How to Avoid Blunders

How to Avoid Blunders

| 81 | Tactics

If you are a frequent participant of chess tournaments you can see a lot of different things there: different players, languages, openings, hairstyles etc. But there is one thing common to any chess tournament. You cannot miss it. It is in a tournament hall, in a kibitz room, it is virtually in the air: Blunders!

They are by far the biggest enemy of any chess player. When you hear your club-mate says something like "I had a totally winning position but…" you already know what happened. How many tournaments were ruined by a stupid oversight, how many chess players never recovered from a blunder in the 'game of their life'?

A popular belief is that only weak players blunder. There is nothing further from the truth. In fact all examples I am going to present in this article are taken from masters' and grandmasters' games. Many World Champions are represented here too. The only difference is a grandmaster commits a blunder once in 50 games while a beginner blunders 50 times in one game. But as there is a silver lining in every cloud, there is an advantage for a player prone to blunders. If such a player manages to decrease their blunder percentage, it will add 200-300 rating points to his strength almost instantly.

Unfortunately most chess players think that blunders are accidental by their nature.They will blame anything. An annoying opponent who didn't resign when he was supposed to, hot weather or bad food he ate before the game. The truth is blunders are not the result of chance. There is a reason for every single blunder and to understand the reason is half-way to success in your fight against blunders.

Fortunately, all blunders have some common reasons. The goal of this article is to categorize blunders and explain how to eliminate each kind. 

1) Loss of Concentration

This is one of the most common reasons for a blunder.  If you notice that during a tournament game your mind is occupied by the Wimbledon match you watched yesterday or you are still upset by an unpleasant comment you got from your boss, you should know that you are just one step away from committing a blunder. When you play chess you need to think only about the game! Just look at what happened to great chess players who got distracted from their games.

Just like in most of my articles I give you a chance to test your tactical skills, so the games are given as a Quiz.  Please remember that you can always replay the whole game from the first move and see the annotations if you click "Solution" and then "Move list".



How could Capablanca ,who was frequently called a 'chess machine', commit such a terrible blunder.  You'll never guess unless you know the story of this game. During the tournament Capablanca had an affair and the object of his attraction was sitting in the very first row, watching the game.  Suddenly, Capablanca's wife paid an unannounced visit to the tournament. You can imagine that chess was the last thing on Capablanca's mind when he saw his wife entering the tournament hall, and that explains the worst mistake of his career.

Girls (and especially attractive girls) have ruined many games of male chess players.  In one of his most famous stories GM Gufeld tells about a game that could have been the best game of his life: "I was playing for the Ukrainian team in the Soviet Junior Team Championships. I was also... in love. Her name was Bellochka... She ignored me and refused all my offers to help her in chess..." Then in his next game Gufeld brilliantly sacrificed a Rook. That's how Gufeld himself describes the shocking end of the game: "It was really fantastic and I felt inspired by my love for Bellochka. I was filled with emotion. By now, many of the tournament participants had rushed to my table to see the combination. I was hoping to see Bellochka but she did not come. She remained in her seat playing for the Russian team. I ran over to her table and with my eyes and heart I said to her, “See my combination.This sacrifice that I have made– it’s for you.” Suddenly she looked up and pierced me with her beautiful big blue eyes. Surely she knew that I was not interested in her game. And I even thought that she had heard what my heart had said to her and maybe, just maybe, she understood my feelings. It was as if time stood still in that moment when we gazed into each other’s eyes. Her eyes then turned away from me as she looked back at her game. She then quickly made her move and . . . blundered her Queen !! It was a tragedy and immediately she resigned her game. A steady stream of tears began to flow from those beautiful blue eyes. I was stunned by her grief and blamed myself for what had befallen her. But being a great fan of Indian movies, I knew what had to be done– I had to share in her tragedy, just like the hero! But I couldn't resign my game, as I was playing for my team. So I offered my opponent a draw, which he quickly accepted. The spectators were shocked by the draw, but they didn't understand the love I had for Bellochka."

A fascinating story and also a good example of how two chess players ruined their games by being distracted!

I had my own experience of a similar situation that I shared here:

Of course it is unfair to blame poor innocent women for all our stupid mistakes. There are millions of different reasons why people get distracted during the game.  Here is one of the most unusual:


It is easy to see that in just three moves Lasker turned a position with a nice advantage into a lost one and also allowed a textbook 'windmill' combination. What happened here? Boris Vainstein in his excellent book about Lasker explains that during the game, while Torre was reflecting on his difficult position, a telegram was delivered to Lasker. Lasker's wife notified the ex-World Champion that his comedy was accepted by a theater. Lasker could not contain his joy. This comedy was the fruit of seven years of intense work. According to Lasker himself it was probably one of the happiest moments of his life. When Lasker returned to the chessboard, he committed three serious consecutive mistakes and lost the game!

You could see how two great World Champions experienced very painful defeats because they got distracted from their games. Now imagine what can happen to us, mere mortals in similar situations! The conclusion is simple: when you play your tournament game, you should think about the game and nothing else.  But you knew that anyway, didn't you? 


to be continued...

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