Even strong players make bad moves. Sometimes, they make really bad moves. To win a chess game, it’s generally not necessary to play perfectly. It’s not even necessary to play well, as long as you play better than your opponent.
There are numerous reasons for blunders. Lack of theoretical knowledge or the inability or unwillingness to calculate properly can explain some errors. Time trouble is a common culprit for many players. Bad positions often lead to blunders, as it can be difficult to find the best moves when under pressure on the board. The combination of pressure on the board and on the clock can often cause players to commit serious oversights. On the other hand, mistakes in good positions can come from letting one’s guard down. Assuming that “anything wins” or that accuracy is not required can result in throwing away half or even whole points. Sometimes, both players share a blind spot or make offsetting mistakes. In the following endgame, my grandmaster opponent essentially gave me half a point, only for me to throw it back a few moves later.
Andrew Samuelson (2341) – GM Sergey Kudrin (2567)
2016 Atlantic Open
We had just made the time control and my prospects looked pretty bleak. I could hardly imagine the way this game would go from here. 41. Nb5 This seemed like the best practical chance, even if it’s objectively not a good move. I figured that I would just lose slowly if I didn’t try something drastic. axb5 42. cxb5 g5 43. b6 Na6 An incredible blunder in an easily won position. 43… f5 44. b7 f4+ 45. Kf3 Na6 with an easy win. 44.
Kd4 Now he went into a long think and found what was perhaps his best chance. f5 45. Kc4 f4 46. Kb5 f3 47. Kxa6 f2 48.b7 f1=Q+ 49. Ka7 Qf7 50. Kb6 Qf2+
51. Kc7 Here’s the answering mistake! The spectators who had gathered by this point seemed to think afterwards that 51. Ka6 was the way to go, and in fact it seems to lead to a draw. Even with an extra queen, Black can’t win. Qe2+ (or 51… Qf8 52. b8=Q Qxb8 is stalemate! This is the point I missed during the game. I thought he could maneuver his queen to c7 with my king on a6 but this trick bails me out even in that situation.) 52. Ka7 Qe3+ (or 52… Kf7 53. b8=Q Qe7+ 54. Ka8 g4 55. Qb1 Qd8+ 56. Kb7 Qe7+ 57. Ka8 the queen ending is okay for White.) 53. Ka8 g4 54. a6 Kf7 55. b8=Q g3 56. a7 g2 57. Qc7+ Qe7 58. Kb8 Again, the queen ending is okay for White.) 51… Qc5+ 52. Kd7 Qb5+ 53. Kc8 Qa6 54. Kc7 Qxa5+ and Black won.
In the following game, I made a serious error in the late opening/early middlegame, but was not punished by my opponent. I went on to obtain a nice advantage, lost most of it, and then converted the ending when my opponent did not find the right way to continue.
FM Sahil Sinha (2298) – Andrew Samuelson (2341)
Northern Virginia Chess League
The following game was played in the second round of the second season of the Northern
Virginia Chess League. 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6.
e4 g6 7. Nf3 Bg7 8. Nd2 O-O 9. Be2 Re8 10. O-O Nbd7 11. a4 Ne5 12. Ra3 a6 13.
Qc2 Nh5 This is a strategically risky idea, made famous in a similar position in the 1972
Fischer-Spassky match. I’m not sure I’ll try this again, but it worked out
well in the game, thanks to some sub-optimal responses. 14. Bxh5 gxh5 15. Nd1 Bd7 16. a5 Qh4 (After Bb5 White can sacrifice an exchange to gain control of f5, although I don’t know how many players would try this. 16… Bb5 17. Ne3 Bxf1 18. Ndxf1 h4 19. Nf5 White
has a lot of compensation for the exchange and seems to stand better here.)
17. Ne3 Ng4 This seems questionable in hindsight, as White does not have to
take on g4 and straighten out Black’s pawns. 18. h3 Nf6
But this is a real mistake for concrete reasons! It was better to take on e3, although White
should still be better. (18… Nxe3 19. Rxe3 Bb5 20. Rfe1 Qf6 21. Nc4 h4 22.
b3 Rad8 23. Rf3 Qg6 24. Rf4) 19. Nec4 Now White doesn’t seize the
opportunity! The possibility of f4 really worried me in the game, with good
reason. Black can hardly move the kingside pieces. (19. f4 Rad8 20. Nec4
This is rather awkward for Black.) 19… Nxe4 20. Nxe4 (20. g3 White misses
one last opportunity for an advantage: Qe7 21. Re1 Bf5 22. Rae3 Bd4 23. Rxe4
Bxe4 24. Rxe4 with two knights for a rook and a pawn.) 20… Qxe4 21. Qxe4 Rxe4
22. Nxd6 Rd4 23. Rf3 Rxd5 24. Bf4 (24. Nxf7 Rf8 25. Nh6+ Bxh6 26. Bxh6 Rxf3 27.
gxf3 Bxh3 28. Rc1 Bd7 29. Be3 c4 30. Rxc4 Rxa5 31. Rc7 Bc6 Black has an extra
pawn, but this should probably end in a draw soon thanks to Black’s bad king
position.) 24… Bc6 25. Rg3 h4 26. Rb3 Rd4 27. g3 Rb4 28. Rxb4 cxb4 29. b3
Bc3 30. Rd1 hxg3 31. Bxg3 Rd8 32. Kh2 Kf8 33. Bf4 Rd7 34. Rd3 f6 35. Re3 Be5 (
A much more convincing path would have been: 35… h5 36. Kg3 Bd5 37. f3 Kg8
38. h4 Kh7 39. Ne4 Bd4 40. Re1 Bxb3 41. Rb1 Bc2 42. Rxb4 Bxe4 43. fxe4 Bc3 44.
Ra4 Be1+ 45. Kf3 Bxh4 with two extra pawns.) 36. Bxe5 fxe5 37. Nc4 Rf7 38.
Nxe5 Rxf2+ 39. Kg3 Rc2 40. Kf4 Having climbed back to near equality, White
proceeds to lose it again by letting the Black bishop survive. (40. Nxc6 bxc6
41. Kf4 Rf2+ 42. Kg4 Ra2 43. Re5 Rg2+ 44. Kf4 Rb2 45. Rc5 Rxb3 46. Rxc6 Rb1 47.
Rb6 b3 48. Kg5 White should be able to hold.) 40… Bb5 41. Kf5 Rc3 42. Ke4
Ke7 43. h4 Kd6 44. Nf7+ Kc5 45. Ng5 Bc6+ 46. Kf4 Rxe3 47. Kxe3 h5 (It was
probably simpler and stronger to play h6 and keep the h-pawn on the board.
47… h6 48. Ne6+ Kb5 49. Kd3 Kxa5 50. Nd4 Bd5 51. Kc2 Kb6) 48. Ne6+ Kb5 49.
Ng7 Bd5 50. Nxh5 Bxb3 51. Kd2 Kxa5 52. Nf6 Bf7 53. h5 Ka4 54. h6 Bg6 55. h7
Bxh7 56. Nxh7
Kb3 The knight is really no match for the passed pawns, as the
remainder of the game demonstrates. (56… Ka3 This was my original
intention and is quicker than Kb3, although both win. 57. Ng5 b3 58. Ne4 Ka2
59. Nc3+ Ka1 60. Kd3 b2 61. Kc2 b5 62. Kd2 b4 63. Nd5 b1=Q) 57. Nf6 a5 58. Ne4
b6 59. Kc1 Ka2 60. Nd2 b5 61. Kc2 a4 62. Nb1 b3+ 63. Kc1 b4 64. Nd2 b2+ 65. Kc2
b3+ An interesting game with some ups and downs and a fair number of mistakes
on both sides. Even with this win, my team ended up losing 2.5-1.5. 0-1
The final game I will show features many reciprocal errors. Some of them can be explained by the clock situation, some by not remembering endgame theory, and some for which I really have no good explanation. In one critical position, I fell for a simple trick and lost a piece by thinking I’d seen further and just missing my opponent’s follow-up.
Andrew Samuelson (2341) – FM Tan Nguyen (2179)
2016 Atlantic Open
1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Be3 a6 5. Qd2 Nd7 6. f3 b5 7. Nh3 Nb6 8. Nf2 c6
9. a4 Qc7 10. a5 Nd7 11. Ncd1 e5 12. c3 This is the beginning of a bad
sequence of moves from White, who loses any chance of an opening advantage or
maybe even equality. c5 13. b4 c4 14. Be2 Ne7 15. g4 d5 16. dxe5 Bb7 17. f4
dxe4 18. h4 f6 19. exf6 (19. e6 It was better to play e6, which was the move
I wanted to play in the game. However, I couldn’t seem to make it work. For
example: Nf8 20. Bb6 Qc6 21. f5 gxf5 22. Ne3 f4 23. Nf5 Nxf5 24. gxf5 e3 25.
Bh5+ Ke7 26. Bxe3 fxe3 27. Qxe3) 19… Nxf6 20. Bb6 Qd7 21. Rh3 Qxd2+ 22. Kxd2
Nfd5 (22… O-O 23. Rg3 Ned5 24. Be3 Rad8 25. Kc1 Nxe3 26. Nxe3 Ne8 27. Kc2
Rxf4 Black’s probably just winning here with an extra pawn and strong bishops.
23. Nxe4 O-O 24. Nc5 Nxf4 (The path to a clear edge for Black was 24…
Bc8 25. Re3 Rxf4) 25. Re3 Ned5 26. Nxb7 Nxe3 27. Nxe3 Bxc3+ 28. Kxc3 Nxe2+ 29.
Kd2 Nf4 30. Nc5 Rfe8 31. Rf1 c3+
32. Kxc3 A terrible oversight, based on a simple miscalculation.
Naturally, I saw that Black gets to take e3 with check, but inexplicably missed his next move. (32. Kc2 Rxe3 33. Rxf4 Rh3 34. g5 This is probably just winning for White with two pieces for rook and pawn.) 32… Rxe3+ 33. Kd4 Ng2 I completely missed this response, saving both the rook and the knight. 34. Ne4 compounding my mistake and giving Black a
winning position. (34. Kd5 White probably has enough compensation for the exchange,
mainly thanks to Black’s poor queenside structure.) 34… Re1 35. Rf2 Nxh4 36.
Nf6+ Kg7 37. Nd5 Rd1+ 38. Kc5 Rf8 39. Re2 Nf3 40. Nc7 Rc1+ 41. Kd6 Ng5 Right
after the time control, Black loses most of his advantage by not playing
actively. 42. Nxa6 Rc4 43. Nc7 Rxg4 44. a6 Rxb4 45. a7 Black is up a lot of
material for the moment, but the a-pawn will cost him a rook. Ra4 46. Kc6 b4
47. Kb5 Rxa7 48. Bxa7 Rf7 49. Bd4+ Kg8 50. Ne8 Rf5+ 51. Kxb4 Rf4 52. Kc5 Kf8
A significant mistake! Now Black’s king position is poor and White’s position
is winning. (52… h5 This is still better for White but probably tenable.)
53. Nd6 Kg8 54. Re7 Rf1 55. Kd5 h5 56. Rg7+ (56. Re5 chases the knight away
and wins pretty easily: Nh3 57. Re8+ Rf8 58. Re7 Rf4 59. Be5 Rf1 60. Kc6 Ng5
61. Rg7+ Kf8 62. Rxg6 Nf7 63. Bg7+ Ke7 64. Nc8+ Ke8 65. Re6+ Kd8 66. Bf6+ Rxf6
67. Rxf6 Ne5+ 68. Kd6 Nc4+ 69. Kd5 Na3 70. Nd6) 56… Kf8 57. Rxg6 Nf7 58. Nxf7
Kxf7 59. Rg7+ Kf8 60. Rh7 Rf7 61. Rxh5 Ke7
By this point, Black had one second on the clock, plus the 10 second delay, while White had a fair amount of time. Rook and bishop vs. rook is a tough ending to play in a practical
game, but both sides make glaring errors in the remainder of the game. 62. Rh6
Rf5+ 63. Be5 Rf1 64. Ra6 Rd1+ 65. Bd4 Kd7 66. Ra7+ Ke8 67. Rh7 Kf8 68. Ke5 Kg8
69. Ra7 Re1+ (69… Rc1 70. Kd5 Rd1 71. Rd7 Re1 72. Rc7 Black is still okay
here.) 70. Kf6 Rf1+ 71. Ke6 Rf7 72. Ra8+ (72. Ra2 led to a fairly standard
winning configuration after Rf8 73. Rh2 Re8+ 74. Kf6 Re1 75. Rg2+ Kf8 76. Be5 Ke8
77. Ke6 Rf1 78. Rg7 Rf2 79. Rh7 Rf1 80. Ra7 Rd1 81. Rg7 Rf1 82. Bg3 Rf3 83. Bd6
Re3+ 84. Be5 Rf3 85. Re7+ Kf8 86. Rb7 Kg8 87. Rg7+ Kf8 88. Rg4 Re3 89. Rh4)
72… Rf8 73. Ra1 Re8+ 74. Kf6 Re2 (74… Rc8 75. Ra6 Rf8+ 76. Kg6 Rf7 77. Ra3
Rf3 Black holds thanks to this stalemate trick, but this would have been very
hard to see in time trouble!) 75. Ra3 A silly move! Ra8+ led to an immediate
win. (75. Ra8+ Kh7 76. Kf5 (Or even 76. Kf7 Kh6 77. Ra5)) 75… Rd2 76. Be5
Still missing Ra8+! (76. Ra8+ Kh7 77. Ra7+ Kg8 78. Rd7 Rg2 79. Ke6 Re2+ 80.
Be5 Rf2 81. Rg7+ Kf8 82. Rh7 Ke8 83. Rc7 Rd2 84. Rb7 Rd1 85. Rg7 Rf1 86. Bg3
is another standard winning idea.) 76… Rf2+ 77. Kg6 Rg2+ 78. Kf6 Rf2+ 79.
Ke6 Kh7 80. Rg3 Kh6 81. Bf6 Kh5 82. Kf7 Ra2 (82… Rf5 was good enough for a
draw.) 83. Rg5+ Kh6 84. Rb5 letting Black off the hook again. (84. Rf5 Rh2
85. Be5 Rh1 86. Bf4+ Kh7 87. Rf6 Rh5 88. Bd2 Rh2 89. Bg5 Rh3 90. Rf2 Kh8 91.
Rg2 Kh7 92. Ra2 Rh1 93. Bf6 Kh6 94. Ra8 and Black loses his rook or gets
mated.) 84… Ra7+ an answering mistake! (84… Rf2 85. Rb4 Rf5 86. Rg4 Rb5
87. Ke6 Kh5 88. Rg1 Rb3 89. Rg5+ Kh6 90. Rg8 Rf3 is okay for Black) 85. Ke6 (The winning line here was 85. Be7 Rd7 86. Rb6+ Kh5 87. Rb4 This pattern came up later in the
game, but here I found it hard to look at it on the board. Endgame books never
seem to have these positions rotated like this!) 85… Ra6+ 86. Kf5 Ra2 87.
Bg5+ Kh5 88. Bf4 Ra8 89. Rb6 Rf8+ 90. Ke4 Re8+ 91. Be5 Kg5 92. Rb1 Kg6 93. Rg1+
Kf7 94. Kf5 Ra8 95. Rg7+ Kf8 96. Rd7 Ra2 97. Ke6 Ra6+ 98. Bd6+ Kg8 99. Kf5 Ra2
100. Bf4 Kf8 101. Rb7 Ra5+ 102. Be5 Ra6 103. Bf6 Ra2 104. Kg6 Ke8 105. Re7+ Kf8
106. Re1 Rg2+ (106… Ra6 This was forced to avoid a loss, but that probably
wasn’t obvious given the time situation.) 107. Bg5 Now White has a win,
within the 50 move rule. It would have required a bit of precision, but none
of that mattered as Black finally blundered a simple mate. Ra2 (107… Rg4
108. Rf1+ Ke8 109. Rd1) or (107… Rg3 108. Rd1) 108. Bh6+ Kg8 109. Re8# This
game ended up being something of a comedy of errors, especially in the endgame.
Still, there’s plenty one could learn from a close examination of such a game.
What should we conclude? We’re all going to make mistakes over the board, but so will our opponents. So hang in there!