There is no question that chess masters are lightyears ahead of the average player in both technical skill and understanding. Sometimes we even think of these players as superhuman at least in chess terms and that perception remains pretty persistant when we look at their games, sometimes in awe, sometimes in pure puzzlement.
However, it's good to realize that these same masters are capable at times of poor play, confused play and outright blunders that even intermediate players might have avoided. These things by no means belittle the great players but rather portray them as human. Below are some games, from the distant past to the more contemporary, that show well-known players at some of their worst chess moments.
Let the Games Begin
We'll start with a man possessing the improbable and unwieldy name of Baron Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa who is considered by many to have been the strongest player in the world between La Bourdonnais and Morphy. As the chief architect of Bilguer's "Handbuch des Schachspiels," he was also most likely the leading theorist of his day. In this first game, v.d. Lasa, a man in his chess prime, initiates the King's Gambit against Howard Staunton, a player whom v.d. Lasa is believed to have beaten in overall match play, and, although he was an expert in the King's Gambit, manages to achieve a losing position accomponaied by a gross blunder in just a few moves.
The second game shows Paul Morphy losing rather quickly to Charles de Maurian. While the game is at Rook-odds, it should be noted that Maurian had been playing less that two years while Morphy, the prodigy, had conclusively beaten a world class player, Johann Löwenthal, 5 years previous.
In this third 19th century game, Blackburne sets a trap for Steinitz who graciously falls into it.
Harold Phillips was president of the USCF from 1950-1954. He was the NY State champion and Manhattan Chess Club champion in 1902. He was 34 when this blunderous miniature was played.
Savielly Tartakower loved novelties and unusual openings. Unfortunately, he also sometimes fell victim rather quickly to others' more vigorous opening play to help create the following minatures.
The following was only a casual blitz game played between Marshall and Torre about the S.S. Antonia which was transporting both men to the Baden-Baden tournament. It's notable for how quickly Marshall was punished by Torre for his blunder.
Marcel Duchamp, one of the founders of the Dada art movement and possibly the most influential artist of the 20th century, was also a talented chess player. Here he beat the great blindfold player George Koltanowski who missed a tactic in this tournament game.
The exceedingly brilliant Richard Réti lost his Queen and the following game in very short time to the Viennese master and publisher of the Austrian "Wiener Schachzeitung," Josef Emil Krejcik.
The creative Anthony Santasiere played young Robert Byrne in this game where Byrne goes wrong as early as move 4.
Ludek Pachman played in his first international tournament, a Nazi-sponsored event, at Prague in 1943. The contest was won by Alekhine ahead of Paul Keres. Out of the 20 contestents which included one woman, Ružena Suchá, a chess problemist and Czech Women's Champion, Pachman came in 10th. His opponent in this game, Josef Lokvenc of Vienna, came in 6th.
During the famous Candidates Tournament in Zurich, 1953, Paul Keres, possibly the strongest player to never become the world champion, played this hard-fought game with Yuri Averbakh. Ater Keres played his 38th move, this seemingly calm game suddenly fell irretrievably into Averbakh's hands-
We're all familiar with former world champion and endgame specialist, Vasily Smyslov. His endgame against David Bronstein didn't go to well after his blunder on move 21.
Tigran Petrosian was known for his incisive positional play. But the former world champion seldom missed an opponent's tactical misstep, in this instance giving the many time Dutch champion and chess writer, Hans Ree, good incentive to resign on move 8:
Veselin Topalov, later FIDE world champion, blundered badly in this game against fellow Bulgarian, Dimitar Donchev during the Bulgarian championship. Both players were still International masters at the time of this game.
The following game, which contains a blunder most novices would never make, was played during a tournament for the FIDE world championship. The particulars (whether it was a touch-rule mishap, a silly blitz play-off or something else) have eluded me.
England's champion, Nigel Short, was once a world champion contender. His style is bold and usually quite accurate. In this long game, Short somehow misses an obvious winning move and blunders into mate instead.
Short avenged himself (for our purposes) when he took advantage of former world champion Anatoly Karpov's blunder during the world champion candidates match.
One final outright blunder- this time made by the seven-time French champion, Étienne Bacrot.