Just the Rules: The Draw Offer Blues

Tim Just is a National Tournament Director, FIDE National Arbiter, and editor of the 5th & 6th edition of the US Chess Rulebook. He is also the author of My Opponent is Eating a Doughnut & Just Law, which are both available from US Chess Sales and Amazon/Kindle. Additionally, Tim recently revised The Guide To Scholastic Chess, a guide created to help teachers and scholastic organizers who wish to begin, improve, or strengthen their school chess program. Tim is also a member of the US Chess Rules Committee and his new column exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations. There you are, staring at the board. The position is stagnate, and it is your opponent’s turn to move. You offer a draw. Your adversary goes into a deep think and is trying to decide what to do about your draw offer. You continue to evaluate the position. Then it hits you: you see the winning move—for you! Your opponent can do nothing to stop it. Victory is in your sights. You inform your opponent that you are retracting your draw offer. Then, your adversary notices the same winning line that you just found for yourself, so they accept your draw offer. Of course you protest—you took your half-point offer off of the table. Besides your draw offer was made improperly—it was not even your move!? The TD rules that the game ends in a draw. There is nothing you can do about it. Why? You can’t rescind a draw offer after it is made—even if it is made improperly. So how do you properly make a draw offer? What is the right sequence?

Make your move, offer the draw, and then press your clock—it’s the law.

Make your move—while it is still your turn—on the board before offering a draw, next offer the draw, and lastly press your clock. That is the correct procedure for you or your opponent when splitting the point by agreement. It does not matter whether you have tons of time left to play the game or are scrambling to beat the clock. Either way, these are the exact steps that should take place when you are offering a draw. And even if a draw offer does not follow these steps (an out of sequance draw offer), it can’t be taken back. If you offer a draw while your clock is counting down without moving a piece, your opponent can compel you to make a move before they decide what to do with your offer. They get to see what was on your mind before making up theirs. Unfortunately for them, you may find a checkmate move that instantly ends the game; thus, the draw offer is moot. And remember to say, “Thank you for agreeing to a draw.” That-a-way you are sure that your rival does not think your handshake is a sign of resignation. Handshakes really don’t mean a thing, though they are a nice gesture of sportsmanship. Knowing how to offer a draw is only one part of the equation. Knowing how to reject a draw is the other part.

To reject a draw, let your opponents know—touch your piece or just say “no.”

You offer a draw. Your opponent mentions that the game indeed looks "drawish.” You both make a few more moves, and you checkmate your rival. Your opposing general claims that the two of you agreed to a draw and that you were just analyzing, not playing on. First, the two of you should not be analyzing in the tournament room. Once a game is over, stop the clocks and leave the tournament room. If there is a difference of opinion regarding the game result, get a TD to help both of you sort things out. Playing on after the game score is determined creates a lot of problems. By the way, most TDs will probably rule this game a draw, because both of you said the magic word “draw.” So, be careful how you reject any draw offers. If you want to reject a draw offer, you can just say, “No thanks,” or simply touch one of your own pieces before you move it. That draw offer is now gone. It does not stick around move after move. But how can a draw offer turn into a loss?

Thinking about a draw offer may cause the blues: If your flag falls, you can still lose.

You and your opponent are both short on time. They offer you a draw. While you check over the position, your flag falls—you are out of time?! Your opponent claims a win. You accept their draw offer. After all, it took place before your time ran out. Sorry, you lose. You have no time left to accept the draw offer. Next time, we will travel deeper into the maze of US Chess draw law.