, I think competitive Real Time Strategy games are a very close analogy.

For those unfamiliar: In these games players typically build up bases, then build armies, then those armies fight. If one army has a decisive where the victor has enough troops remaining, they go destroy the other person's base and all their straggling units. Once the opponent is 100% destroyed, the conqueror is declared victor. In competitive play, users typically say 'GG' (Good Game) and resign after they lose the critical battle. In fact, there is a often similar stigma of poor sportsmanship for not resigning, similar to chess.

The endgame here is often very boring. There isn't any hope of comeback, but it can take a while to burn down all the opponents buildings and hunt down all their straggling units. The endgame is qualitatively different than the gameplay to that point. It is merely waiting for buildings to burn down. There is no skill involved. This isn't fun for the loser and usually not fun for the winner either. It just wastes people's time - and this can be a substantial amount of time, depending on the game.

One sided chess endgames are similar. There isn't much skill or thought left. Its just going through the motions, and those motions have little in common with normal chess - even normal chess endgames. If you're up a two queens, it doesn't matter if you have the wrong rook pawn or you don't move your king up in the endgame or hang a queen, even.

This differs from soccer, where the gameplay is still effectively the same at the end of a 10-0 defeat as it is at the start of a 1-1 tie. There may be some strategic and tactical changes to the approaches of both sides, but the core skills and gameplay mechanics are constant. Losing 10-0 sucks, but you're still playing soccer. You are playing soccer (presumably) because you like playing soccer. You still get to do something you enjoy, even in defeat.

In closing, there are two reasons we play games: we care about the result and we care about the gameplay intrinsically. If the result is not in question and the gameplay changes to become bad, why keep playing? Why force someone else to keep playing?

| improve this answer | |

Why is it acceptable to resign?

Chess has its origins as a war game. It was used to model war and perhaps to play a part in the training of generals. In war it is standard practice to surrender when it is clear that defeat is unavoidable. This is an obvious humane thing to do to minimize loss of life. Crossing over into chess as the model of war this translates into resignation.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I like this answer. Do you have any documentation to back it up? – GreenMatt Jun 26 at 19:05

Most sports have a numerical end. A game of basketball ends after 4 quarters and the team with the highest score wins and a game of tennis, which does not have a time constraint, is decided when a player wins the best out of three sets. To end a game of chess, however, requires either checkmate or stalemate. Unlike other sports, there is no linear path towards these such as scoring the most amount of points. A game of chess can end as early as move 1 or as late as move 200. Since most sports run on a clock, ending them before the allotted time would be both humiliating to the opposing team and to the fans who paid to watch the game, even if there is no chance that the losing team can come back, because the termination of the event symbolizes that the opposing got beaten so badly that the game had to be ended early. Also, the reason why a soccer team who is losing 10-0 don't just walk off the field is partly to avoid humiliation but also financial. Would anyone like to see team that quits when they are losing? What does that say about the team's morale? However, culture also plays a big role. Since resignation has been in place for so many years and the practice of resignation has never been implemented in traditional sports, it has stayed that way as there is no practical reason to change it.

In chess, this humiliation does not carry on, because when you reach a high enough level, it is assumed that your opponent won't make silly mistakes and that it is therefore understandable to end the game early. Playing on might be seen as unsportsmanlike because you are conveying the message that you believe that your opponent is not good and that he will blunder in a completely winning position. Furthermore, the winning player might feel like his opponent is purposely playing on in order to annoy him and waste his time, even if this is not the case. This is not to say that once you are inferior you should resign, you should always look for chances to complicate the position in hopes that you can gain an advantage. However, when there is no possibility for counterplay, playing on is a waste of time for both players.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    While I appreciate you taking the time to answer, this is - to me at least - an argument using the conclusion as part of its justification. We (myself included) expect a chess player to resign when their situation is "hopeless" - which may have different meanings depending on skill and the situation. If that's the case, why do we expect a football/soccer team trailing 10-0 with 5 minutes remaining to play those last 5 minutes vs. walking off the field? Why should a tennis player down 2 sets to none and a break in the third keep playing? (Also note there is no set time limit in tennis.) – GreenMatt Jun 25 at 21:02
  • 2
    But a soccer team trailing 10-0 still has as much hope of at least scoring a goal as they did when the game started. Rather than being down 10-0, a player who is down major material might be more like a soccer team that gets 5 red cards. They don't have the men on the field to even give a battle that's enjoyable for the participants or entertaining to the spectators, and according to the rules they would not play on in such a situation. – D M Jun 25 at 22:44
  • @GreenMatt I edited my answer to include a broader generalization – Ozzy08 Jun 25 at 23:28
  • 4
    @GreenMatt In soccer, basketball, etc, teams are part of a league and their position in the league is as important as the results of individual matches. If the league uses things like the total number of goals scored as a tie-breaker for league position, promotion, and relegation (as in soccer) the difference between winning a match 10-0, 11-0, or 10-1 may end up being critical, so the "losing" side still has something to play for right to the end of the game. – alephzero Jun 26 at 15:50
  • @GreenMatt for the tennis example, the answer should be obvious: a player who is down 2 sets to none and a break in the third can still win the match - and such things happen in real life. – alephzero Jun 26 at 15:54

Note that the core game of chess would be almost unchanged if it ended with the actual capture of a king rather than checkmate. In a sense, checkmate itself is a from of resignation, one that is written into the rules of the game. The game ends when the king would be lost on the next move. Resignation is just an extension of the logic of ending the game when the loss of the king becomes inevitable. Sometimes that inevitability becomes apparent more than one move in advance.

| improve this answer | |
  • Checkmate is not equivalent to opponent resigning, because of stalemate rule – Laska Jul 6 at 12:00
  • 1
    @Laska I didn't say that the game of chess would be unchanged, I said that it would be almost unchanged. A chess variant in which the game ends with king capture rather than checkmate would be a fairly boring chess variant since it wouldn't be very different from the game that we now play. Positions that are checkmate with our current rules would be trivially resignable positions in a variant that ends in king capture. So in a sense (my phrase) checkmate is a form of resignation. It is a ritual surrender when the death of the monarch is unavoidable. – John Coleman Jul 6 at 13:39
  • fair enough didn't see the word :) +1 – Laska Jul 6 at 13:44

One of the main reasons could be that chess has no limit of time or "score" needed to win. The examples we see here where resigning is also good sportanship are often that kind of game (risk, real-time strategy videogames...)

The point is not making the game unnecessarely long when the result is already certain

| improve this answer | |

Where there is an expectation that the game must continue, there is some value for somebody greater than the value of stopping. For example, in a football event, there are spectators who want to see some sport, there are players who may enjoy the exercise, and there is also a question of the degree of victory counting for something. (e.g. goal ratio may act as a tie-breaker in the league.)

In chess on the other hand, the value of resignation even in a situation where loss is not certain can be positive. In a casual game it can allow the players to start another game. In a more serious setting it allows the losing player to conserve energy and morale, to show respect for the winning player, and take a break perhaps to focus on the next match.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I disagree with the first paragraph - when I suffered an injury and said I wanted to withdraw, my opponent in a 1 on 1 sport competition with no spectators complained I was a bad sport for withdrawing instead of playing the match to the normal score of completion. – GreenMatt Jul 22 at 21:08
  • @GreenMatt sorry you were injured, but I think you are actually agreeing with me. Your opponent, rather unfairly, was a "somebody" who perceived an advantage in continuing. My second sentence merely gave a few examples – Laska Jul 23 at 3:15
  • No, I don't I agree. If I withdraw, my opponent wins anyway if that's his goal. By insisting that I continue, he incurred my animosity, and also refusal to play him again going forward. Given this was supposed to a "friendly" competition in an area where it was difficult to find other players of the sport, that's a long term loss. – GreenMatt Jul 23 at 19:19

Here is something interesting in chess, different from any other conventional sports, i.e., here resigning doesn't lead to poor-sportsmanship of the player, rather it's the intellectual advantage of the opponent, that there's nothing can be done for the player. And, also the term Sportsmanship, is, I believe ill-defined in chess. For a game like chess, which is purely the "Battle of intellect", doesn't come along with, regular sport-like attributes, which we find in any other sports. Thus, the "resigning" simply mean, there's nothing can be done here, and the opponent is clearly winning. And, this is totally logical, not to waste any much time. And this very well suits, in chess.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.