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Every chess player has experienced this at least once in his life: An opponent who refuses to resign, even though being bare-kinged against a rook and 5 pawns...

Usually, kids are told to not be tempted and mate in the most efficient way (with the positive side effect that they're not encouraged to develop a personality that humiliates others).

However, playing on in a hopeless position is very provocative. It says "I think that there is a realistic chance that you do not manage to win despite this huge advantage!". They play on, hoping for some miracle (i.e. flag fall / stalemate).

Is it wrong/bad etiquette to overkill the opponent, e.g. by making 5 new queens?

Aren't they begging for the chances? The game will be at least a tiny bit more interesting for the winning side, as they need to be careful not to stalemate or let the flag fall.

Or is it cruel, arrogant and humiliating to do this to the opponent?

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    Your opponent always has the option to resign. As such they can't complain about how you chose to win it because if they don't like it they have an easy way out. Any suffering is self inflicted.
    – Ian Bush
    Sep 30, 2023 at 8:07
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    I might have promoted to five knights and had some fun with it.
    – Joshua
    Oct 2, 2023 at 18:37

8 Answers 8

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Is it wrong/bad etiquette to overkill the opponent, e.g. by making 5 new queens?

Not only is it not wrong it may be the best course of action in that it may bring home to the opponent how bad their decision is to not resign.

About 15 years ago in a game against my club captain I tried doing this. He never resigned, was an almost constant opponent in our internal club competitions because we were similarly rated with me being about 100 points higher.

In the game I lined up 5 connected passed pawns and marched them up the board in line until they reached the 7th rank. Then I started promoting them. To my amazement he resigned after I made my third queen. "Why on earth did you resign?" I asked. "Because you have mate in 3" he replied.

I'm not sure I believed him but in any case the next time we played he resigned in a normal way.

Here is one of the Chessbrahs showing how it is done with 5 rooks.

Another good way of dealing with the very late resigner is to play on until you are only 1 or 2 moves away from checkmating. As long as you have plenty of time left on your clock go off and look at other games. Come back occasionally to look at the board and clock but don't sit down. If you get down to 2 minutes on the clock and still no resignation is forthcoming then finish your opponent off. This is only likely to happen if your opponent has no friends to come and look at the board and see their friend stubbornly sitting there refusing to resign.

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IMHO, you should go for the kill in the most efficient way you could. If your opponent shows poor sportmanship, you show him the opposite.

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Hold on -- you resent the opponent prolonging the game unnecessarily, so to get back at them you prolong the game unnecessarily? To put it bluntly, that is stupid behaviour. You are cutting off your nose to spite your face.

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    Not really. The opponent is trying to make you spend time doing something tedious — playing out a lengthy predictable mate. So you turn it back on them by spending the time on something more fun for you — an exercise in overkill — and which if they don’t enjoy, they can get out of at any time by resigning. Oct 1, 2023 at 17:09
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Overkill by your definition may be considered poor sportsmanship even though continuing to play in a losing position really is not. Resigning in such cases is a matter of respect, and it may be a matter of good gamesmanship if your opponent gets frustrated when you do not. After all, your opponent must prove they can beat you. It can be considered good play, particularly in speed chess, because at the very least you are looking for your opponent to make the wrong play and accidentally stalemate you.

Likewise, an opponent that is trying to "overkill" you by delaying the obvious win is actually playing poorly since they could accidentally stalemate you, run out of time because they are not paying attention or, horror of horrors, accidentally give you the advantage to give you the win.

So what may be a childish, teasing of your opponent is not really unethical since it's poor play that could cost them. Your opponent thinks they are humiliating you but you want them to play this way if you are in that situation.

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First, let's look at reasons why your opponent might not resign:

  1. They might want to see how you checkmate them. In that case, going for the most efficient checkmate you can find will do both of you a service. Newbies generally don't know basic mating patterns and even when they get an overwhelming material advantage, they don't know what to do with it, so they end up flailing around giving check, hoping eventually it will be mate.
  2. They are hoping you will stalemate them. Going for 5 queens is a good way to wind up doing it!
  3. They simply don't know it's good etiquette. Newbies may have the mistaken impression that resigning is poor sportsmanship, akin to taking your ball and going home or ragequitting in a video game.
  4. They were taught (perhaps by Ben Finegold) to never resign. I think that's a good enough rule for someone just starting out, but afterward it can be refined thus: resign when and only when neither player has anything left to learn from the game.

So rather than going for 5 queens, I think it would be better to address the reason why your opponent isn't resigning. But if they don't have a reason and still won't resign, by all means go for 5 queens if that's what pleases you.

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There are several different angles to this:

  1. Yes, it is bad manners to not give up a really hopeless position. On the other hand it is even worse manners to point out the bad manners of the opponent, even if justifiedly so.

  2. Every opponent is allowed to play as long as he has time and moves - these are the rules. Yes, there are hopeless positions but there are also players who hopelessly overestimate their position. I once had an opponent (casual game) who would tell me to "please give up a hopeless position" (he was up an exchange in an endgame) until I got his rook with a fork, which I forced him into with a series of threats. Funny enough he played on until mate. Needless to say I refused play him since then - some opponents are beneath me - but I refrained from saying anything during the game. Bottom line: yes, it might be quite tedious to win a won game - but bear your fate with dignity! After all, your manners at the board are better than your (ill-mannered) opponents, aren't they?

  3. Take it as an opportunity. I sometimes - especially in online blitz - take such people as opprtunity to practice mating with knight and bishop. There is a rare chance that this endgame comes to pass naturally and hence, if possible, I promote to a knight and a bishop, sacrifice everything else and mate with knight and bishop. It is a pleasing sight to see these two pieces working together and it is also a lesson for the stubborn opponent that he is mated in the longest, most complicated and still inevitable way.

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If you were teaching the opponent and the time spent was an exercise in more than chess, then more than 2 goals are actually simultaneously accomplished.

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Kind of a tangential response, but when this situation occurs over the board I have an alternative to the normal overkill. I do this when

  • The position on the board is dead lost for my opponent. This depends on playing strength, but I mean a position that's completely and utterly hopeless, not just a big advantage - unlosable is the term.

  • I have plenty of time on the clock to win at leisure.

  • My opponent should know how bad the situation is for them. Sometimes with beginners they might not be certain exactly how lost they are, even if they know I've got a big advantage, or they're still at a level where they might be taught never to resign.

When all of this is true, I like to ask my opponent (in a friendly way) "what, you don't think I can win this?"

A lot of the time, this will result in them acknowledging that they're grasping at straws: "yeah, haha, you never know". Sometimes they resign afterwards sheepishly, sometimes they play on in which case I often say "yeah, that's fair" and then do my best to win as efficiently as I know how to - they didn't mean anything bad by not resigning, no harm no foul. If they take this poorly and say something like "make your move" angrily, then I'll consider taking them on a trip down victory lane; if they want to be stubborn, I'll get my money's worth.

The only other response I've gotten to asking this is a few times opponents have told me I wasn't supposed to talk to them during play, at which point I shut up and mated them uneventfully. Valid response, I suppose.

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