Today we'll continue to discuss the nature of chess blunders and the ways to prevent or at least minimize them.
2) Blunders due to premature relaxation
This is an extremely common type of blunder and an especially painful one. It happens when you have a completely winning position and think that the game is over. Then comes a blunder. Every chess player had a similar experience in his or her chess career. Blunders like this cost the National scholastic title to a couple of my younger students. But sometimes a horrible blunder can ruin not just a game or a tournament, but a whole chess career. Look at the next diagram. White has an extra Knight and should be winning. The black rooks only look threatening, but cannot really harm the White King. For a Master and especially a Grandmaster the rest should be just a matter of technique. This position happened in the 23rd game of the World Championship match Steinitz-Chigorin. If Chigorin wins the game (as he should), he levels the score in the match and the last 24th game should decide the World Chess Crown. Now, see what happened:
So, how could a strong Grandmaster playing the World Championship match blunder like this if he wasn't even in time trouble? No one asked him what happened, but I have my opinion on the nature of this particular blunder. It is a known fact that an arbiter prepared an envelope for Chigorin to seal his move. (For younger readers some explanation is in order. In older times the game was adjourned after a certain number of moves. Then it would resume after a break which could be as short as a couple of hours or as long as a couple of days! During the break you were allowed to analyze the position and get any help you could get from your seconds, friends, etc. The adjournments were completely abandoned when computers became way too strong, so during the break computer help would allow a chess player to win a winning position or make a draw in a drawn position and therefore resuming the game became redundant). So, when the arbiter prepared an envelope and Chigorin could simply seal his move, get some rest and find the most efficient way to win the game, he refused to do so, and instead played his horrible blunder. It clearly tells me that he was so confident that the position was completely winning that he didn't want to adjourn the game and decided to get the point right away. As a result he lost the game, the match was instantly over and his whole chess career went downhill after that.
In one of his books GM Alexander Kotov even coined a term "Dizziness due to success" which describes Chigorin's blunder that we just witnessed pretty accurately. Kotov even tells his own story. He was playing a game and achieved a completely winning position. His opponent lost any interest in his game, and mostly watched the games of other players. Moreover, he wrote "White resigned" on his score sheet, folded it and put it in his pocket. Kotov knew that his opponent was just waiting for a good moment to stop the clock and concede the defeat. Fortunately, such a moment was very close and Kotov took the White Bishop on f7. Guess what happened after that.
When Kotov's opponent executed his winning move, he took his score sheet out of his pocket, crossed out "White resigned" and it was Black who had to resign the game. It doesn't even matter to me if the White player did this little trick (with folding his score sheet) on purpose or he genuinely thought that the game was over. The point is once you start thinking that the game is over and your opponent is about to resign, blunders are almost unavoidable!
The game shown on the next diagram is another sad example.
In his book GM Levenfish explained what happened. He obviously knew that he was completely winning (extra pawn plus a terrible pin on the 'g' file). He saw many winning moves. The simplest was to trade all the pieces on the 'g7' square and win the resulting pawn endgame with an extra pawn. But he thought that since Black is completely paralyzed, why rush? So he played a positionally sound move which was intended to overprotect his 'd6' pawn by c4-c5. Indeed it is difficult to imagine that Black, who is completely tied down, can do any surprises.
But this is a warning sign! Please remember, that such a false sense of security usually leads to blunders! Now try to find how Black managed to completely turn the game around! As a result GM Levenfish suffered what he described as the worst blunder in his whole chess career! It was the famous Moscow International 1935 and the win of this game would have kept him amongst the leaders of the tournament. Instead his dream was completely shattered and he played badly the rest of the tournament.
You should not think that premature relaxation happens only when you have a winning position. Sometimes when your game looks like a "dead draw" you start thinking that the game is already over while it is still in progress. This foolish way of thinking cost dearly to one young International Master. You might ask why I am so sure what that player was thinking? Well, for starters it was me!
Throughout the game I had been in very bad shape (probably lost). Then my opponent made some mistakes and finally I managed to reach an easily drawn position (see the next diagram).
It is so drawn that even if Black loses both of his pawns it is still a draw since White can never promote his pawns due to opposite-colored Bishops. Black simply creates a Blockade on the dark squares and the White light-squared Bishop is pretty much useless. I knew it and also I knew that my opponent, the late GM Aseev knew it as well. Sometimes you get annoyed when your opponent keeps playing in a completely lost position (instead of resigning) or in a completely drawn position (instead of just offering a draw). But I wasn't annoyed in this case for two reasons. First of all I could understand that my opponent was clearly disappointed by not winning a very promising middle-game position. And also you couldn't be mad at Konstantin Aseev for any reason. He was one of the nicest people I ever met. So, I was just playing, marking the time and waiting for a draw offer any minute. And as a result I played one of the stupidest blunders in my life. Almost any move leads to a draw in this position, but I found a way to lose it!
The conclusion is very simple: as long as the game is still in progress, it doesn't matter if the position is 'completely winning' or a 'dead draw'. Once you start waiting for your opponent to resign in his lost position or offer a draw in a drawn position, you are almost doomed to commit some stupid blunder. The funny saying "it ain't over till it's over" should be the first thing on your mind whenever you get a winning position! But you knew that anyway, didn't you?
to be continued...