Fixing Common Errors

Fixing Common Errors

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Errors. Sometimes we notice them (or think we notice them), and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we learn from our mistakes, and in many cases we are oblivious to them and, as a result, repeat these invisible horrors over and over.

Most common among amateurs is the old, “I know what I did wrong and won’t do that again.”

Sure enough, after getting brutally punished, the loser thinks he won’t do it again but, unfortunately, he does do it again. And again. And again.

I’ve often pondered why we repeat the same errors over and over, and I now think that it’s based on three things (not counting illness or some other non-chess reason):



You think you recognize the problem, but you really don’t. A chess teacher would help fix this, but for the vast majority of players who don’t have a trainer, they will likely continue to fall into that endless abyss.

Here’s an example of this:

After going over a new student’s games, I would point out this blunder and, in many cases, the student would say, “Oh, no need to go over this. I missed the double attack against my knight and king. Just a silly blunder.”

Yes, he’s right about the double attack, but after looking at quite a few of that student’s games a good teacher might notice that the student’s real weakness is leaving his pieces on undefended squares. Punishment can appear via a double attack or by a one move capture or various other ways that someone can devour an enemy piece. However, the root of the problem is the student’s propensity to leave his pieces floating in mid-air (undefended pieces). 

Rule: If You Are Not Aware of the Real Problem, You Can’t Fix It!

Unfortunately many people don’t want lessons or can’t afford them. In that case be as honest and inquisitive as you can be, read instructive chess books and articles, and you’ll be okay.

Of course, some players don’t care about improving their game. They just love to play and enjoy a certain group of opponents who are in their same class. And that’s also very, very cool (stress free and having a ton of fun!).



Even if you have a chess teacher, it’s critically important that the coach/teacher repeats the cure over and over again every time the student falls on his face.

Telling a student that he leaves his pieces on undefended squares is well and good, but the student WILL repeat the error many times (it’s human nature). Only by pointing out the problem over and over again can the problem be solved.


Some people literally go berserk whenever someone points out an error or a general lack of understanding.

I’ve had the following position (as Black) on several occasions: 

In one instance (after I quickly won the game against a low rated opponent) I tried to explain why he should avoid it in the future. I said that Black has an extra center pawn (...e7-e5 will give Black central space), two minor pieces developed to White’s zero, and White’s queen will be kicked around. In fact, Black already has a very promising position. He said that I was wrong, that black’s pawn on f6 is ugly and the c6-pawn is isolated, and that White has to stand better. Realizing that I couldn’t do anything for the fellow, I shook hands and walked away.

In another game I decided to have fun and answered this lame line for White in a different manner: 

Once again I tried to explain why the position after 9...Kxf7 is very comfortable for Black. And, though my opponent lost in under 20 moves, he also refused to believe me, insisting that Black’s king on f7 guarantees an advantage for White (it never occurred to him that after ...Bg7, ...Rf8, and ...Kg8 would lead to a “castled” position, though the King is actually quite happy on f7).

A particularly horrible experience happened on As many of the readers know, I often annotate games played by members, honestly pointing out the good and bad points of both sides play. A person claiming to be a woman (with fake names, you never really know anyone’s gender) sent me a particularly nice game, filled with some sharp tactical blows. I praised her, and made it known that I was impressed by her tactical skills. However, she had a habit of making the key move late, and she did this repeatedly (I mentioned it in my notes every time it occurred). I was shocked when she freaked out and said I humiliated her. First off, I’ve never understood how you can humiliate people hiding behind a fake name (one person that I apparently insulted wrote, “You have insulted quackenbush 23821!”). Secondly (and more importantly), if you can’t handle criticism, you won’t improve your game.

Rule: Intelligent, Well-Meaning Criticism is a Gift

I intend to write a few articles about fixing common errors, but let’s begin here:

In this position Black played 11...Nd7. What do you think about this move?

Yep, Black fell victim to the brother of the “undefended piece,” the “inadequately defended piece.” He does it often, and it’s something that he needs to eradicate from his play. As it turns out, his opponent didn’t notice the refutation.

Rule: Always make sure your pieces are defended or, if they are undefended, make 100% sure they are safe. You should train your mind to have warning bells sound off as soon as you leave a piece on an undefended square.

Rule: An inadequately defended piece is (obviously) harder to notice since it seems to be protected, but that protection isn’t good enough. If you have a piece that’s not defended by one of your pawns, you need to be very careful that its defender won’t be blasted away, leaving your once defended piece floating helplessly in the air.

A few moves later in the same game, we get the following position:

In the actual game, Black played 14...Qb6:

14...Qb6 is playable, in particular IF Black hoped White would play 15.b3 which weakens his queenside dark-squares (a3, b4, and c3). However, if Black didn’t do it for that reason then 14...Qb6 isn’t good at all. Black also played 14...Qb6 since he felt that White would react to the threat against b2 (and indeed, White did play the very poor 15.b3, creating all those weak holes in his own camp).

The sad part is that ...Qxb2 doesn’t win a pawn since Rab1 followed by Rxb7 gets it right back. Yet, Black thought he was making a threat and White accepted Black’s idea of reality and weakened his own camp by playing the poor 15.b3.

Rule: Never believe your opponent’s view of reality! You need to create a mindset where you always want to push your own agenda. Bowing to your opponent’s agenda is the first step to capitulation.

Rule: Always be aware of any and all weak squares in your camp. It doesn’t matter if the opponent can or can’t make use of those holes, you still need to be aware of them! And certainly do NOT create holes in your own camp unless you gain something of equal or superior worth.

Instead of 14...Qb6, what should Black have played?

Rule: Don’t leave pieces on squares that have no future! Black’s d7-knight was badly placed, and it’s your job to make sure you optimize ALL your pieces.

Though the e6-square shouldn’t be a real problem, one should still police these potentially weak squares or you might blink and, before you know it, find that the once “safe” square is killing you. Indeed, this occurred in the actual game:

Here we’ll finish up with an exciting puzzle:

All of Black’s pain was brought about by him ignoring that “little” square on e6.

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