03 May 2012

Learn from Your Draws

A brief item on Chesshistory.com,

A remark by Walter Browne in an interview with Mary Lasher on page 10 of Inside Chess, 10 February 1988: 'My motto is: when you win you earn, when you lose you learn.' (7621. Motto)

made me wonder, 'What about a draw? Do you earn or do you learn?' The logical answer is you half earn and you half learn. GM Browne, a six-time U.S. Champion, had more opportunities to earn at chess than I could ever dream about, while I have more to learn about the game than he could ever imagine.

The topic is more than a one sentence poem, because the difference between a win and a draw is frequently the difference between success and failure. I recently finished a nine-player correspondence event where the first two players qualified into the final stage of a four stage qualifying event. I finished +2-0=6 ('plus two'), which was good enough for a shared 3rd/4th. The two players who qualified for the final finished 'plus four' and 'plus three'. If I had managed to win one of my drawn games, I might have qualified on tiebreak.

A few years ago I wrote a post titled Learn from Your Losses, and followed it up with another titled Two Types of Losses. This eventually led to further analysis in Learn from Your Engines and Drifting vs. Maneuvering. I concluded that I had a tendency to drift in equal, unclear positions and that my drifting was the prelude to a loss. Since realizing that weakness, I've managed to avoid drifting to the point where I lose much less frequently. Can I learn something similar from my draws?

First observation: the categorization of draws is more complicated than in 'Two Types of Losses'. Draws with White and draws with Black have to be mapped against draws against a much higher rated opponent, against a much lower rated opponent, and against an equal opponent. Within these boundaries there are four kinds of draws:-

  • Short draws
  • Long draws with equal chances for both sides throughout
  • Draws where I battle back from an inferior position
  • Draws where my opponent battles back from an inferior position

I rarely play short draws, but when I do, they are always as Black against a much higher rated opponent who offers a draw in a dead-even position or forces a triple repetition. Of the six draws in the event that I recently finished, four were long draws with equal chances throughout and two were draws where my opponents battled back. I was never in real trouble in any of the games.

The two games where my opponents battled back from an inferior position would be the best candidates for finding a win. In both games I was a Pawn ahead, but the games eventually ended in theoretical draws where there was too little material to seek complications. This analysis tells me that I need to pay more attention in not allowing Pawns to be exchanged unnecessarily.

A handful of games in a single tournament is not a large sample, so it might be worth extending the analysis to events from the last few years. I wouldn't be surprised to find a similar pattern.

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