How to Avoid Mistakes in Chess

On this page I’ll demonstrate a simple calculation technique that will help you make fewer mistakes.

(I’m referring to those dreadful blunders that leave you with a wretched position or make you lose the game on the spot!)

Content Outline:

Avoiding Mistakes Is More Important Than Finding Good Moves

As a chess player, your routine mission is to find good moves that serve a useful purpose. However, at the same time, you must also understand that one mistake outweighs many good moves.

Blunders are thieves. They rob you of all the exciting opportunities that the rest of the game could have presented. Every mistake you avoid allows you to stay in the game longer–maximizing your winning chances.

That said, it is important to keep the right attitude towards mistakes. If you beat yourself up over every mistake, you won’t enjoy the game. Rather try to understand what went wrong and think about how you can avoid making a similar mistake in the future.

The Main Reasons Why Chess Players Make Mistakes

Most of the time, a blunder is not just a silly oversight. There is often a genuine reason as to why you overlooked something obvious.

It could be that:

  • Mental fatigue set in due to insufficient rest, poor physical fitness, an unhealthy diet or other causes.
  • The unrestrained urge to execute your own plan caused you to underestimate your opponent’s threats.
  • Your inadequate tactical awareness caused you to make a move that exposed you to a tactical combination.
  • You didn’t consider the downsides of your move.

The last point, in particular, is evidence of a serious shortcoming in your calculation method.

The Calculation Technique That Will Help You Make Fewer Mistakes

You can greatly improve your calculation method by adopting a simple but effective technique. It boils down to this:

Develop the habit to observe the downsides of your candidate move, before you make the move.

It’s natural to think about the benefits of your intended move but you must also understand the existing role of the piece, or pawn, and what the consequences would be if you move it.

Example of the Calculation Technique

Diagram above: White intends to play 1.Nf5. At a first glance it seems to be a useful move. But is it a safe?

Scroll down to see the solution.

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Solution

Before we think about moving the knight from g3, let’s consider its current role:

Diagram above: The white knight defends the e2-square. Moving it will give up control of the square…

…but white didn’t think about it and went ahead to play 1.Nf5:

Diagram above: Black responds with 1… Ne2+ 2.Kb1 Nxc4, winning the undefended bishop. White made a blunder because they didn’t consider the downsides of their move.

Remind yourself to consider the downsides of your move and keep on doing this until it becomes a natural part of your calculation method.

I created a set of exercises that can further help you develop this habit:

Blunder Alert! Exercises

Blunder Alert! is a set of 20 unique exercises designed to improve a critical aspect of your calculation–developing the habit to observe the downsides of your candidate move.