4 Must Know Steps to Avoid Blundering in Chess

Oct 29, 2016
  Katerina
StaffCoachWGM 2263
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Blundering is painful

It happens to everyone - even the best players in the world. One of the worst feelings in chess is when you make a game changing blunder and you can’t take it back. Thankfully, there are many approaches chess players can take to minimize the number of blunders they make during a game. Hopefully this article will help the readers to become more blunder-free!

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When the World Champion Garry Kasparov sees a blunder, he can hardly hide his feelings! This situation happened at the ultimate Moves Event at the 2016 Sinquefield Cup.

First, it is important to understand the types of blunders a player can make:

  • Dropping a piece
  • Losing material due to opponent's direct attack
  • Losing material due to opponent's future attack
  • Getting checkmate
  • Allowing stalemate

Most of the critical blunders players make will fit into one of the 5 categories above. Being aware of these types of blunders is the first step to preventing them. In every move of a chess game it is necessary to “blunder check” in order to reduce such mistakes. When you make an effort to blunder check  before playing every move, it will become a natural part of your thought process. Below are several steps that many strong chess players (including myself) use to avoid making fools of ourselves…

Step #1

Position 1: Black played 28...b4

Question: How would you respond as White?

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LOOK at your opponent's last move. Too many players get anxious to play their next move without even paying attention to their opponent’s last move. This is a big no-no. After your opponent plays a move, force yourself to spend at least 15-20 seconds focusing on his/her ideas rather than your own. This step is the key for chess advancement.

Answer: Black's b4-pawn directly attacks white c3-knight and thus it would be reasonable to move away with it. What else is happening in the position? Black's b5-b4 move uncovered bishop on a6 which now attacks white f1-rook. Is it possible for White to save both knight and rook in one move? Yes - the best move is Ne2! It retreats the knight and blocks bishop's attack on the rook. 

Step #2

Position 2:  White played 16.d4

Question: What is White's major threat?

BD_9973_412_3.png

ASK yourself questions about your opponent's last move. Please let me make clear that this step DOES NOT come naturally to beginners. Players need to train themselves and acquire this habit of asking themselves questions regarding the last opponent's move. So, what questions are we talking about?

  • #1 Is the move directly attacking any of my pieces?
  • #2 Is the move uncovering another piece and thus indirectly attacking any of my pieces?
  • #3 Is the move preparing some threats/attacks?
  • #4 Is the move threatening to checkmate my king?

Answer: White can capture e5-pawn but that's not a threat, Black is able to recapture both with a pawn and knight. White's bigger threat is a pawn fork: move d4-d5. It will attack both e6-bishop and c6-knight, and consequently win a piece.

Step #3

Come up with your candidate move (=move that you think you want to play). Everyone comes up with a move he/she wants to play, this part is easy. However, coming up with a move does not equal touching the piece and playing it - this way a player won’t be blunder-free. After you come up with a move - go to the next step. Once again, you should neither play your candidate move immediate after you see it, nor you should touch the piece and start double-checking whether your move is good.

Position 3: White played 43.Rdc1??

Question: Why is it a mistake?

BD_9973_412_5.png

Answer: In this game, White clearly had great intentions with his move - to control the c-file and possibly to attack the black king. However, he forgot to do step #4 and thus forgot about Black's bishop on h6 that can easily capture his rook.

Step #4

VISUALIZE the move before you play it.  Meaning BEFORE you touch the piece - make sure to visualize what can happen afterward.In order to avoid blundering, there is a list of basic questions that you need to respond to:

  • #1 Is the square where I plan to move my piece is safe. Some players like to do this as the last-minute control while they are holding the piece in the air. However, this is a mistake. When a player's hand is in the air holding a piece, it can easily block player's vi opponent's piece.
  • #2 Was I to play this move, is there a way my opponent can take advantage of it?
  • #3 Does my opponent's king have a free square to go to? This question is only necessary to ask, when we have material advantage and our opponent has no pieces or limited amount of pieces on the board.

Position 4: White played 28.Na5??

Question: Why is it a mistake?

BD_9973_412_7.png

Answer: This move is also very logical - it makes a fork on Black's rook. However, one needs to visualize the move before and respond the the questions. Was White to ask question #1 (Is the square where I plan to move my piece safe?), he would quickly realize that the Black queen on the kingside controls the square from a distance.

Wrap Up:

As you can see, the first strategy in avoiding blundering consists of the awareness of your opponent’s moveI wish I could stress it more because from my coaching experience, I see that this step is truly crucial. Therefore, MAKE SURE to acknowledge your opponent's move.

Secondly, do not touch the piece you wish to play with. That may seem unreasonable, but I mean it for just a while. Try to visualize the move on the board first and respond to the basic questions. Remember, you don’t want to drop a piece on the spot. Even if you realize that your move is incorrect, if you touch the piece you are required to move it according to the FIDE touch rule.

Lastly, it is important to answer the basic questions regarding your own candidate move. I know this may be a lot of questions and a lot of hassle to keep finding responses to them move after move after move. It is tiring, difficult, and repetitive. However, it is also the way to acquire a habit of making a blunder-free move choice. It is the only road to success.

Good luck in your games!

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Tips For Coaches:

  1. Make sure your pupils never forget to look at the last move their opponent made. Players tend to focus on their own attacking chances, threats, and plans, while often ignoring opponent's threats and attacks. This is dangerous. Before your students even consider any of their moves, make sure they acknowledge their opponent’s move.
  2. Teach your students the habit of visualizing their move before making it and, most importantly, even before touching it. Sooner they start learning it, easier it will be for them to acquire the habit.
  3. The question-asking and answering process does not have to be boring. Make it engaging! It can be tought in a funny way. Try to make jokes with your students asking them about the “sneaky bishop and his plans,” the “tricky opponent move and the hidden ideas behind” and so on. It can be an adventure to uncover the threats and tricks.

Thoughts? Leave a response below! I will be glad to learn from your insights and answer your questions.

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3 Comments

ritvik11 13:07 - 6 Nov 2016
Very nice article. I have learned a lot.
Katerina 01:44 - 23 Nov 2016
Great! Thanks.
hvacr 17:55 - 16 Apr 2017
Very helpful, I use a discipline that someone shared with me called the "4 steps" they have been very helpful to stop blunders. I go through them before I make a move and when I am looking at the move my opponent just made.
they are: 1. what squares does this move seize?
2. what squares does this move release?
3. what files does this move open?
4. what files does this move close?

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