Resignation or Not?

On Tuesday we had a young lad and his dad come to the club keen to learn some chess. Piotr and I were playing a five minute game and with time running out Piotr had four unopposed connected pawns marching up the board and I had no counter-play with my badly positioned pieces so I resigned. The lad asked why I had given up as Piotr hadn’t checkmated me and we talked about the fact I had no chance of winning and could only lose from the position on the board (and Piotr was too good to make a mess of it) so the right thing to do was resign.

Which made me think when is the right time to resign? There is an old saying ‘no one ever won a game by resigning’ but there is a degree of etiquette around not playing on to the bitter end. Yes of course you can but it seems to be a waste of everyone’s time and not the ‘done thing’. So some examples from my playing and watching experience over the last few years.

Firstly: Up at the WG Grace’s old haunt last season Howard Millbank was playing a junior and had got to a position where he had king and two connected pawns vs king with over 30 minutes left on his clock. His opponents king was miles away from the pawns. Howard began to march the pawns down the board. No resignation. Howard promoted the first pawn. Still no resignation. Eyebrows raised. So he promoted the second pawn. Still no resignation, and general eye-rolling (there was nothing on the game, the match was already decided). Instead his opponent continued to write down the moves in a studious manner. Fortunately Howard’s technique was good enough to deliver mate with two queens versus an unprotected king. Should have resigned!

Secondly: In one of my games we had reached a late middle game position and I had two unconnected passed pawns but there were still a number of pieces on the board. My opponent stopped the clock and shook hands having had enough with a ‘you can’t fail to win from here’, I noted ‘you’ve not seen me mess up endgames obviously’. Yes I was likely to win, yes my king was safe, but it felt like there were enough pieces on the board that the result was not certain and I am not very good… Shouldn’t have resigned!

Thirdly: Watching a game Johnny Zeng played last year against Oleksii Novakov (then at Clifton) and Oleksii had a completely overwhelming position; two pieces up and a pawn up. Oleksii decided to promote his pawn but on doing so horribly realised that he had blundered into a stalemate position that neither of them had spotted. Should have resigned. Got an unplanned swindle. Lucky he didn’t!

Fourthly: Watching Nigel play this season against Downend. Nigel had been completely outplayed and his opponent had a pawn on the seventh rank two bishops and a queen against Nigels queen and knight. Both had a couple of kingside pawns. Nigel played on as his knight and queen were close to his opponents king and eventually forced a draw through repetition. I would have resigned earlier, Nigel didn’t and got a swindle. His opponent was furious that Nigel hadn’t resigned but really he was just furious with himself for letting the position slip.

So when does one resign? I suppose it comes down to when one believes there is no hope anymore and that is down to each and every individual, also the lower the level you are playing out the more likely dramatic swings in fortune can be, so fighting on is worthwhile. Some early resignations are down to a demoralised mindset (an example this season is one of our loyal sons had resigned after 15 moves having blundered a piece then not having the stomach for a game where he at best felt he would fight for another hour and still lose) whereas some overly long delays or playing until mate is delivered are based on a believing whilst there is an infinitesimal chance the opponent will mess up by blundering into a stalemate or similar it is worth carrying on.

Peter Marks

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