Masters don't bluff! - or do they?

  • FM sqmorr
  • | Mar 25, 2012

In a recent lesson one of my students innocently asked whether I every bluffed in chess, ie, played a move I knew to be bad in the hope of confusing my opponent.

I replied in somewhat pompous terms that Masters really don't as a general rule indulge in such trickery which is akin to the "Hope Chess" that Dan Heisman describes in his books and articles. Masters always focus on finding and playing the best objective move!

Hmmm. My student was not too convinced about this, and somewhat skillfully persisted and succeeded in squeezing out of me the following not very illustrious game.

Kinlay,Jonathan (2295) - Morrison,Graham (2220) [B16], 1979/80 Hastings Challengers, 06.01.1980

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6+ gxf6 6.Bc4 Bf5 7.c3 Qc7?! Premature placing of the queen [7...e6!] 8.Ne2 e6 9.Ng3 Bg6 10.Qf3! Nd7 11.Nh5!

Black has not played this system very well and is embarassed as to how to defend the pawn on f6. What would you play?
















Well, 11...Bxh5?! looks awful after 12.Qxh5 eg, Qd6 (12...Nb6 13.Bb3 0-0-0 14.Qf3 Rg8 15.g3 Nd5 16.Bxd5 Rxd5 17.Qxf6 Rf5 18.Qh4 h5 19.Qe4 Bd6 20.Be3 Qa5 1-0 Zunker,R (2295)-Wolff,P (2580)/Bruchkoebel 1993 (54)) 13.0-0 Be7 14.Re1 Nf8 15.Bh6 Ng6 16.Bg7 Nf4 17.Qh6 Rg8 18.g3 Nd5 19.Qxh7 Kd7 20.Bb3 1-0 Mokry, K-Janak,J/Prague 1978 (27)

Also, 11...Be7?! is very bad after 12.Ng7+

The move 11...f5 looks suspect but may in fact be playable 12.Bg5 h6 13.Nf6+ Nxf6 14.Bxf6 Rg8 15.0-0-0 Be7 16.Be5 Bd6 17.Rde1 0-0-0 18.Bxd6 Qxd6 19.Re5 Qe7 20.h4 Qf6 1-0 Pitters,P-Varberg,K/ Denmark 1985 (32)

Anyway, I played  11...Rg8!? which is a semi-bluff - not demonstrably bad, but I certainly didn't fully calculate the consequences either. It just looked complicated to me.

After long thought he declined the tasty morsel on f6 by playing 12.Be3

12.Nxf6+ Nxf6 13.Qxf6 Bf5 14.0-0! (14.g3 Rg4 15.h3 Rxg3! 16.fxg3 Qxg3+ 17.Kf1 Qf3+ 18.Kg1 Qg3+ draws) 14...Bh3 15.Bf4 Rxg2+ 16.Kh1 Qd8 17.Qe5 Rg6 18.Rg1 seems better for white in view of black's unsafe king

Black is still embarassed as to how to defend the pawn on f6. What would you play?
















12...0-0-0?! This is a total bluff this time!

12...Be7! is much better and equalises after 13.Nf4 Nb6 14.Bb3 0-0-0 15.0-0-0 Nd5=

After long thought he again declines the tasty morsel and played 13.0-0-0? White puts his king in a "safe" place, but this is utterly misguided as we shall see!

13.Nxf6! leads to an advantage to white in all lines: Nxf6 14.Qxf6 Bd6 (14...Bf5 15.g3 Bd6 (15...c5 16.Rc1 Rg6 (16...Bh3 17.Bd3 Bg2 18.Rg1 Bg7 19.Qh4) 17.Qh4 Qb6 18.0-0 Qxb2 19.Rfe1) 16.Qh4! Rg4 17.Qh5) 15.Qf3

Black is still embarassed as to how to defend the pawn on f6. What would you play?
















13...Qa5! Not at all bluff this time. Can you see why?

After long thought he decides to eat the pawn at long last - 14.Nxf6? but this is now a very bad error leading to a lost position!

14.Nf4! is correct leading to an equal position

















The key point is 15.dxe5 Qxc3+!! 16.bxc3 Ba3 is mate!

Also if 15.Qe2 Nxc4 renews the Qxc3+ threat 16.Qxc4 (16.Nxg8 Qxc3+ 17.bxc3 Ba3+ 18.Qb2 Bxb2 mate) 16...Qf5-+ threatens mate on c2 and the Knight on f6!

He struggled on a couple of moves by 15.Nxg8 Nxf3

also 15...Nxc4 threatening Qxc3+ wins: 16.Rd2 (16.Bf4 Qxa2 17.Rd3 Nxb2-+) 16...Qxa2 17.Kd1 Nxd2 18.Bxd2 Qb1+ 19.Ke2 Qxh1-+

16.gxf3 Ba3 and White resigned  0-1

16...Ba3 17.Kd2 (17.Ne7+ Bxe7-+) 17...Bxb2 18.Ne7+ Kd7 19.Nxg6 Qxc3+ 20.Ke2 Qxc4+-+



1. In this game white declined the pawn twice. The first time it was a semi-bluff (unclear) but the second time it was a pure bluff - and he should have eaten the pawn!

2. The third consecutive offer of the pawn was not a bluff. White had "safely" put away his king into exactly the wrong place and allowed a 'cheapo' tactic

3. So Masters do in fact bluff, but not very often in general. Do not assume they have it all calculated out, check their "calculations", and that way you will beat them once in a while!


FIDE Master Graham Morrison 


  • 5 years ago


    Closely related to this idea is the truth that many chess games are decided by a continuation foreseen by neither player.

  • 5 years ago


    Last 16....Ba3!- You played like Morphy!Wink

  • 5 years ago


    what part of my comment didnt you understand?

  • 5 years ago


    There are not hard puzzles, but weak minds.

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for writing this article. Very informative. I just thought I'd point out in the first sentence: "In a recent lesson one of my students innocently asked whether I every bluffed in chess" Shouldn't "every" be "ever"? Anyway, thanks again! :)

  • 5 years ago


    However, good machines never lose quickly :D

  • 5 years ago


    these puzzles were hard

  • 5 years ago

    NM fpawn

    Perhaps more common is that a master plays a move and, while waiting for a response, sees that it was a mistake.  While not truly bluffing, the master calmly puts on his poker face. 

    The opponent, on the other hand, realizes the flaw in the tactics, but spends time looking for a trap.  How often does the amateur get scared and plays something else?  Been there, done that!

    Michael Aigner

  • 5 years ago


    Strong players bluff and take risks frequently. The problem is that they are quite good at it.

  • 5 years ago

    FM sqmorr

    Hi Elubas,

    It is very easy to lose quickly, whatever your level. Anand once lost a game (to Zapata) in 6 moves when already a 2555 GM, and Karpov once lost in 12 moves (to Christianson) whilst a 2725 former World Champion!

    "It is not enough to be a good player, you must also play well" - attributed to both Tarrasch and Tartakover.



  • 5 years ago


    So I guess even if you're really good at chess, you can still lose very quickly!

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for this article. Quite instructive!

    Chess has some similarities to tennis, you have to let your opponent make some mistakes!

    Or, as Botvinnik would say, let the man make a move!

Back to Top

Post your reply: