Before we get underway with the series finale, I have to apologize for the fact that this post didn't come out until the Tuesday of the following week. A large part of that is my fault for not even starting on the post until Friday, when Sunday through Thursday were wide open.
I hope I can make it up to all of you with the massive amount of material I have ready for when this series is over.
I still remember the days of playing games with my family on a cheap plastic chess set with the board set up wrong, games which sometimes ended with the king being taken and which featured wacky openings such as 1. e4 e5 2. f3 f6 3. d3 d6 and 1. e3 e5 2. Qf3. But strangely, I don't ever remember blundering a lot. They must have all come in pairs.
Fast-forward to May 2015, the date of my first scholastic tournament. I had joined Chess.com roughly two weeks earlier and had attained a semi-respectable Rapid rating which had settled between 1050 and 1100. AS we walked up to the registration table, I looked around the room, sizing up the field, and figured I had reasonable chances. I had no idea I was about to go 1.0/5 in the Unrated section and end up with a (hugely deflated) scholastic rating south of 600.
Now, some of you may wonder where this is all going after my long preamble. The point I'm making with this story is that the first big thing all chess players learn is that they suck, not how not to suck. More games are lost in the 800-1200 range than anywhere below because of blunders. Why? Their opponents stop blundering back.
In this post, we'll take a look at several different types of blunders that haunt players of all levels through the lens of my most humiliating blunders. Bon appetit!
The Natural Blunder
The natural blunder is a sneaky little critter, preferring to make you blunder through your own thoughts and biases rather than through any actual lapse. These blunders haunt players of all skill levels, simply because they're so easy to make. I now refer you to the "Find the Wrong Move" section of the excellent enlarged edition of John Nunn's Chess Puzzle Book:
"... Not that these lapses were perpetrated by weak players - far from it, they were often by respected grandmasters... Seeking a pattern to these errors, I realized that the blunders fell almost entirely into one of three categories."
I won't go into what the three categories are, lest we have a tl;dr moment, but I will cover them briefly. They are "harmless" positions, "false" threats and hidden threats.
Category 1: "Harmless" Positions
To some degree, this first category is the reason why lower-rated players study openings, not because they want to get an opening advantage, but because they don't want to walk right into anything nasty. It's also precisely what this category is about. Some developing moves are so natural that they cannot possibly be wrong - except when they are.
Here's my contribution to this category, a tragic simul game against IM @JavierGil which was cut short by a tragic opening blunder.
Category 2: "False" Threats
This category defines itself. Basically, you see a threat, see that it isn't actually a threat, and play a natural move that allows your opponent to carry out the "false" threat. Here's a prime example, a textbook blunder that could almost go into a book of puzzles alongside those gathered by Nunn himself.
Category 3: Hidden Threats
I don't have much in this category (mostly because my rating isn't high enough), but I have at least one for you here, a Daily game in which I played the opening badly and found myself worse due to the ideas of Nxc6 and Nxg4 hanging in the air. After a quick look, I found an obvious tactical solution to my problems... except that White had an obvious tactical solution to that.
Apart from this, there are numerous other reasons why class players blunder, and they are often quite different from the reasons that grandmasters blunder. Here's a list:
The Confirmation Bias Blunder
The confirmation bias blunder is another interesting beast. It usually happens in the opening, feeding off of your brain telling you that Black can't take the pawn here or can't play a move that they would otherwise love to play. Here's my best example: a 90 30 game where in a Classical Ruy Lopez I hung the e4-pawn out to dry, convinced that it was poisoned.
What is a "narrative blunder", you say? Put simply, it's the slippery slope in action. It's surprising how difficult it is not to cough up the game immediately when your position goes from winning to slightly better to clearly worse in as few as two moves. Here's my biggest "narrative" blunder, in another 90 30 game where I got a won position in no more than nine moves against the Pirc Defense and proceeded to throw everything away.
Now we get to my favourite kind of blunder. The stress blunder is a true demon, and one of the main reasons why resignation exists: playing on after a stress blunder is about as enjoyable as running repeatedly into a brick wall. In and leading up to such situations, the things the blunderer can experience reads like a list of symptoms. When I've been in this situation, it hasn't been fun: I lose all of my analytical ability, my thoughts begin to jump all over the chessboard, double-checking and triple-checking the same things, and my positional skills also disappear. Here's another one of my 90 30 games:
Admittedly, I don't solve tactics quite as much as I should. I'm a little bit lazy in that way: between my blog, schoolwork, Untitled Tuesday and video games, there's very little time left. But I hope I've demonstrated here that the classic "do more tactics" solution falls short. It assumes that everything is all right inside a class player's head, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Would fifteen minutes of tactics a day eliminate even half of the blunders shown here?
I've come to believe that the source of my problem isn't that I'm not good tactically (in fact, my Chesstempo ratings are quite healthy for my current level), it's that I don't talk to the board in any coherent manner, and so it's incredibly easy for me to make one mistake, make another and then allow a winning tactic because I can't even calculate anymore.
So how is this "slippery slope disorder" never diagnosed?
Because it's so incredibly easy to miss. Consider your typical game posted on a chess.com forum, a loss that has a few mistakes and a blunder. 99% of commenters will write the mistakes off as a lack of positional sense and the blunder off as a lack of tactical practice. Exactly zero commenters will know what the OP was thinking during the game, and, as we saw in Inconsistent Thought Process,
even if they do annotate the game with their thoughts, it will be a heavily sugarcoated version, just by virtue of actually making sense.
Sometimes you have to help yourself.
Before I sign off of the WPP series for the last time, a most sincere thanks to all of my viewers for coming back time and time again to read my posts. I don't control the fate of this blog. You do, and you've made this blog what it is today, one which has grown from a tiny dot in the vast blogosphere to a point where Top Blogger status is no longer out of the question.
I hope that by writing these posts I've helped to shine a light on the hidden obstacles to improvement which so many of us struggle with but never talk about.