How To Avoid Common Mistakes In Chess

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This article describes the important role of common mistakes in chess and gives you some guidelines on how to minimize these mistakes occurring in your games.

Avoidance of mistakes is the beginning, as it is the end, of mastery in chess.

– Eugene Znosko-Borovsky

Chess players usually want to forget their mistakes as quickly as possible. After all, who wants to be reminded of their mistakes?

The irony is that you will only learn how to avoid mistakes if you take the time to study the lessons they teach you.

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[The 7 Skills Chess Training Model]
In fact, your chess rating is not only an indication of your ability to find good moves. It’s just as much an indication of your ability to avoid mistakes. And one of the best ways to improve in this regard, is to improve your visualization skill with the help of Visualwize exercises.

What is a mistake really?

A mistake is more than just a silly oversight. It’s the evidence of a shortcoming in your thinking process. There was something you should’ve thought about, but for some reason, you didn’t.

I love this quote, it makes the point clear:

My opponents make good moves too. Sometimes I don’t take these things into consideration. – Bobby Fischer

It’s a human trait to love your own ideas. However, chess is a game for two players and you have to consider your opponent’s ideas with the same respect you have for your own. Take the time to identify your opponent’s threats and ideas – it’s one of the most effective steps you can take to help you avoid mistakes.

I’ve created a set of exercises specifically chosen for the purpose of helping you avoid mistakes by improving critical aspects of your calculation thinking method:

Blunder Alert – More info

What the great chess masters say about mistakes

The value of learning from mistakes is very clear when we consider what the great masters of the game had to say about it.

Jose Capablanca

You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win. You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player.

Of course, Capablanca was not only referring to common blunders, he was also referring to positional mistakes and the value of gaining experience. But the idea is the same – if you want to become a good player, learn from your mistakes.

Magnus Carlsen

I don’t have any illusions that my understanding of chess is perfect or anything like that. It’s just that I have to work on relatively simple mistakes. When I can lower the percentage of such mistakes then things are going to be much better.  –  Magnus Carlsen

I couldn’t help to notice that he specifically mentioned “simple mistakes”. Now a mistake that’s simple to Carlsen wouldn’t be so simple to an amateur, but the point is clear – no matter your level, you must try to avoid the mistakes that are simple on your level. Many other chess masters say pretty much the same thing:

Anatoly Karpov

In general, one has to learn not to lose, and wins will then come of their own accord’

One has to learn to not lose. Learning to not lose is not as simple as it may seem. In fact, there are surprisingly many factors that can cause you to make mistakes.

As I continued my search to identify common mistakes, an important point became very clear:

An average game of chess will last around forty moves. If one of those moves is a mistake, you often lose right away. One mistake can undo the good work done in the other 39 moves. That is why it’s so important to learn to avoid the common mistakes in chess.

Eugene Znosko-Borovsky

Avoidance of mistakes is the beginning, as it is the end, of mastery in chess.

A move that appears safe to an amateur, may be a fatal error in the eyes of a master. No matter your level of play, you will always be faced with this truth: Avoiding the common mistakes in chess should be equally as important to a beginner as it is to a master.

Think about it, chances are good that you’ve lost at least once to a player who largely based their strategy on avoiding mistakes. They just make solid moves and wait for you to make a mistake. Then they take advantage of it. It’s annoying, but effective.

Garry Kasparov

The technical phase can be boring because there is little opportunity for creativity, for art. Boredom leads to complacency and mistakes.

The technical phase mostly refers to the endgame – there are fewer pieces on the board and most of the middle-game tension has been resolved.  However, complacency makes the endgame very dangerous territory. Remind yourself that many players have blundered in a seemingly simple endgame position.

Alexander Kotov

There is no doubt that the reason for my awful oversight was over-confidence that sapped my sense of danger. So that is where to look for the cause of bad blunders – in the exulting feeling of self-congratulation.

As a chess player you can probably relate to this:

You’re playing against a higher rated opponent. Your position is solid. You are playing well and confidence is growing.  And then you make a embarrassing mistake that loses on the spot. It’s frustrating.

Confidence can inspire you to play your best, but over-confidence is the enemy of objectivity.

A note on chess psychology

Psychology can have a big impact on your performance in chess. This is yet another reason why it’s useful to study mistakes. By observing the common mistakes chess players make when they are under pressure, you will get a better understanding of chess psychology.

 Garry Kasparov

My love of dynamic complications often led me to avoid simplicity when perhaps it was the wisest choice.

Imagine this: You’ve recently spent a lot of time on training tactics. Your tactical skill improved and you’re keen to demonstrate your new abilities. A tactical opportunity seem to be on the board – but it’s rather complicated. Don’t let your desire to demonstrate your tactical skill cloud your objectivity!

Maybe you’ve missed a counter-tactic right at the end of your calculations? If you’re not sure, don’t take the risk. The frustrating thing about a tactic that didn’t work out, is that your opponent didn’t have to do anything special to beat you. It’s better to play within your limitations.

(The exception is of course when your position is already objectively lost – in such case it makes sense to enter complications).

A Flawless Game Is Colorless – Mikhail Tal

Let’s continue this report on the common mistakes in chess by taking a look at the bright side of things. After all, the ever-present possibility of a mistake provide much excitement and anticipation to the game of chess.

In the words of “the Magician from Riga”:

Of course, errors are not good for a chess game, but errors are unavoidable and in any case, a game without any errors, or as they say ‘flawless game’ is colorless.

Errors are unavoidable, but you can reduce the percentage dramatically. Reducing the percentage of mistakes is one of the most important things you can do to improve your level.

Mikhail Tal made the very artistic observation that mistakes give color to a chess game. It suited his playing style. He often used unexpected sacrifices to add pressure on his opponents. It’s a very effective strategy – add pressure on your opponent and let them bring some “color” to the game.

David Bronstein

If you have made a mistake or committed an inaccuracy there is no need to become annoyed and to think that everything is lost. You have to re-orientate yourself quickly and find a new plan in the new situation.

It is a common occurrence for inexperienced players to make two or three mistakes in a row. When they make a mistake, they struggle to recover from the disappointment and tend to follow up their mistake by making another one.

Take a minute to refocus if you need to. By adapting quickly to the new situation, you maximize your chances to get back into the game. (Of course this depends on the severity of the mistake you made).

Mistakes can become harmful if you don’t deal with them

The frustration that comes from repeating silly mistakes can rob you of the enjoyment you get from chess. A silly mistake makes you feel that you couldn’t demonstrate your true ability. This can be discouraging.

Making mistakes in chess can also cause you to lose confidence in your ability. Losing a few games against lower-rated players because of a silly mistakes, can seriously hurt your confidence.

It’s human to try forget your mistakes as soon as possible, but keep in mind that studying the common mistakes in chess can help you avoid them in future. The Blunder Alert! video series were designed with this purpose in mind. It will not only make you a better player, but will even help you get more enjoyment from your chess.

A summary of things you can do to help you avoid common mistakes in chess

Here’s the 4 “pro-active” things you can do to help you avoid common mistakes in chess.

  1. Develop a disciplined thinking process. A disciplined thinking process is your first defense against making blunders. Start improving your thinking method by studying the analytical thinking system. You should also train your ability to concentrate for prolonged periods of time by playing slow time-controls and challenging yourself with difficult chess puzzles.
  2. Improve your tactical skill Insufficient knowledge of tactical patterns and motifs make it much harder to calculate variations effectively. Oversights are also more likely if your tactical skills are not good. Improve your tactical skill by studying the motifs that appear in chess tactic puzzles. By doing this you will increase your “pattern awareness” and be able to spot the common mistakes in chess much sooner.
  3. Develop a deep respect for chess principles. The chess principles have been proven and tested over time. If you disrespect them, you will pay the price. Principles work gradually. If you don’t consider them, your position will get progressively worse till the point where your position becomes bad and mistakes more likely. Work on your understanding of chess principles by reviewing the article on the 3 most important chess principles.
  4. Study the common mistakes chess players make.  Study the mistakes you made in your own games as well as the mistakes other chess players made. By developing a deeper understanding of the common mistakes in chess, you can learn to avoid them. I created the Blunder Alert! video exercises specifically for this purpose.

You can never completely eliminate the common mistakes in chess

We are human. Humans will make mistakes. Even grandmasters can make silly mistakes. Vladimir Kramnik is a former world chess champion and highly respected in chess circles. In 2005 he played a match against Deep Fritz (computer). In this position he famously blundered by overlooking the fact that white is threatening Qh7# (a straight-forward checkmate in one move):

Avoid common mistakes in chess
Kramnik played Qe3?? Allowing white to play Qh7#

Even Grandmasters can make silly blunders. However, they do not make mistakes often. They have learnt how to minimize mistakes. You see, Kramnik made this mistake way back in 2005 and, as far as I know, he hasn’t made another “mate-in-one” mistake since.

In closing, think about this:

Your rating is not only an indication of your ability to find good moves. It’s just as much an indication of your ability to avoid the common mistakes in chess.

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14 thoughts on “How To Avoid Common Mistakes In Chess

  1. Great article. I tend to beat myself up pretty well. As an aside: For the life of me I can’t see the straightforward mate in the Kramnik game; best I see is a draw (beginning with Kg8)

    • Hi Peter, sorry for the misunderstanding. In the diagram Kramnik played Qe3 (a huge blunder) which allowed white to play Qh7#. In other words, he overlooked his opponent’s threat. I’ll change the wording to make it more clear.

  2. Very useful information. Your approach of training ie quoting the masters was too good. Thank you for the nice article.

  3. No sólo hay que analizar nuestro errores, también los del contrario. De esta manera el análisis es mas completo y se aprende mas. Su artículo apreciado maestro es excelente.
    Un cordial saludo.

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