Mistakes are a normal part of chess. They happen in every game. It’s impossible to play perfectly. Our goal is to make as few mistakes as we can and to take advantage of those the opponent makes. Mistakes come in various sizes. A big one is called a blunder. A little one is an inaccuracy.
It’s the blunders that we have to avoid. We can make several inaccuracies and still not lose. But a single blunder can cost us the game. Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice on the size of our mistakes. Since they happen by accident, we have to hope that we are lucky and our errors are small.
However, there are things we can do to reduce the number of our mistakes. Most mistakes are not due to a lack of skill. With more thought, many of them could be prevented. Not thinking enough is the real problem and the main causes are playing too fast and not concentrating. By taking our time on every move and staying focused on the game, we can greatly improve our level of chess, and score better results too.
If you frequently lose games because you overlook a simple threat, then the solution is easy:
When your opponent makes a move, look to see what it does. There was a reason for their move and you need to figure it out. What are the threats? What is their plan? You should be able to answer these questions every turn.
Here is how to avoid mistakes in chess:
- Concentrate on your position
- Look out for traps
- Learn from your mistakes by analyzing your game
- Develop a proper thinking system
1. Concentrate On Your Position
Before making a move, consider your options. Don’t play the first move that pops up into your head. At least not right away. Try to find the best move. To do that you have to examine alternatives.
- Don’t let your hand do your thinking. You should never reach out to touch a piece until after you have decided what to play.
- Once you choose a move, picture it in your imagination before you play it on the board. Be sure you are not missing something obvious, then play it.
Chess is an action game, but all the action is in your brain. Concentration is essential to avoid making mistakes in your chess games. To perform your best, you must sit quietly and not let yourself be distracted. In a battle of minds, we have to block out the rest of the world. Every ounce of energy should be used for thinking.
Mistakes can be split into two groups:
A tactical mistake is any oversight or miscalculation. All the blunders which lead directly to checkmate or the loss of material are tactical.
Our goal when we calculate moves is to look ahead as deeply and accurately as we can. This is difficult, especially if there are lots of possibilities. When a position gets complicated it’s very easy to go wrong. Even a master has trouble then. So don’t feel too bad if you make an error in calculation.
Mistakes happen. When you do make one remain calm. The important thing is to assess the damage and come up with a new plan for the new situation. Don’t rush your next move. One error is often followed by another. And the second one can be much worse than the first. Take your time and regroup.
Strategic mistakes are very common. They include almost any bad decision that we make during a game. In the opening, the following general mistakes are typical for a beginner:
- Bringing out the queen too early
- Moving the same pieces twice
- Advancing too many pawns
- Leaving the king in the middle
Another bad habit that many players develop is exchanging pieces or giving check whenever they can. This strategy is a sure formula for mistakes. In a sense, there is no such thing as an even trade. Every exchange favors one side or the other, if only in a small way. The same goes for checks. Some are good and some are not. We should never play them automatically.
Strategic Blunders In the Middlegame
Bad strategy in the middlegame is not restricted to beginners. There are also lots of general mistakes in the games of more experienced players. Here are a few examples:
- Attacking before development is complete
- Pawn grabbing (wasting time and misplacing the queen for a pawn)
- Leaving pieces undeveloped (especially rooks)
- Opening the position when behind in development
Of course, there can be exceptions to these examples. Pawn grabbers do win sometimes with their extra pawn!
2. Look Out For Traps
In chess, a trap is a possible line of play where a move that looks good actually loses to a hidden tactic. If a careless opponent goes into the line, they are caught like a rabbit!
One of the toughest things for a new player to learn is not to set traps. A style of play based on traps can be very appealing because it often works. But it is not good chess.
To make real progress as a player, we must always assume that the opponent will play the best move. We don’t have to win by tricking them. There are many ways for us to outplay somebody without relying on traps. The problem with setting a trap is that it doesn’t usually improve our position if the opponent sees through it.
A strong move that helps our position, and lays a trap at the same time, is the only good kind of trap. Another situation where setting a trap is justified is when we’re losing. A trap may be the best chance for survival in an inferior position.
Common Mistakes In The Italian Game
The Italian Opening (Two Knights Defense) begins with: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5!?
Even though the knight moves for a second time, the move is logical since it’s hard for black to guard the f-pawn.
4…d5 5.exd5. Here black should play the gambit 5…Na5 6.Bb4+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6, when active pieces compensate for the pawn. (8.Be2 h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5 Bd6)
5…Nxd5 6.Nxf7! The sack is known as the Fried Liver Attack. “I love the smell of fried liver in the opening. It smells like victory”
6…Kxf7 7.Qf3 White gets the advantage in all lines. Black’s best is the not so tasty 7…Ke6 8.Nc3 Nb4 9.Qe4! c6 10.a3 Na6 11.d4! (7…Ke8? 8.Bxd5 is just plain bad)
Let’s go back to the last diagram. Instead of playing 4.Ng5, white opts for 4.Nc3?! This natural move is a mistake 4…Nxe4! The old for trick. If white takes the knight with 5.Nxe4, black will regain a piece with 6.d5!
5.Bxf7+?! White can be clever too,
but 5…Kxf7 6.Nxe4 d5! 7.Neg5+ Kg8!
A deceptive position. On the surface, it looks great for white. However, it is actually better for black because of their strong centre and initiative. The current threat is to win a knight with 8…e4
8.d3 h6. Driving the knight back and planning an eventual …Kh7 to free the rook on h8. 9.Nh3 Bg4 Even stronger than 9…Bxh3 10.gxh3 10.Nhg1 Castling 10.0-0? loses to 10…Nd4! 10…e4! The fog has lifted. It’s clear skies and smooth sailing for black.
Returning to the 4th move again, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nc3?! The game could also continue 4…Bc5 5.Ng5?! Another mistake by white. The pawn on f7 is easily defended, so moving the knight twice is a waste of time. 5…0-0 6.Bxf7+?
And this is a major goof! Exchanging two minor pieces for a rook and a pawn is almost never a good idea. 6…Rxf7 7.Nxf7 Kxf7 If we only consider material values, the game is equal (3+3=5+1)
But in the middle game, the bishop and knight are super because of their combined attacking power. Plus the extra white rook is still a long way from reaching full strength. The worst part about this exchange is that white used several tempi to trade off two developed pieces.
3. LFM’s ( Learn From Your Mistakes)
One of the most actionable advice to prevent chess blunders from happening more than once, is to learn from your mistakes. You can learn from your mistakes using:
- A chess engine
- Chess Coach
Using chess engines are a great way to indicate where you went wrong in your game. Common chess engines that can assist you in your LFM’s are stockfish, deep blue and alpha zero. Chess engines points out all the inaccuracies in your games and indicate to you the strongest alternatives.Therefore, you won’t make the same mistake twice.
You can also have a chess coach to analyse your games with you. Although the chess engines are great, they can’t tell you the strategies behind every move. Hence, it’s important that you have a coach who will explain all the ideas, plans and strategies behind every move and in any position.
Another way of avoiding chess blunders is to broaden your knowledge of chess. If you don’t have thorough knowledge of the basic principles of chess, nor a good thinking system, then no amount of concentration will prevent you from making a strategic blunder.
Related post: 6 essential opening chess principles
Develop A Proper Thinking System
Developing a proper thinking system will prevent you from making silly chess blunders. Most grandmasters have adapted this way of thinking. And, it’s rather simpler than you imagine. It involves two things:
- Principle of Attack: Attack when you have the chance
- Principle of the least active piece: Find a piece that’s not doing any work and get it into the game
If you calculate all the lines and the attack doesn’t work, then you should simply make a positional move by bringing in your least active piece into play. These two rules should help develop your thought process which will take you a far way.
I’ve seen many players who were ahead in development, but drew the game because they didn’t want to attack. I’ve also seen players who lost their games because they attacked too quickly, without developing their least active pieces. If you apply the principle of attack and the principle of the least active piece into your games, you’ll find your position being superior to that of your opponent’s.