Today I played a game on lichess where my opponent had a King and two Knights vs my lone King. I believe my opponent intended to offer a draw, but they accidentally resigned.

What is the rationale for allowing this?

In my opinion resignation means: "I trust my opponent's skill to convert this position into a win". Therefore, if it is impossible for someone to win then resignation should not be an option, and the game should be drawn.

(My question is inspired by Resignation when a draw is offered, but though my question is related, it is not the same question.)

  • You can just decline the resignation, so what's the point of this question? – user21820 Jul 14 '20 at 7:10
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    You can't decline a resignation - FIDE Laws of chess 5.1b "The game is won by the player whose opponent declares he resigns. This immediately ends the game." (fide.com/FIDE/handbook/LawsOfChess.pdf) – Ian Bush Jul 14 '20 at 7:33
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    That sounds like a flaw in the Laws of Chess that has been irrelevant until today. But of course it allows cheating, if a player resigns in a position where his opponent cannot mate with any possible sequence of legal moves, Perhaps i know someone who knows a member of the FIDE Rules Commission, and i will give them a hint. – Christian H. Kuhn Jul 24 '20 at 21:50
  • Online, suppose you have to leave for work during a game, and have a winning position over an opponent. However, you know you will not have time to play it out without being late. You could offer a draw, but suppose the opponent refuses this? This is obviously a bad situation to be in, but resignation makes sense in that context. – user45266 Sep 21 '20 at 5:03

Unfortunately, there is no objective way of saying that a position is 'completely winning'. The rules of chess try to avoid subjectivity as much as possible. Consider the following example (which is related, but not directly pertaining, to your question):

  • Player A is clearly winning against Player B. In practical terms, there is no way in which Player B could beat Player A, although in theory it is still possible
  • Player A's flag falls, meaning that B wins the game

Obviously, this situation is not ideal. Player A was clearly winning, and yet they still lost the game. Now consider this related scenario:

  • Player A is clearly winning against Player B. It is impossible for Player B to achieve a win against Player A through a legal sequence of moves
  • Player A's flag falls, meaning that the game is drawn

In the vast majority of cases, there is no difference between these two situations, and it is unfortunate that in one case Player A loses, and in the other, Player A draws. However, declaring that 'completely winning' positions should also be drawn in this scenario opens up a Pandora's Box that makes the rules of chess much more difficult to enforce. The main issue is, how do you define 'completely winning'? Let's consider a couple of possibilities:

'Completely winning' means that the arbiter believes there is no conceivable way in which Player B could beat Player A, even if it is technically possible.

What if the arbiter misreads the position and doesn't realise that it is 'completely winning'. Or, even worse, they declare a position to be 'completely winning' even though Player B has many more chances than you might expect. Wouldn't one arbiter have a different interpretation to another?

'Completely winning' means that when the position is fed into an engine, it spits out +10.00 or -10.00.

Well, engines are giving an objective assessment of the position. A position which is in theory +10 might be much harder to win than a position evaluated as +2, but is in reality just a well-known theoretical endgame. Also, what engine do you use? How long do you let the engine inspect the position? The list goes on...

In summary, it is much harder to enforce 'clearly winning' positions instead of just saying, firmly and clearly: 'if it is impossible for a player to win this game, then the following rules apply...'

Applying these lessons to your question gives us the answer: allowing accidental resignations is the least worst option when it comes to enforcing the rules of the game. And yes, in practice, two knights vs a king should end up as a draw, and your opponent was very unlucky. But it is possible for two knights vs a king endgame to end in a win, and changing the rules of the game would have far worse consequences than first thought.

  • Thanks for the answer, but it was me who had the lone King and my opponent had two knights, so my opponent had zero chance of losing, even if they ran out of time the game would have been drawn. – Akavall Jul 14 '20 at 19:06
  • @Akavall Oh, I must have misinterpreted your question. In that case, you do seem to be making a valid point. I suppose one theoretical answer to your question would then be 'perhaps your opponent didn't realise they had a forced win and in fact they thought they were losing'. Now this is a pretty far out possibility, so I understand if this doesn't amount to a proper answer. I will edit my post if I get the chance. – Joe Jul 14 '20 at 21:57

It is possibly the way the Lichess site is programmed. They clicked on the button but the software is not programmed to recognize positions such as those you mention.

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