A (Very) Basic Guide to Avoiding Blunders

Blunder [bluhn-der] – noun; the one unfortunate part of chess that everyone wishes didn’t exist.

If they didn’t exist, we’d all be masters.  But, obviously, that is not the case.  Everyone makes blunders, which is one of the reasons that make chess the amazing game that it is – every chess player, no matter how strong he or she is (I’m talking about you, Magnus), has blundered in games, sometimes even multiple times in the same game.  However, there are many things you can do to minimize the number of times you blunder.  So how do you do that?

Well, there’s no definitive answer.  It’s different for every person.

Many people try to solve the problem of frequent blundering at its root, such as by taking an introspective look to see if they can find what it is that they’re doing fundamentally wrong.   Are they lacking focus?  Are they moving too fast?  Are they weak on tactics?  Answering such a question can be extremely difficult, especially if blunders occur in different circumstances.  At times, trying to solve the issue only makes it more frustrating.  No matter the cause, though, it is certain to take some time, as many games would have to be reviewed.

But with that said, there is a very simple, straightforward, albeit temporary, way to limit the number of blunders you commit.  This type process likely isn’t my own creation, so if you have heard of it before, then bear with me.  All it entails is asking yourself a few questions before each move…

  1. What did my opponent’s move change in the position? Unless you’re Nakamura and playing blitz against Rybka, pretty much every move in the game changes the dynamic of the position.  Moving a piece may open a file, open up a square for another piece, or attack one of your own pieces.  At any rate, if your opponent made a meaningful move, it is helpful to try to reason out why that move was played since seeing what changed is the first step to identifying possible threats.
  2. Which of my pieces, if any, are en prise? GM John Nunn coined the term “Loose pieces drop off,” which couldn’t ring truer.  Anytime a piece is undefended, it is possible that your opponent can simply capture it – either directly or through some other tactic – without losing anything at all.  Simply protecting all of your pieces can minimize blunders, especially since the effect of the major pieces is limited.  A queen can no longer threaten a bishop if it is protected by a pawn, for example.
  3. What forcing moves does my opponent have? These include checks and captures.  A check is obviously forceful as you have to do something to get your king out of check.  With captures, if you can’t recapture that piece in question or another piece back, the material is lost.  Thus, these possibilities should be examined in order to avoid blundering checkmate or material through a series of captures.

After going through these questions, you can start thinking of your next move, keeping in mind the answers to these questions that you asked yourself.  After coming up with a candidate move, imagine playing it in your head and ask yourself these questions again.  If your own move is forceful, keeping calculating through the variation to evaluate how viable the move is.  If possible, try to parse through this method on as many moves as possible.

It is true that following such a method can be very time-consuming at the outset during tournament games, but the idea is to avoid frequent blunders.  Eventually, asking these questions becomes a quicker and more fluid process, to the point where they don’t need to be thought of explicitly; rather, alarm bells will go off in our head if anything in the position seems out of the norm.  Of course, not every potential blunder will be caught by this method, but it is a starting point to help eventually see the chess board better.

As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

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