We often read or hear in books or video tutorials the following: "With this move, Black can equalize!". Some authors give 15-move or 20-move variations of some openings (e.g. Caro-Kann, Slav, Semi-Slav), then suddenly stop the explanation saying "...and Black managed to equalize".

Now, does "equalize" mean that Black should aim for "draw" at the start of the game? Should Black keep trying to "equalize" or "playing for draw" and wait for White to blunder then only star to think about how to win?

Does "equalize" mean that Black should try to exchange queens as early as possible?


5 Answers 5


This is a good question, because equality in chess is a tricky concept.

From a theoretical point of view there are only three evaluations of position: "White is winning", "black is winning" and "it's a draw". So, when we talk about white being better or black having a "slight pull", these evaluations are heuristics that mirror our experience of who is having the better practical chances and by what degree.

This also means that evaluations of the same position by different players can be quite different and often it is difficult to decide who is "more right".

So, when an author declares, that black has equalised, he means that he considers black's chances to not be worse any more. This doesn't say anything about the nature of the position. For example some GMs would argue that in the king's gambit, after 1.e4 e5 2.f4 ef black has already equalised. But obviously the position isn't drawish in the least, there is still a big fight ahead.

The idea that "trying to equalise first" is the same as "playing for a draw", comes from the fact, that it is often easiest to equalise by careful simplification. So there is a slightly artificial dichotomy between "trying to equalise first" and "going for a sharp fight". I call it slightly artificial because nowadays, especially among top players, the easiest way to equalise is often to go for the sharpest, most forcing lines.

As for what you should do: In my experience you should always try to develop counterplay, even if you are completely happy with a draw. If you can create even a slight initiative it is usually not difficult to exchange into a completely equal and drawish position. Whether exchanging queens should be your goal, depends entirely on the position.

In the end, how much risk you take is completely your decision. Some players try to go for the win straight away, even with black. Others want to play with the draw in hand, especially with white.

  • ""White is winning", "black is winning" and "it's a draw"". You are mixing evaluations with results. "White is winning", "black is winning" and "it is equal" compared to white won, black won, or it was a draw. Jan 2, 2020 at 11:38
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    @PhishMaster: No. It is standard terminology to call a position "winning" or "losing" or "drawn" (and the author explicitly said "theoretical point of view").
    – user21820
    Sep 29, 2020 at 15:09

Some authors give 15-move or 20-move variations of some openings (e.g. Caro-Kann, Slav, Semi-Slav), then suddenly stop the explanation saying "...and Black managed to equalize".

"Black managed to equalize" means that, at least in the opinion of the speaker, that particular variation failed to preserve White's advantage. So, as White, don't use it! As Black, try to lull White into it.

The concept has nothing to do with draw vs. win or exchanging queens, though exchanging queens can be a way to equalize.


At the professional level, White has an advantage caused by moving first. Professionals are adept at squeezing every efficiency from every move. Equalizing means that Black has managed to neutralize White's opening advantage and any gained benefit. Thus, it means both players have the same chance of winning.


In my opinion, "equalize" means the same number of piece developed, equal control in the center and equal initiative.

(For example, you have a piece which play a double role {attack and defence}, a piece which play one role{attack}, and a piece with {defence} role, and the opponent have 3 pieces with same roles as yours).


Why has an advantage by virtue of having the first move. Not enough to win, but enough to be a "favorite."

If and and when Black "equalizes," the chances of winning are more or less equal; White is no longer a clear favorite.

Exchanging queens may or may not be the solution. In many cases, White may have the better endgame after queens are traded. In others, exchanging queens is enough for equality if White's advantage consisted solely of better queen mobility.

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