Last week, I discussed a three-step method which you can (and should) apply to every move you are planning to make in a complex position to diminish the risk of blundering. As promised, today, we will actually test this method out and determine if, at least to an extent, it is possible to override innate human imperfection.
I will begin by sharing one of my own painful experiences. In December 2011, I played in the strong Groningen Open in Holland (the Netherlands). By round five, I had three points and was well on my way to a GM norm. I vividly remember spending more than three hours preparing for my next opponent, Dutch GM Sipke Ernst. When my opponent tentatively deviated from my preparation, I was convinced that he had overlooked a potentially decisive sequence.
The position is head-explodingly complex. White is a pawn down, but his pieces are tremendously active and he potentially threatens to root out the g7 bishop with Nf6+. Furthermore, the c7 pawn is currently attacked, and I was not particularly thrilled with the position after 20...Nce6 21.Nxe6 Nxe6 22.Nf6+ Bxf6 23.Rxf6. However, I quickly found a way to highlight the only flaw in White's position: the weak e3 square. After the forced sequence 20...c6 21.Nf6+ Bxf6 22.Rxf6 Qe3+ (diagram), White's position seems to collapse.
White's main problem is that 23.Kh2 loses a rook to ...Qe5+, while 23.Kh1 allows 23...Nxh3 and now 24.Rf3 falls prey to 24...Qg1 mate! But let us conduct a quick blunder check in this position. Both 23.Kh2 and 23.Kh1 are clearly losing, but White has a third move - 23.Bf2 - after which things might not be so obvious.
Sipke Ernst | Image © Chess.com
After the forced 23...Nxh3+ 24.Bxh3 Qxh3, White's pieces are still very active and Black must ensure that there is no coincidental tactic. Of course, there is no checkmate or double attack in sight, so all that remains is to check for pins. With an exposed king on g8, the chances of a pin are quite high, and with a queen so close to the g-file, they are even greater. After the simple 25.Rf3!, Black has no choice but to take on g4 (25...Qxg4+), and 26.Rg3 pins the queen.
I did conduct this check - but it was only after I played ...Qe3+! Of course, with 23...Nxh3+ impossible, Black must retreat and is completely lost. My opponent's technique was not impeccable, but it did the trick:
Notice the two factors that should have set off tactical alarms: an unsupported queen deep in the heart of my opponent's camp, and a severely weakened king. In conclusion, you should keep in mind that to conduct a successful DAP check, you must frequently involve your tactical intuition. Always be on the lookout for pieces that might end up in pinnable locations.
Now, try your luck at the following exercise. There are several equally good moves that White can make; I can only set one of them as the "correct" solution, so you should focus on avoiding Janssen's blunder rather than solving the problem on your first try!
Black's tactic is difficult to see, not so much because it is somehow unique or tough to calculate, but because the position appeared so quiet - so devoid of tactical possibilities - that White did not think twice about his choices.
Now, let us examine a more complex scenario in which we will have to go through the three-step method in its entirety in order to preclude a disastrous oversight.
The three-step method might seem cumbersome, and therefore it is extremely tempting to trust your gut when calculating a potentially decisive move. Of course, you must draw the line between caution and paranoia, but by forcing yourself to systematically check your calculations, you will approach the position with a fresh pair of eyes and (hopefully) root out miscalculations.
When it comes to tactics, there is no alternative to practice. Therefore, I would encourage you to tackle the following exercise. You will only have to make one correct move, but the challenge will consist in applying the three-step method and discovering the devilish pitfall. Good luck!
In general, I am not a fan of catchy titles that promise a lot and deliver very little, but I hope that this article does not fall into that category! As I mentioned at the outset, there is no way to eliminate blunders altogether, but if you remain vigilant throughout the game and keep your self-confidence in check, you might very well find that winning a won position is not so difficult after all!