I Will Blunder No More Forever*
More travails of a (wanna-be) improving chess player...
[* apologies to Chief Joseph]
It happened. Again. The game was in doubt, a struggle was on. Material even, I evaluated the position as roughly even with both sides having chances.
I have some things that need to be addressed. The bishop on c1 needs to be activated, the bishop on g7 isn't doing much hiding behind the knight, and I need to pay attention to the pawn on e4 and make sure that I can hold it.
I considered pushing e4-e3 but decide that after white plays f3 I would have a passed pawn but I don't think I can hold it.
How to protect the pawn? Well, I currently have 2 defenders of e4, but white can start attacking that weakness.
I thought that Nd7 looks promising eyeing c5 and e5. And IF white drops the bishop back, Bb3-c2 to ever attack the pawn then I can play f5.
Then, a Jeffsaster (it's like a disaster, but it's funnier!) strikes. My mind gets things muddled together. The white bishop on c3 is pinning my f-pawn. Soooooo, let's move the King to break the pawn and then I can play Nd7 followed by f5.
So, I confidently play the awesome, inspiring and absolutely ridiculous ... 18... Kh1??
Not only does this lose a pawn, but my position becomes untenable. White's pieces are active and coordinated, and I'm toast.
The Sanity Check
Worse than losing the game is knowing that this is not uncommon for me. And for those who blunder like me, it is an incredibly disturbing phenomenon.
I don't really want to show this game to my coach, Dan Heisman. On the other hand, it's not like I can hide my mediocrity from him, he already knows my playing strength!
And, I've read Dan's advice. For example, his Novice Nook article Is It Safe? And Dan advises his readers to perform a sanity check before actually making a move: "Write your move down before you make it and then take a fresh look around for the most obvious errors."
And now, I've got to go back to where I was two months ago ...
The Psychology of Chess Blunders
It seems that there is something in the psychological makeup of some of us that makes us prone to making obvious blunders. I suspect that on some chromosome there is a gene responsible for blunders. But it is incredibly frustrating to fall victim to frequent self-inflicted disasters that are blunders.
Two months ago, I decided to remedy this problem. I scoured the internet looking for any clues as to what causes chess blunders and if there is some pyshological quirk involved, and if there is a fix!
My search has yet to find a novel, quick fix. You may find some references that are interesting. For example, here is a reprint of Psychology of Chess Mistakes from 1928. Here a master tries to categorize the different types of blunders. Interesting, but there is no solution given.
And then I found a series of articles on chess.com by Grandmaster Gregory Serper: How to Avoid Chess Blunders. This is a 6-part series which gives the reader some comfort with examples of the world's best players making blunders. Serper also tries to categorize the types of blunders. Useful information, but still no solution. Well, until the final article in the series, part 6. At the very end of the article, Serper finally gets to what I really want --- how to stop blundering! He recounts that when he was young (11 years old) but a moderately strong player, be began to blunder in almost every game. Then one day while browsing in a library he found a book by one of the old Soviet masters who gave the following advice:
"Before you play any move ask yourself: If I play my intended move, what are the possible checks of my opponent? If you don't see dangerous checks, ask yourself 'what are the dangerous captures of my opponent?' And then ask yourself if your opponent can threaten any of your pieces. This simple procedure will pretty much insure that you are not making a stupid blunder because in practically all the cases when you blunder it is either a check a capture or a threat. Also look at all available checks, captures and threats of your own, to make sure that you are not missing a blunder of your opponent."
I read this and I could hear Dan's words ringing in my ears. Checks, captures and threats. Checks, captures and threats. Dan frequently reminds the player to look at all possible checks, capture and threats (see, for example, A Generic Thought Process)
Implementing the Sanity Check
Two months ago, I decided to take Dan's advice seriously. When keeping score, I decided to do a sanity check before each move. Having decided on the move, I would close my eyes for a second and then look at the board to assess any checks, captures and threats that my opponent would have if I made the intended move. I would put a check mark beside my moves when I had done a sanity check (this, to train myself to automatically go through the sanity check). Within a week, things had improved significantly. And then I quit worrying about it, thinking that I had somehow gotten over the problem.
And now, a real reality check. My games for the last week have been riddled with blunders and silly moves. Now it's time to again dedicate myself to performing a sanity check before each move. And even though I will make mistakes in the future (everyone does blunder on occasion) I firmly dedicate myself to the goal:
I will blunder no more forever!
[EDIT: I just finished a game and tried to take Dan's advice below to heart. I tried each time to generate candidate moves and check them to be sure that they were safe before getting lost in the analysis. I done good, Dan! Okay, there may have been a few moves were I got just a bit too relaxed, but for the most part my thought process was much, much better organized. And, yes, I did win the game and while that is nice I'm more thrilled to actually feel like I played a good game. Now after my friend Fritz and I go over the game, I'll probably see that I have less to be proud of. But, and this was important for me, at least the mistakes in the game were positional errors and not the here-is-a-piece-take-it-please kind of blunder. Working on flaws in positional analysis is a lot more fun that grappling with the issue of frequent blunders. Thanks again, Dan!]