Blunders in Modern Play, Part 1

  • WIM energia
  • | Aug 23, 2013

Today's article features a fun topic of opening blunders! It feels great to catch an opponent in an opening trap, but not so great when we end up being caught by some tricky line. There's a variety of opening blunders and most of them have occurred at the World  Cup, which is currently underway in Tromsø, Norway. In this and in the next installment I will show some of the games from this tournament and we will try to figure out the nature of the blunder. I think the faster the time-control, and the higher the stakes, and no free days for some of the players all contribute to tense games with unavoidable errors.

The first position is from Leitao-Inarkiev where one of the theoretical Semi-Slav lines was played. I don't know too much about it but browsing the games there is this recent Zhao Jun-Ni Hua game where Black equalized without much problems. Probably, when preparing, Leitao noticed an improvement over that game, which starts with 12.Ne5.

For a speed game it looks dangerous enough; the knight is aiming at the f7-pawn and is well positioned in the center. Taking the knight is one option and another one is Nf6, which looks quite reasonable as well. In either case Black will play c5 attacking the d4-pawn and activating the b7-bishop.

Black is a bit behind in  development. If the bishop was already on e7, then his position would be okay if not better for Black. However, the proximity of the white pieces to the king and Black's underdevelopment are signs that Black should have tried to be more careful.

The blow that Inarkiev missed is not one you see often in tournament practice. The queen, bishop and knight are perfectly coordinated and it is hard to believe that Black's position is close to losing after the blow.


There was a chess player in the chess club in Ukraine where I came to play during different summers, and she was about 2200 rated but a really fierce attacker. Our blitz games followed the same course over and over again. When I had black we would play the Sicilian and she would sacrifice her knight on d5 or e6 every game, regardless of its correctness.

At a shorter time control defending is especially unpleasant. I would either spend my time finding the "only" moves and then lose on time in a winning position or get checkmated. These games were extremely frustrating but they taught me the importance of being extra careful in an opening where the center is open and where White's pieces are really active. The following game, which was played at a faster time control, reminded me my blitz matches with Vira.


If you look at the position before ...Qc7 White has five pieces in the center aiming at the black king. One has to have some sense of danger to recognize that things will get messy and you must exchange the queens. Nxe6 is rather an obvious threat and my only explanation for the ...Qc7 blunder is the short time control and the high stakes with this game, when it is hard to keep the nerves under control.

Playing an opening one has to keep in mind the middlegames resulting from the opening. One gets worse middlegames because one was not able to solve opening problems. And as the game progresses these unsolved positional issues accumulate and at some point the position becomes close to losing.

In the following game, Svidler-Ushenina, Black had a solid position out of opening and the evaluation was very close to equality for a long time. There is no one-move blunder that can clearly show where Black went wrong and where she lost.

The game has more of a strategic character. First, Black fixed the pawn structure in the center when her pieces were not quite ready for it. It seems that ...d4 instead of ...dxe4 gives Black better chances. Then there was a fight for the c4- and c5-squares, which Black eventually lost due to poorly placed knight on e7. It was crucial for Black to transfer the knight via c8 to b6 or d6 to make it an active participant in the fight for the c4-square.


Strategic blunders are blunders too - they are just harder to identify and categorize.

Opening knowledge is a generally a good thing. Our opponents don't always let us play the opening where we know all the ideas and all the current theory. Sometimes either a rare move order or some obscure line can lead to a position that one has never specifically studied before. However, nothing new is under the sun. Typical positions are typical because, regardless of move orders, one can always have some clues about the position. For example, positions with an isolated pawn, doubled pawns, a closed center, a fixed center, and so on.

In the following game Black played the Nimzo-Indian and White ended up in what was almost a very popular position, but not quite the same. The Nimzo position I am talking about is this:

White will play h3 on the next move to prevent Bg4 and Ng4 jumps. This position is highly complex and is being played at the highest level. Black usually closes the center with ...e4, plays Bf5-g6 and tries to create an attack on the white king with a Rd8-d5 lift. White will prevent this rook lift with Bc4-b5xc6 followed by c4, after which the position remains roughly balanced. It is crucial to play h3 because otherwise Black's threats of Bg4 and e4 can be very dangerous, as the game below from the World Cup shows.


Next week we will continue with the topic of opening blunders at the World Cup!

Photos by Paul Truong



  • 3 years ago



    lol! I usually never feel the need to comment/even log in when reading articles since I began playing on ICC but here is an exception. 

    The "I'll stand by my original point with Nf6, call 13..c5 a "blunder" means that we run out of pejorative names to call vastly worst mistakes." by johnsmithson is easily the most idiotic comment I've read and sent me laughing. For someone claiming others have poor grasp of English, he himself incorrectly uses "worst" instead of the rudimentary conjugation "worse." On another note, the "Nf6" could be considered a positional blunder in the light that the players playing the game are 2600s. (blunders are relative in the setting they are played in, as you get better the level of your play increases and thus more moves are considered blunders). In either case, the text clearly points to the real blunder c5.


    I've read some of your books, and even your comments are informative!  

    @those who are trying to improve in chess from this article...copy the positions on to note cards and review them with the rest of your other note cards of key positions from master games, quizzing yourself on how to play the position as the winner and have the answer/key commentary on the back

    @at those who said this was a pointless article, notice how none of you even have online corres rating over 2100...have fun making the same mistakes over and over ;).   

  • 3 years ago


    Well I have learmd a lot from this article It showed me how easily you can lose the game if you blunder in the opening game I enjoyed  reading this article.Smile

  • 3 years ago


    well said chocolateTeapot!

  • 3 years ago


    In Beliavsky-Yu, what is White's problem with 17...Bxe6 ?

  • 3 years ago


    People are often vain about their grasp of English, to an extent that is rarely justified. This applies to both English speakers, and to those who are using it as a second language. Elaborate language is not good language, but it is often the refuge of someone who has lost an argument, or who wants to make himself appear to be more important than he really is.

  • 3 years ago


    "In any event the title of this article is "Blunders in Modern Play" and the very first example of a bad move is 12...Nf6." (Smith)

    When I decided to read the article, I was expecting to see some high-rated player leave a diagonal carelessly open in the opening and then resign before move 15.

    But here, the article, is about deep positional analysis in early niddlegame. It's not one single move that leads to the loss in many examples, but rather it is the pursuit of a wrong strategy -- certainly can't be called a "blunder."

    The argument is clear, here. Only those who are not strong enough to admit a mistake, debate and try to divert the topic to their "being old!" and bla-bla-bla...

    (By the way, I apologize for my first comment. It WAS rude :( )

  • 3 years ago

    IM Silman

    "Raving" wasn't the right word, but who cares? Why obsess over nothing? Anyway, I owe you (Mr. johnsmithson) a big thank you (seriously). You brought up a very interesting point about the true definition of a blunder, and the thought hit me hard since it's something I hadn't ever thought about before (Chess is my life, so if I haven't thought about it, it really excites me!). In any case, I intend to write an article about this (Should appear in 2 weeks. Of course, I still disagree with you, but my opinion will have little to do with the general subject.), which should prove very useful and thought provoking for everyone.

  • 3 years ago


    wow, john smithson is kind of an a@#!

  • 3 years ago

    IM Silman

    @johnsmithson - "In any event the title of this article is "Blunders in Modern Play" and the very first example of a bad move is 12...Nf6.  Someone here clearly has a language issue and it ain't me."

    But it is you, Johnsmithson, it is you. The blunder occurred on move 13 (13...c5). Just because the title is "Blunders in Modern Play" doesn't mean that every sub-par move is a blunder. She didn't call it a blunder, and she didn't mean for it to be viewed as a blunder (as shown by the ?!).

    Clearly you're a guy that always wants to be right (I'm old, and thus experience has taught me that I'm often wrong... it's part of the human condition. It's nothing to be ashamed of.), so we'll end this useless back and forth and allow you to pat yourself on the back, right again in the face of your obvious wrongness.

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks for a very nice article, especially the comments in blunder moves.

  • 3 years ago

    IM Silman

    First off, I found this article to be very enjoyable. But what I really want to do is flay a few reader comments. I just got up (almost 1PM) and there's no better way to start my day than to enjoy a ritualistic bloodletting.

    I'll start with JimDiamond0510. His comments (he found little practical value in the article) were not so horrible (a tad condescending), but he's actually very wrong. The fact is there's gold here, but you chose not to see it. In the Svidler - Ushenina game, energia's comment about the problem of the Knight on e7 is extremely instructive and deserves to be pondered for quite a while. It's something amateur's rarely understand, and if you close your eyes to it and say it's of little practical value, then you will NEVER understand it.

    Then we have johnsmithson, who raved about the move 12...Nf6 (in the first game) being called a blunder. You're right, it's a poor move, but not a blunder. You're wrong in that the author called it a DUBIOUS MOVE (?! = dubious), which it is. She never called it a blunder. Thus I give your comment a ?! (I could do worse, but I'm suddenly feeling a bit merciful).

    Antarmy1 didn't understand why 1.d4 d5 2.c4 can't be met by the "material winning" 2...dxc4. Okay, that's a very fair question - a cry for help. Here's your help:


    Antarmy1 - that's the beauty of If you have a question like that you can often post it and quite a few people will come to your aid. Anyway, it was a good question.

    Finally we have a comment from a superior life-form named ismaylibehnam. While we all got a good laugh from his ignorant and rude and wrong "think of a better idea for an article," his comment about it being a waste of time was beyond the pale. The article is most certainly NOT a waste of time. I found it entertaining and instructive, and many others did too. Next time ismaylibehnam deems something not being worthy of his obvious genius, please keep silent and allow us inferior beings to read it, enjoy it, and actually learn from it.

  • 3 years ago


    Think of a better idea for an article. This one was a waste of time (yours & more importantly, mine!)


  • 3 years ago


    @johnsmithson: It seems curious, yes.  But I'm willing to accept your word for it, as you seem to be qualified to make to make this assertion (and I'd rather not engage in a lengthy flame war on Ms. Zenyuk's article comments, although our discussion may already be viewed as such).  Although I would suggest that perhaps we have differing viewpoints on what an adequate grasp of the English language might be.  Throughout my own academic career, I certainly had many instructors (whom I am certain wrote academic papers on various subjects) who obviously spoke English as a second or foreign tongue, but whom I would not designate as having had "a very poor grasp of English," although I suppose it is possible others may have.

    At any rate, I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Zenyuk in St. Louis earlier this year, and I had no difficulty in my ability to communicate with her.  Between my personal interaction with her, the interviews online which I have read, and the types of written work and presentations included in her CV, I do not believe she should be included in this "very large percentage," as you describe it, of individuals who do not have a good grasp of our language.

    Obviously, I should have instead simply pointed to the above information, or else to the number of articles she has written here on which appear to be reasonably popular, and articles that most of us are able to follow with no difficulty (except for when the complexity of the chess itself may be over our heads) - rather than make the case that I did.

    I appreciate your information and educating me on the realities of the creation of academic papers; information of which I was not aware and therefore appear to have made a potentially faulty argument.  I would, however, also appreciate a player (who appears to be of similiar skill to myself) not being quite so judgmental in your opinion of a candidate master's choice of words to describe what is or is not a blunder in a game in which she is an expert.

    Thanks! Smile

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    wow..this article is very instructive....thanks for posting this

  • 3 years ago


    @johnsmithson: I think it's more persuasive evidence than someone having to ask for clarification about a post which should be quite clear to the average reader, then adding "lol" as if emphasizing a point that was never actually addressed.

    But, to help you better understand my position, I will attempt to simplify it for you further:  Yes, I believe writing an article in a scholarly journal demonstrates a good grasp of the English language. 

    If you hold a contrary view, you are welcome to this opinion.  Until you write a similiar article in a similiar publication in a language with which you are not closely familiar, however, please do not expect me to share this viewpoint.

    Cheers! Smile

  • 3 years ago


    To the readers who suggest that Ms. Zenyuk "can do better" with her English skills and that "maybe the language is getting abused" by her word choice ...

    Just my opinion, but I think anyone who co-writes an article for the Journal of Physical Chemistry entitled "Spatially Resolved Modeling of Electric Double Layers and Surface Chemistry for the Hydrogen Oxidation Reaction in Water-Filled Platinum-Carbon Electrodes" should deserve a little more respect regarding their grasp of the English language.

  • 3 years ago



    I know this is going to sound so stupid, but I've never understood why in games for example the first one shown when you open with 1.d4 d5 2.c4, why black doesn't take pawn on c4, wouldn't it lead to a material victory as well as strategic, especially as white can't retake c4 immediately, and then black could move to b5, starting a pawn chain? Pleasse explain?!

    maybe this can help

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    I know this is going to sound so stupid, but I've never understood why in games for example the first one shown when you open with 1.d4 d5 2.c4, why black doesn't take pawn on c4, wouldn't it lead to a material victory as well as strategic, especially as white can't retake c4 immediately, and then black could move to b5, starting a pawn chain? Please explain?!

    EDIT: Thanks Retrodanny

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