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Prearranged draws: Prearranging the end of chess

Prearranged draws: This is how Chess Grandmasters feel about it

Bobby Fischer spend most of his chess life after retirement trying to “expose the prearrangement”. He thought that most elite chess games were “prearranged move by move”.[1] For example, he believed that the first match between Kasparov and Karpov was a prearranged farce. Obviously, this concern by Bobby was unjustified. Nevertheless, it did open a concern for the very serious issue of prearrangement in chess. Indeed, the match between Karpov and Kasparov had a lot of short draws.[2]

Prearranged draws have always existed in chess, but they are becoming increasingly common. We could be moving dangerously towards  prearranging more than draws. Recently, prearranged draws have become a hot topic. Several grandmasters have been asked about it by Dina Belenkaya in post-game interviews. Their answers are uninspiring to say the last.


Alexander Grischuk on prearranged draws

Alexander Grischuk is one of the most prominent chess players of the last decade, former Russian champion and three times blitz world champion.[3] In the interview, he went on a ‘leave us alone with our prearrangement’ rant. “Prearranged draws I don’t see an issue with them, honestly”, he said. He lamented that people don’t like them: “Now there is some sort of war against them…” “It’s part of chess culture for a century at least”, he added.[4] To his credit, he did expressed condemnation to prearrangement of decisive results.

Hikaru Nakamura on prearranged draws

Five-time US Champion Hikaru Nakamura[5] excused his quick draw by arguing that there are more tournaments later: “My fans and my audience get to watch me an online tournament in like three hours, so nothing at all really.”[6] And who cares what we do about chess, since according to Nakamura de end of chess is very close: “Personally I don’t think we’ll be playing chess professionally, at least not standard chess, in 20 years”[7]

Vladimir Fedoseev on prearranged draws

Former Russian Junior Champion and Youth Chess Championship runner up, Vladimir Fedoseev,[8] declared that he is not against prearranged draws. “I think, for the situations that some players have today, it’s like a must-use.” He also gave some insights into why these situations occur: “(…) players sometimes really want to get rest because playing chess is really hard itself.”[9]

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on prearranged draws

Number one Azeri player Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has an impressive record: Two times Junior World Champion, Word Rapid Champion, three time European Team Champion, and Olympic gold medalist, among other titles.[10] He openly confessed that this prearrangement is a regular activity in elite chess tournaments: “Sometimes we do it, yes, before the game. It doesn’t happen every time or in every tournament, but sometimes if you are sick or not in a mood, and you play against White, you think it’s fine. But it’s better for the sport and for the spectators to compete.”[11] Mamedyarov is well-known for his combative style, and yet he too is subject to this sort of behavior. This is how pervasive this silent problem has become.

Maxima Vachier-Lagrave on prearranged draws

Other prominent Grandmasters had a more moderate and sensible view of this topic. “I don’t like prearranged draws”, said the Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the current World Blitz Chess Champion.[11] He didn’t seem to see a serious problem with short draws, but he feels uneasy about approaching opponents to offer such deals. Maxim’s proposal to end prearrangement is to play further games to a decisive conclusion. This idea is interesting, but we will discuss others as we go along.

Sam Shankland on prearranged draws

The only player that seemed categorically against prearranged draws is former US Champion and 4 times California State Champion, Sam Shankland.[12] “I think you shouldn’t invite people who make them.” Sankland believes that it is the responsibility of the organizers to fix this issue: “I’m not an idiot, I know when people are making a prearranged draw and when they’re fighting. (…) You see the same people playing the same disposition. Just don’t invite them. (…) I think it really has to be done at the lower organizational level, as opposed to FIDE altering the rules of chess, so to speak.”[13]

What the International Federation (FIDE) has to say

It is evident that the International Federation isn’t doing very much about this problem. Their website has no information on the topic. To my knowledge, there is no specific regulation in regard to this issue, and no significant measure has been implemented. However, FIDE Director General, Emil Sutovsky, is a fierce critic of  players who make quick draws, even though he too has prearranged games in the past. Sutovsky’s position, it seems, is that players are to blame. What can regulators do if players just want to make a draw?


Most elite chess Grandmasters don not think draws are a big deal, even when they are prearranged. Nevertheless, the chess public and the majority of chess players still want to see games being fought out. The experts think that this problem is hard to solve. Many solutions have been proposed, but none of them seems to be working.

Diagnosis and some proposed solutions

The problem is that, in many situations, players have no incentive to play for a win. Thus, making a quick draw seem a logical sportswise. This lack of incentives also creates an even more pervasive and potentially dangerous problem that affects combativeness in chess. I call this quasi-prearrangement, which consists of a strong collective tendency to play for a draw.

The diagnosis these problems requires a more nuanced understanding of chess competitive systems and chess culture. One of the underlying causes of the disease is FIDE’s Elo rating system, which is both too conservative and also flawed. In particular, the problem lies in the way the assumptions of this system are revered.

Finally, my impression is that chess is paradoxically losing importance in society, at the same time that it is gaining popularity. Therefore, becoming a chess champion has become harder but less appealing. All this sounds quite speculative for now, but I will expand on these ideas in my next articles on this blog.




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