Causes of blunders, part 2 of an endless series

May 13, 2009, 8:56 AM |

For me, at my current level, the most common cause of blunders is a flawed thought process. In 2007 I took a few lessons with IM Dan Vasiesiu (aka LazyPawn on the ICC, highly recommended), and he gave me an excellent thought process protocol to work on. A simplified version of the steps in the process are:

  1. Threat assessment. Ask why your opponent made the move he played. Establish a level of threat of your opponent's move. You must respond with a threat of a greater or equal magnitude or by neutralizing your opponent's threat. What are the threat levels? 1. Check (you have to respond, right?) 2. Mate threat 3. Capture 4. Threat of material gain 5. Positional threat.
  2. Tactics. Calculate all threats you can play that are at least the same level as your opponent's threat, starting with the highest level threats. Thus if your opponent has just captured a piece, consider checks and mate threats first before considering captures.
  3. Strategy. If your opponent has made a strategic move that does not pose an immediate threat and you have no tactics yourself, then consider strategy. First assess the position for "imbalances," including king safety, material, development, space, piece activity, pawn structure, and time remaining. Then attempt to build a strategic plan that takes the plus and minuses of your position into account. Find the best move for that plan. (Here I am greatly simplifying a very complicated process.)
  4. Opponent's Tactics. Before you actually make your tactical or strategic move, play the move in your mind and calculate your opponent's threats by order of importance. If those threats lead to a bad position, go back to the drawing board and find another move.

So, that is what I should be doing. Of course, I don't always do it. I need to grind the steps of the protocol into my head so that it becomes second nature. The problem with G30 games, which are the majority of my USCF rated games, is that I just don't have enough time to do this. I need to practice the process with longer games until I follow it without thinking.

For two ignominious thought process meltdowns see the following games I played this month. Click on "move list" to see variations.