Why Do Grandmasters Blunder?

Why Do Grandmasters Blunder?

| 74 | Other

Over the years I’ve noticed that whenever a grandmaster hangs his face, the masses of fake names go berserk and not only berate the unfortunate player but toss sick (and completely ignorant) accusations his way:

  • “He lost on purpose! It’s a fix!” -- Apparently you forgot to take your meds.
  • “He has insulted the chess community and needs to apologize to all of us!” -- No, you have insulted the chess community (by making chess fans look like fools) and you need to apologize.
  • “If he had studied the Russian school of chess, this wouldn’t have happened. Real grandmasters, with real knowledge, are hard to find nowadays.” –- Polite people, who are smart enough to know when they don’t understand something, are hard to find nowadays.
  • “His blunder is unforgivable!” –- No, a blunder is no big deal. Your idiotic comment is unforgivable.



The easiest answer is that they are human, and humans make mistakes for a variety of reasons.

Here are a few:

  • For one quick moment, they stop paying attention (and then it’s too late).
  • Being overly tired. An exhausted brain is capable of any bozo act.
  • Your wife left you, your dog picked her over you, and your bank account was emptied right before the game started. How would YOU play in that situation?
  • Depression. When a strong player has a bad tournament, usually his bad tournament gets worse and worse as it progresses.
  • Your blood sugar crashes, turning you into a temporary zombie (sadly, this happened to me all the time).
  • Stress! An important game can be extremely stressful. And, when you are overwhelmed with stress during a tough battle, you can (and often do) miss things that you would normally see in a blitz game.
  • The brain does flip-flops and you hallucinate (takes us back to tiredness, depression, and a drop in blood sugar).



The fact is, everyone blunders! Everyone!

Since some denizens went berserk over Jon Ludvig Hammer’s blunder, we’ll start with that game.

The game is a dead draw. I don’t know if some catastrophe boiled his brain, but my best guess is that he was exhausted by the hard battle and, expecting 1...Bb8 (the best try to win) he had prepared 2.Kc6! (the only move that doesn’t lose!) 2...Ba7 (otherwise White wins!) 3.Kd5 (draw). 

Sure that Topalov would give 1...Bb8 a try, he didn’t notice that Black played 1...Ke7 instead (since 1...Ke7 gives White a mindlessly easy draw with 2.f5 gxf5 3.Ke5, 1/2-1/2). As a result, his mind (which for a brief moment turned to mush) tossed out the move he had analyzed if 1...Bb8 was played.

The nasty trolls might insist that a “real” grandmaster like Topalov wouldn’t blunder in that fashion. Yeah, sure he wouldn’t. Let’s have a look at the first two games in the Kramnik–Topalov world championship match in 2006.

The following position occurred after an incredibly tense battle in which Topalov had a serious initiative and real winning chances. Kramnik defended well and, after more than a bit of help from Tope, he equalized the game. Now 57...Nxf2 would have drawn, but instead he played:

Bad luck for Topalov, but it seemed that he would get even in the next game.

In the following position, Black has three legal moves to choose from.

What’s particularly unfortunate about the Topalov–Kramnik match is that after these initial two losses, both clearly created by mutual errors and blunders (which isn’t unusual in a stressful world championship match), team Tope started screaming that Kramnik was using a computer.

Total nonsense. I would love to give that mythical computer to my opponents since Kramnik was in trouble with the White pieces in the first game and was completely crushed in the second. Great computer, right? Team Tope should have begged Kramnik to keep using that (imaginary) computer!

By the way, this is the reason that Topalov and Kramnik don’t shake hands.

Our next example of grandmaster blunders is a very famous one. It is Black to move and Kramnik was very happy with his position. Kramnik had outplayed the machine and obtained an edge a couple moves earlier. However, he went wrong (turning an advantage into equality) since, seeing this position a few moves before, he felt that 34...Qe3 would be a winner (instead, 34...Kg8 would have led to a draw). So, when his hoped for position appeared, he confidently tossed out the “strong” queen move:

Okay, that is some crazy stuff. But I am sure old legends like Petrosian and Bronstein wouldn’t miss such elementary things. Right?

White to move and Black has been in bad shape for a long time, and it was quite clear that the legendary Bronstein was going to be another victim of Petrosian’s slow death technique. In the present position Black is completely busted and I’m sure he entertained resignation. However, why not play on for a while? Who knows, maybe Petrosian will hang his Queen (Black is threatening ...Nxb4)? Anything is possible!

So much for the Soviet school of chess teaching people not to blunder.

Let’s take a look at the mighty Anatoly Karpov in his prime, one of the most dominating world champions of all time!

There is a LOT more hanging to see, and nobody is immune! There isn’t a grandmaster in the history of the game that hasn’t blundered (more than once!). In fact, I can’t count how many pieces and pawns I’ve hung over the years. Here’s one of my most painful moments.

Black has a good position. I was about to play 29...Rd6 with complete equality (sure that a quick draw would result) when a friend entered the room. I very much wanted to say hello, so, while looking at my friend, I grabbed my rook and moved it to the d-file.

I think Fed’s wise words are a great way to end this article: “You have to pay attention!”

Unfortunately, no human on earth has the ability to always pay attention. Everyone gets tired from time to time, stress kills, and periodic brain melt is pretty much impossible to prevent.

More from IM Silman
The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

How To Build Winning Chess Positions

How To Build Winning Chess Positions