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5 Amazing Chess Blunders By Magnus Carlsen And Other Grandmasters In 2019
After Levon Aronian (right) blunders his queen in the FIDE World Rapid Championship, he resigns to Magnus Carlsen (left). Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

5 Amazing Chess Blunders By Magnus Carlsen And Other Grandmasters In 2019

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Grandmasters are just like us—they commit amazing blunders. Well, my blunders aren’t amazing; they are just pathetic, and I make them in all time controls. However, for GMs to blunder, the time controls are usually quite fast as they are in the following examples.

As Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888), who lost to Wilhelm Steinitz in the World Chess Championship 1886 (generally regarded as the first world chess championship match), famously said: “Chess is the struggle against the error.”

Chess is the struggle against the error.
—Johannes Zukertort

Blunders in these games may remind you of your own mistakes and help you to avoid them next time:


Losing After Being In A Winning Position

For an amazing blunder from the 2019 Grand Chess Tour, let’s start with one by none other than the world champion in one of his games against GM Levon Aronian in the London Chess Classic in December 2019.

At the table on the right, Carlsen (left) and Aronian play before spectators in London. At the other table are Ding Liren (left) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In their second rapid game, Magnus Carlsen had achieved a completely winning position. Evaluate for yourself the following diagram that shows the board position after White’s 39th move. Each player had started with 25 minutes. With more than five minutes remaining on his clock and a 10-second delay on each move, Carlsen made his 39th move in just 13 seconds. If you were Black, what move would you choose? More importantly, what would you avoid?

Carlsen played 39 …g6??—a game-losing blunder. According to the game analysis in the tournament report by Chess.com, winning would be 39... Kh5 40. Qf7+ g6 41. Qxh7+ Qh6. After the blunder, the game continued as indicated in the diagram. White’s 41. Qe7! convinced the world champion to resign because both 42. Qxh7+ and 42. Qh4# are threatened.

Failing to Win With A Passed Pawn

In the Women's Grand Prix in Skolkovo, Russia, last September, the reigning women's world champion, GM Ju Wenjun, failed to convert a basic rook endgame. Although her blunder was not game-losing like Carlsen’s, the mistake kept her from winning and let her opponent, GM Aleksandra Goryachkina, escape with a draw. The time control for this game was 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move starting from move one.

After 56 moves, Ju had the only pawn remaining on the board, and it was advancing toward promotion with protection provided by her rook and king. The following diagram shows the board position before her 57th move. What move should White make for a textbook win?

Did you avoid 57. Kg4??, the move that Ju made. Her blunder—a “natural-looking” move as described in the game analysis by Chess.com—gives away the win! Instead, 57. h4 would have continued White toward the "textbook win." As the analysis in the tournament report explains, White can win by playing correctly because the “white king can hide on h7, and the black king cannot approach due to h6-h7.”

Ju Wenjun vs. Aleksandra Goryachkina in Skolkovo, Russia
Ju Wenjun vs. Aleksandra Goryachkina in Skolkovo, Russia. Photo: FIDE.

Hanging A Queen 

Having committed such an egregious blunder in the London Chess Classic, Carlsen was more than willing to receive a similar gift from Aronian when they met in Moscow later that month in the 2019 FIDE World Rapid Championship. The time control was 15 minutes for each player plus a 10-second increment added for each move made. 

The blunder that Aronian makes reminds me of this maxim by Savielly Tartakow (1887–1956), an Austrian, then Polish and finally French chess grandmaster: “The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made.”

The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made.
—Savielly Tartakow

The following diagram shows the board position after 58 moves. What one move must White avoid?

Of course, the game-ending blunder is 59. Qb+, which leaves the white queen to be devoured by the black knight. That Aronian played that move shows the extreme pressure both players had been under for almost 60 moves and the lack of time to think clearly. (For a detailed analysis of this game, refer to the tournament report on Chess.com.)

Aronian blunders a queen to Carlsen
Aronian (right) reacts to his blunder as Carlsen (left) stands as the game ends. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Losing A Queen In A Discovered Attack

In blitz games when the time control is much faster, you expect to see more surprising blunders; however, we all practice tactics to avoid a discovered attack on an unprotected piece, particularly a queen, right? Follow the sequence of moves in this game between GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Vladislav Artemiev in the 2019 FIDE World Blitz Championship, held concurrently with the rapid championship in Moscow last December.

The time control was three minutes for each player plus a two-second increment added for each move made. The following diagram shows the board position after Nakamura, playing as White, slides his queen on move 28 behind his dark-squared bishop, which is attacking the a7-square. What should Black play in response?

Artemiev misses the discovered attack and blunders by playing 28 …exd3??. With the black king now in check and forced to move, the white queen next captures the black queen, and the game ends soon. (For more information about this event, see the tournament report on Chess.com.)

Hikaru Nakamura
Nakamura stands after the game ends when a tactical move captures his opponent's queen. Is he thinking, "Did Artemiev's blunder really happen?" Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Blundering Into Checkmate

Making any blunder is terrible, but making a blunder that sets up mate in one is an awful way to end a game. With more than 7,000 observers watching GM Valentina Gunina during the inaugural Women's Speed Chess Championship as it was broadcast live by Chess.com last June, she made the ultimate blunder in a 5|1 blitz game against GM Alexandra Kosteniuk

When Kosteniuk ignored her hanging rook and made a knight maneuver, 28. Ne2?!, toward the kingside that itself didn’t seem too menacing, Gunina fell for the bait. The following diagram shows the board position after White’s 28th move. Although several moves by Gunina would have kept her advantage bolstered by the queen and rook battery on the g-file, can you see why taking the rook with 28 …Bxa1?? is a blunder?

By capturing the rook, Gunina enabled mate in one, and Kosteniuk was more than willing to oblige. The game ended instantly on the next move, 29. Rh6#. (For more information about this event, see the tournament report on Chess.com.)

Kosteniuk vs. Gunina
When the game ends, Kosteniuk still seems shocked by Gunina's blunder. Photo: Chess.com via Twitch.

After seeing elite players make these blunders, maybe you think better about your own playing skills, although heed the advice of Tartakower. Even though I cannot play like a grandmaster, they are capable of playing like me.

Thanks for reading? What do you think? After seeing these blunders, are you more forgiving of your mistakes, or are you ready to help an opponent make a blunder? What blunder by an elite player do you think is amazing?