Equal Does Not Mean Equal

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin 

Players often agree to draws when there is still a lot of life left in the position. The computer’s evaluation of zero does not necessarily mean the game should end in a draw. There are three types of equal positions- dynamically equal, equal with a lot of life, and dead drawn.

Dynamically equal positions are ones where players have equal chances to win, but both sides have clear advantages. Despite the fact that the engine evaluates the position around 0.0, the game will most likely be decisive.

One common theme that leads to dynamically equal positions iis when kings are castled on opposite wings, like in the Nadjorf Sicillian English Attack:

While the position was dynamically equal, Yu Yangyi did end up defeating Duda from this position in 2018.

In other positions, the position is equal in all of the seven steps and it can be hard for either side to make progress; however, there is a lot of life left in the position. For instance, let’s look at a popular boring, equal position in the Giuoco Piano:

The position is fairly symmetrical and there is no clear plan for either side to improve the position. However, if one players someone 100+ points lower rated from this position, he will slowly outplay his opponent most of the time.

Dead drawn positions are ones like some opposite-colored bishops endgames, king and rook vs king and rook, and king and rook pawn vs. rook. It is these types of positions, where US Chess Rule 14H used to be in effect. If a player was in a time pressure, he could call the tournament director and claim a draw. If the director sees that at 1600 would easily hold the position against a master, with ample time, he would declare the game drawn. Nowadays, 14H is practically distinct as almost everyone uses digital clocks and has time delay. Since a player has 5-30 seconds bonus before his time starts ticking each move, draw claims are not allowed.

Equal positions with a lot of life can be easily be misconstrued as dead drawn positions. Several years ago, I attended a great lecture at the Marshall Chess Club by Grandmaster Jaan Ehlvest. He showed several opposite colored bishops endgames, in which most audience members, including a few titled players, thought for sure the game should be a draw. In each one, there were a lot of nuances and winning chances for the upper hand. Inspired by this lecture, I ended up winning the opposite colored bishop endgame, which began on move 41 in this game against National Master Yan Miellier in the Amateur Team South 2022: 

Magnus Carlsen is known for defeating fellow elite grandmasters from dry, equal positions. See this endgame he had against Teimour Radjabov in the 2013 Candidates Tournament

Over the years I would often equalize against quiet openings like the Reti, London System, English Opening, etc, but not know how to make much progress in the middle game. To the contrary, it is important to realize that unless, it is a truly dead drawn position, whether it be an opening, middle game or endgame position, one should play it out and attempt to gradually make progress.

I suggest that players essentially never offer or accept a draw. As our 118th podcast guest Grandmaster Max Dlugy likes to say, “Chess is like a duel. In a duel, if someone offers you something, your initial response should be along the lines of “Why does my opponent want me to take it?”. This advice applies to draw offers, potential captures, sacrifices, etc. At the U.S Open 2021, I played against a 1900-rated player that I beat once before, a few years prior. When I offered him a draw, he quickly took it. About 20 minutes later, I saw him sitting in the lobby, and he told me he looked at the computer and realized he was fairly easily winning and should not have accepted my draw offer. He did not understand that I only offered the draw as I knew I was dead lost.

Thus, you can pretty much ignore an evaluation of 0.00. While, it may mean with two super computers, the game would be a draw most of the time, we are all human. Especially after a long game, a player can easily lose focus and make a silly blunder when it seems like no progress is being made. Don’t hold me on these statistics that I just guessed but perhaps dynamically equal positions are actually drawn 20% of the time, equal with a lot of life positions are drawn 50% of the time and dead drawn positions are drawn 95% of the time. If there is any chance, play on for the win!

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