Do Chess Pros Blunder?

Do Chess Pros Blunder?

IM Silman
Jun 7, 2010, 12:00 AM |
66 | Other

Unknown asked:

How often do chess masters make beginner mistakes in tournaments? For example, one could have had too much to drink the night before and just gave away a free piece like a knight or bishop simply because they didn’t see something and not because of a real tactic done by the opponent. 

Dear Unknown:

This is a good question. Though masters don’t make beginner mistakes for the same reason beginners do (beginners often blunder because they don’t understand basic positional ideas and/or basic tactics), they do make horrific errors due to exhaustion, drunkenness, chess blindness (somehow the mind short circuits and you simply hang something), time pressure (which makes everyone look like a fool), emotional duress (a girlfriend says she’s dumping you for Jodie Foster), a momentary loss of concentration (caused by a tidal wave, a 2 foot long insect’s mandibles clamping onto your ankle, a guy corners you in the men’s bathroom with a look of lust in his eyes, and other common scenarios of this sort), etc.

For some reason, many players think that grandmasters would never make a double question mark move. However, they all do it from time to time. Most recently, Anand tossed a key game in his World Championship match vs. Topalov:

V.Topalov (2805) - V.Anand (2787), Game 8 World Championship Match 2010: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 e6 7.f3 c5 8.e4 Bg6 9.Be3 cxd4 10.Qxd4 Qxd4 11.Bxd4 Nfd7 12.Nxd7 Nxd7 13.Bxc4 Rc8 14.Bb5 a6 15.Bxd7+ Kxd7 16.Ke2 f6 17.Rhd1 Ke8 18.a5 Be7 19.Bb6 Rf8 20.Rac1 f5 21.e5 Bg5 22.Be3 f4 23.Ne4 Rxc1 24.Nd6+ Kd7 25.Bxc1 Kc6 26.Bd2 Be7 27.Rc1+ Kd7 28.Bc3 Bxd6 29.Rd1 Bf5 30.h4 g6 31.Rxd6+ Kc8 32.Bd2 Rd8 33.Bxf4 Rxd6 34.exd6 Kd7 35.Ke3 Bc2 36.Kd4 Ke8 37.Ke5 Kf7 38.Be3 Ba4 39.Kf4 Bb5 40.Bc5 Kf6 41.Bd4+ Kf7 42.Kg5 Bc6 43.Kh6 Kg8 44.h5 Be8 45.Kg5 Kf7 46.Kh6 Kg8 47.Bc5 gxh5 48.Kg5 Kg7 49.Bd4+ Kf7 50.Be5 h4! 51.Kxh4 Kg6 52.Kg4 Bb5 53.Kf4 Kf7 54.Kg5 and here Anand “forgot” that he needed to be able to defend h7 with his Bishop (54…Bd3 drew) and literally tossed the game away with 54…Bc6?? 5.Kh6 Kg8 56.g4, 1-0.


T.Petrosian - D.Bronstein, Amsterdam 1956: 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.Nf3 c5 6.O-O Nc6 7.d4 d6 8.dxc5 dxc5 9.Be3 Nd7 10.Qc1 Nd4 11.Rd1 e5 12.Bh6 Qa5 13.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Kh1 Rb8 15.Nd2 a6 16.e3 Ne6 17.a4 h5 18.h4 f5 19.Nd5 Kh7 20.b3 Rf7 21.Nf3 Qd8 22.Qc3 Qh8 23.e4 fxe4 24.Nd2 Qg7 25.Nxe4 Kh8 26.Rd2 Rf8 27.a5 Nd4 28.b4 cxb4 29.Qxb4 Nf5 30.Rad1 Nd4 31.Re1 Nc6 32.Qa3 Nd4 33.Rb2 Nc6 34.Reb1 Nd4 35.Qd6 Nf5

White’s brilliant play has left his opponent in a hopeless and helpless position – all he can do is move his Knight back and forth and wait for doom to strike. Black’s 35…Nf5 was a change in his previous retreats to c6, and now 36.Qc7 would win. However, Petrosian wasn’t paying attention and no doubt thought Black moved the Knight back to c6 again.

36.Ng5??? Nxd6, 0-1. DOH!

Deep Fritz 10 - V.Kramnik (2750), Man vs. Machine Match, Germany (2), 2006: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 b5 4.a4 c6 5.Nc3 b4 6.Na2 Nf6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Bxc4 e6 9.Nf3 a5 10.Bg5 Qb6 11.Nc1 Ba6 12.Qe2 h6 13.Be3 Bxc4 14.Qxc4 Nd7 15.Nb3 Be7 16.Rc1 0-0 17.0-0 Rfc8 18.Qe2 c5 19.Nfd2 Qc6 20.Qh5 Qxa4 21.Nxc5 Nxc5 22.dxc5 Nxe3 23.fxe3 Bxc5 24.Qxf7+ Kh8 25.Qf3 Rf8 26.Qe4 Qd7 27.Nb3 Bb6 28.Rfd1 Qf7 29.Rf1 Qa7 30.Rxf8+ Rxf8 31.Nd4 a4 32.Nxe6 Bxe3+ 33.Kh1 Bxc1 34.Nxf8

Now 34...Kg8 35.Ng6 Bxb2 36.Qd5+ Kh7 37.Nf8+ Kh8 38.Ng6+ is a forced draw. However Kramnik had been playing for this position for several moves and felt his queenside pawns should give him serious winning chances (since he can make a passer with …a4-a3). When looking at this position several moves back, he had decided that 34…Qe3 was crushing since he would be threatening white’s Queen and also a back rank mate. So he calmly played…


No doubt thinking he was going to win, one can only imagine his horror when 35.Qh7 mate was the reply! (a great site) reported that, “Fritz operator Mathias Feist kept glancing from the board to the screen and back, hardly able to believe that he had input the correct move. Fritz was displaying mate in one, and when Mathias executed it on the board Kramnik briefly grasped his forehead, took a seat to sign the score sheet and left for the press conference, which he dutifully attended.”

A couple more examples of self-immolation:

Silman - J.McCormick, Berkeley 1974: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 Bd7 9.f4 h6 10.Bh4 Rc8 11.Nf3 Qa5 12.Bc4 b5 13.Bb3 b4 14.Bxf6 gxf6 15.Ne2 Qb6 16.f5 Na5 17.Nf4 Nxb3+ 18.axb3 h5 19.Kb1 a5 20.e5 fxe5 21.Nxe5 Bb5 22.Nxf7 Kxf7 23.fxe6+ Ke8 24.Nd5 Qc5 25.Qg5 Qxc2+

Now I reached for my King, thinking that he would resign after either of my two legal replies.

26.Ka2?? (26.Ka1 would have forced resignation since after …a4 a subsequent capture on b3 would not be with check, thus giving White an extra move) 26…a4, drawn since White can force perpetual check.

R.Balinas - Silman, Lone Pine 1979: 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.g3 g6 6.Bg2 Bg7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Qb3 Nc7 9.d3 Nc6

At this point grandmaster Balinas took out a jar of honey and a thermos with hot tea in it. I expected him a put a bit of honey in the tea, but instead he looked at me, smiled a big, friendly smile, and then poured the tea into the jar of honey. This formed a hot, thick concoction that looked not only disgusting, but also deadly. He glugged down everything in the honey jar, and sat back with a happy sigh. I watched him closely, and within a minute or two his eyes glazed over in sugar shock. Then (stoned out of his mind) he made a move.

10.Na4 b6 11.Bg5 Bg4 12.Rfe1 Ne6 13.Be3 Bxf3 14.exf3 Ned4 15.Qd1 Nb4 16.a3 Nxd3 (Doh!) 17.Bxd4 Bxd4 18.Re2 b5 19.Nc3 Nxb2 (Doh!) 20.Qc2 Na4 21.Nxb5 Bxa1 22.Qxa4 a6, 0-1. It only took one drink and 2 minutes for the human to baboon metamorphosis to be complete!

I’ll finish with a game I played in Wijk aan Zee. It was a must win for me, and when my opponent arrived 59 minutes late (1 minute before being forfeited!), I thought it was going to be easy.

Silman - da Jong, Wijk aan Zee (Reserve), 1989: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 0-0 5.Be2 d6 6.Bg5 c5 7.d5 b5 8.cxb5 a6 9.a4 axb5 10.axb5 Rxa1 11.Qxa1 Nbd7 12.Nf3 Bb7 13.Nd2 Qc7 14.Qa2 Ra8 15.Qb3 Nb6 16.0-0 Bc8 17.Nc4 h6 18.Bf4 Nfd7 19.Ne3 Ne5 20.Bg3 Ra5 21.f4 Ned7 22.Kh1 Qa7 23.Be1 Bd4 24.Bd2 Nf6 25.Qd1 Bd7 26.Qb1 c4 27.Nxc4 Bxc3 28.Bxc3 Nxc4 29.Bxc4 Bxb5 30.Bxa5 Bxc4 31.Rc1 Ng4 32.Be1 Qd4 33.h3 Bd3 34.Rc8+ Kh7 35.Qd1 Ne3

I’ve been winning for most of the game, and now one way to ice the game was 36.Bf2 Qxe4 37.Bxe3 Qxe3 38.Rc3 Be2 39.Rxe3 Bxd1 40.Rxe7. However, something strange occurred. I had been moving fairly quickly (a stupid thing to do, which earns me full baboon status) since I felt the game was over. And here I zipped out one of the worst blunders of my life.

36.Bc3???? Qxc3 37.Rxc3 Nxd1 38.Rxd3 Nf2+ Suddenly reality hit me in the face. Hysterical, I resigned, stormed out of the hall and slammed the door behind me ... on my foot! I broke a toe. Hobbling in the snow and cursing the gods of chess, I went to the pizza parlor and ordered a large one so as to drown my sorrows in food. However, I forgot about the European habit of putting olives on their pizzas with pits. I bit down on one and my tooth exploded! Rushing out of the restaurant in a fully lobotomized state, I slipped and fell face first into a puddle of “arctic” water. This was one of those days that you never forget.

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