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Follow-up question to Is it ethical to take a zero-moves draw in the last round of a tournament if one is already assured of first place? I'm concentrating on this particular scenario from that question:

Suppose I'm playing in a small, 6-round tournament. I win the first five rounds, which also guarantees at least a share of 1st regardless of the results of the last round. In round 6, after a tough struggle, I achieve a completely winning position. Now opponent offers a draw. They're of opinion that since a draw is the same as a win for me, I should accept. Meanwhile, they could really use the extra half-point for more prize money.

  • Is opponent's draw offer unethical?
  • Is accepting the draw offer unethical?

I'm aware of only one parallel: in the Candidates Tournament 2018, going into the final round, there were three players with a chance of winning the tournament. Two of them failed to win their games, so the last player (Caruana) was the winner; however he had a winning position against Grischuk which he proceeded to convert. Caruana did not need to win; a draw was sufficient. Meanwhile, Grischuk finished 6th instead of 5th by losing that game.

However, none of the coverage I saw from that round mentioned Grischuk offering a draw, or what might have happened if Caruana offered a draw of his own.

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  • The above is totally outrageous IMO, and totally unacceptable. However in Team competitions there is often no problem accepting such draws - a few years back I accepted a draw from a significantly weaker player when a pawn up and positionally better, because it was the final of the local knock out cup competition, and the match situation was such that one more draw and we won the whole competition, and in team competitions this is not the only time I have done this or similar.
    – Ian Bush
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 19:11

1 Answer 1

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1. Is opponent's draw offer unethical?

Offering a draw in positions that are much worse is frequently regarded as bad etiquette. However, bad etiquette does not always equate to unethical behaviour.

In a tournament situation, it is correct to seek the best results in each pairing, and offering a draw in a worse position is a means to that end.

I assume that your opponent is not offering you a draw as a sign of disrespect or to annoy you (prohibited in most chess federations, e.g. USCF rule 20G).

Then the only unethical aspect of offering a draw as your opponent is that he is enticing unethical behaviour (as the tournament results are influenced, see next section), which cannot be ethical itself (according to Kant's categorical imperative / deontological ethics).

2. Is accepting the draw offer unethical?

As the answer to this question depends on the position (i.e. the chances of both players), I assume you have achieve[d] a completely winning position. I interpret completely in the sense that you're not only winning by a large margin, but without major technical difficulties. Let the probability that you get a worse result than a draw (i.e. you lose on the board or on time) be almost non-existent, and the probability that you win is very high. Also, let there be no "justifying emergencies" (e.g. strong bodily/medical needs).

Then it is unethcial to offer or to accept a draw!

Your opponent has absolutely no right at all to expect you to accept his draw just because it doesn't make a difference for you regarding the tournament standings. Even discussing the possible results with your opponent can be considered improper, as codified by USCF rule 20J.

His draw offer results from the pure self-interest of winning more prize money. However, this prize money belongs to someone else. He has a losing position and does not deserve that half point.

When you accept the draw, you are depriving someone of the prize money they deserve for having played better than your opponent.

To see how unfair this is, imagine that your opponent was your friend and you agreed to a draw. Or even worse, you offer to accept his draw in exchange for some of his prize money. You would definitely need to expect facing serious complaints about manipulating game results, e.g. USCF rule 20L:

Collusion to fix or throw games, whether before or during the game, in order to manipulate prize money, title norms, ratings, or for any other purpose is illegal and may result in severe sanctions, [...]

The fair final tournament standings result from a tournament, where each participant seeked to achieve the best result in every pairing. You should play as if you were the player who is competing with your opponent for that prize money.

A minor side effect: if the tournament is rated, you are also harming your next opponent in a rated game, as your rating should increase in consequence of the win. For a win, he will gain less rating than he should, and for a loss he'd suffer more than due.

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  • When this happened to me, opponent had just blundered a royal fork in an otherwise-equal middlegame, and was about to lose the queen for a knight. So yes, you interpreted 'completely' right. He offered a draw after I played the fork.
    – Allure
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 5:57
  • What if there isn't a real "emergency", but one is getting tired and isn't receiving any enjoyment from the game. To what extent should one feel an obligation to others to invest as much mental energy as needed to maximally punish the opponent for any misplays?
    – supercat
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 18:08
  • He should act as if he was the one still competing for the prize money. That includes the possibility to offset the "cost" of playing on (negative utility of tiredness and boredom) against the monetary cost of the draw. If the negatives of playing on outweigh the benefit of the prize money, he can accept a draw. In the case discussed, a "completely" winning position would not require much mental effort or "maximal punishment"of the opponent, though.
    – Hauptideal
    Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 2:50

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