Monday, October 01, 2007


I usually think of 'blundercheck' as a step in any good thought process: once I've decided on a move, do a quick inspection of the position to make sure I am not leaving a piece open for the plucking. Unfortunately, I am not always diligent about applying this: I still leave opponent's pieces out there en prise that I could have taken.

How do I deal with such blunders? First, I slap my forehead. If I don't notice that I did it until Fritz shows me in my postmortem, I usually slap my forehead twice, telling myself how stupid I am. Is this the most productive way to deal with blunders? Probably not. I should be using them as learning experience, the same way I use opening mistakes to help me expand my opening knowledge. Such blunders are not random, but follow typical patterns. I should first lighten up, and screw myself up to analyze why I missed this move, so in the future I will be less likely to overlook them. I need to turn that self-hatred into blunderstanding.

It is easy to literally not see a capture: to see what I mean, open Fritz-->Tools-->Training-->Attack Training. The training game is to click on all the pieces that can be captured. Sounds ridiculously easy, no? Those of us obsessing with pattern recognition for basic tactics should be able to see all the captures immediately, clicking the mouse with the speed of somone angrily trying to close a hanging program on our desktop. That's not been my experience. It is humbling how easy it is for simple captures to be invisible, what some authors call a visual illusion.

Rolf Wetzell, in his generally ponderous and out-of-date book Chess any age, has some good stuff on this:
It is important to reflect philosophically on blunders. Many players chastise themselves for making blunders, but a blunder is simply a specific move with a bad outcome...The harm caused by chastising oneself for making a blunder is that it leads to the false believe that blunders can simply be "willed away," that they are a momentary aberration of thinking. With this attitude about blunders, that person doesn't think it's necessary to unearth the connections to other thoughts, since this was a random event that shouldn't repeat itself. So a blunder, even a gross blunder like a master leaving a piece en prise when not under time pressure, should be carefully contemplated to search for the cause.
While it is easy and accurate to say "I should have blunderchecked," it is possible to get better at this simple step by being aware of the circumstances that tend to produce gross errors.

The following are some of the circumstances in which I blunder. I hope to continue to expland this list in the future. If you have any to add, please put them in the comments.
1. Under time pressure.
2. Mentally or physically tired, especially in the endgame or after a long think on a previous move.
3. Attacker is far from the piece it can capture (especially bishops).
4. Piece needs to move backwards to capture, especially if diagonally (bishop or queen).
5. Rook needs to move sideways for the capture.
6. When I am caught up in plans I concocted on previous moves, and don't check to make sure the plan is still safe.
7. When I am thinking about potential complicated tactics I often miss simple captures I can make.
8. The opponent has put me in check (I sometimes even miss that I can simply capture the piece doing the checking!).
9. I just went ahead significantly in material, and am clearly winning. Time to really look hard at opponent's threats (and whether I may have even more threats: don't let up)!
10. Knights in enemy territory.
11. Attacking piece is "hidden" in a little cluster of other pieces so it doesn't stand out visually.
12. You are unmotivated, your competitive spirit isn't afire.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sometimes go a little bit further then slapping. But then i'm really frustrated ;-)

10/02/2007 01:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last year I was ecstatic when I managed to pin my opponents queen with my bishop. My thinking went something like: Since his queen is pinned to his king he can't move it, so then I can do this... The problem was that he could move his queen by taking my bishop and mating me!

10/02/2007 05:23:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Blue Devil, I wish I had used "Blunderstanding" in this "Indian Summer Swiss" I'm playing in at the Reno Chess Club. If I had, I could have saved myself two unnecessary losses!


10/02/2007 06:14:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

No.6 is terrible, isn't it?

10/02/2007 08:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like I wrote before, my current personal favorite is seeing a threat, looking for some better but more complicated solution than just moving my piece out of danger, and then totally forgetting the threat. It just happened again in a correspondence game. Must be the thing Tempo calls "short term memory overload" ... I am getting old.

10/02/2007 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Great post. I'm really guilty of the self-loathing without any self reflection after a bad blunder. Its not very productive, I know, but hard to get around. It seems that after all the work I've put into chess, a hanging piece should be so easy...

And I'm the same way with bishops. I constantly forget that my opponent has a fianchettoed bishop, or any distant bishop on a long diagonal.

10/02/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Great to see it's not just me :)

Scirius: that is a good one, particularly potent cause of self-rage. It is usually a special case of number 5, but I'll think about how I could incorporate it into the list, as it is very special :)

10/02/2007 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7. There are any knights anywhere on the board. Devious little buggers.

8. It's my move.


10/02/2007 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Derek: Knight presence is a good idea.

10/02/2007 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger Loomis said...

Back when I played 1 0 constantly, I used to use No. 6 as an offensive tactic. Typically when time was already low for both players and I'm clearly losing, I "fork" my opponents king and queen with my queen. In lightning, players get so fast at reflexively moving their king in response to a check they'll often hang their queen in that position. I'll admit to being on both ends of this one a number of times.

10/02/2007 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger wang said...

Great post. Blunderstanding is a difficult skill to master. Slapping oneself on the forehead however is quite easy. I will start to work on my blunderstanding going forward.

10/02/2007 05:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"out-of-date book Chess any age"

Hey! I like that book! I even make computerized flash cards of my goof-ups.

Glad to see I'm not the only one who read it.


10/02/2007 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Margriet said...

there is an old post from me about blunders. The best advice somebody (tempo)gave me was just to sit on my hands :). most blunders come from moving to fast.

10/03/2007 05:51:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Margriet: oh my goodness, you are alive! :)

10/03/2007 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Polly said...

Those far away bishops get me every time! I'm amazed at the number of times I forget about black's bishop sitting on a7 pinning my f2 pawn. Suddenly black comes and grabs the pawn on g3. There goes the pawn, and there goes the fortress around my king.

*Sigh* You'd think we'd learn from our mistakes.

10/03/2007 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Our Sword said...

This post is freaking awesome! I hope you don't sue me but I'm going to link to it and paste your numbered section of situations in which we're likely to blunder. It is fantastically helpful and I found myself nodding my head a lot and saying "Yep..." as I read through it. I'll totally cite you, so don't sue me! ;-)

7/23/2008 03:04:00 PM  

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