Carlsen blunder

Endgame Fundamentals: Mistakes

By Donny Gray


The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.
-Savielly Tartakover


Mistakes in chess is what chess is all about.  If there were no mistakes, no one would ever win a game of chess.  A perfect game would no doubt end in a draw.

No matter how good you get, you can never get to the point of never making a mistake.  Even the world champions lose from time to time.  Granted, they lose way less than normal mortals, but even they lose.  Now if you ever had the chance to play a world champion, I am sure you would swear that he never makes a mistake.  But he does.  You just are not good enough to catch it.

Take computers.  I remember when chess-playing computers and programs first came out.  The very best were about 1500 in strength.  Definitely way off master level of 2200.  In fact, computers were so weak that IM David Levy made a famous bet in 1968 that no computer program would be able to beat him in the next ten years.  He made good on that bet, although in 1978 he admitted that it was way more difficult that he ever imagined.  Computers were improving.  But they still made mistakes that good players could take advantage of.

Nowadays NO one would bet a penny that they could beat a computer in chess.   That is because today’s best programs are hundreds of rating points higher than even the world champion.  You may think that a computer with a 3200 rating never makes mistakes, but I bet you they do.  Just no one is good enough to catch it.  Yet.

Back just a few years ago, Rykba was king of the computer world.  No human had a chance of beating it in a match.  But then came along Houdini, and soon Rykba’s mistakes were shown.

Again, everyone thought Houdini was unbeatable.  But now there is Komodo!  Again humans say it never makes mistakes, but in a few years some other beast will show our error.

The point of all of this is no matter how good you get, someone, somewhere will point out your mistakes and beat you.  It may take a computer beast to do that, but just the same, your mistakes will come out for the world to see.

I have analyzed games of the past greats with Rykba and Komodo.  It is amazing to see how close to computer play these past world champions played their games.  But sooner or later, during the game Komodo would “say,” MISTAKE!!  And the famous game we all thought was flawless is busted.

For normal folks mistakes can happen because of neglecting development, falling for forks or pins, weak pawns, no plan, bad plan, or just overlooking a hanging piece.  For GMs, it is way more difficult to find their mistakes.  But they are there just the same.  It just takes another GM or computer to point them out.

The current world champion, Magnus Carlsen, has an interesting technique.  He plays on and on, even in the most drawish of positions, putting pressure on you every move.  He plays to make you make mistakes.

Albert Silver wrote the following for  on Carlsen’s way of playing chess:

“He clearly has a very profound understanding of chess strategy, and can see deeper into the complexities of the game than most of his rivals. And he uses this to narrow down their options, giving the person sitting opposite him at the board one niggling problem after another to solve in an effort to keep his options alive. This is what he did to World Champion Anand in game five of the Chennai match”

In closing, I would like to list some comments about mistakes by famous players.  The last two comments were not made by famous chess players, although they did play chess!


“If you do your “homework” well you can be sure you’ll feel more relaxed. Make sure you have a walk or rest before the game because the most important thing is to be focused during the game itself! If you get tired by preparation you won’t have enough energy left for the whole game, and we all know that a single blunder can ruin all the work done beforehand!”  –  Judit Polgar


“Some things are really hard to do, almost impossible to do, like playing perfectly in extremely complicated positions. But it really bugs me when I miss things that I really shouldn’t have. I am always going to make mistakes. 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


“With this mistake I deprived myself of the possibility to make a contribution to the treasury of chess art.” (annotating his move 18. …g4? versus Kortchnoi at Debrecen, Hungary in 1992)  –  Garry Kasparov


“Apart from direct mistakes, there is nothing more ruinous than routine play, the aim of which is mechanical development.”  –  Alexei Suetin


“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.”  –  Alexander Kotov


“I lost the match. I blame only myself for this. There were many opportunities to win. But I missed them, no one else.”  –  Anatoly Karpov, on Lyons/New York World Championship Match with Kasparov


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


“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 reorientate yourself quickly and find a new plan in the new situation.”  –  David Bronstein


“The number of ‘unnecessary’ errors that have been committed on move 41 are legion.”  –  Edmar Mednis


“My love of dynamic complications often led me to avoid simplicity when perhaps it was the wisest choice.”  –  Garry Kasparov


“Haste is never more dangerous than when you feel that victory is in your grasp.”  –  Eugene Znosko-Borovsky


“To find the best moves great Masters, with years of experience, engage in laborious research, and the moves thus found are blindly repeated by amateurs without any attempt to fathom their real meaning and how and why they stand in their context.”  –  Eugene Znosko-Borovsky


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


“I’ve seen – both in myself and my competitors – how satisfaction can lead to a lack of vigilance, then to mistakes and missed opportunities.”     -Garry Kasparov


“To my surprise I found that when other top players in the precomputer age (before 1995, roughly) wrote about games in magazines and newspaper columns, they often made more mistakes in their annotations than the players had made at the board.”  – Garry Kasparov


“Attackers may sometimes regret bad moves, but it is much worse to forever regret an opportunity you allowed to pass you by.”        -Garry Kasparov


“One bad move nullifies forty good ones.”  –  I.A. Horowitz


“When chess masters err, ordinary wood pushers tend to derive a measure of satisfaction, if not actual glee.”  –  I.A. Horowitz


“What would chess be without silly mistakes?”  –  Kurt Richter


“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.”  –  Mikhail Tal


“Errors have nothing to do with luck; they are caused by time pressure, discomfort or unfamiliarity with a position, distractions, feelings of intimidation, nervous tension, overambition, excessive caution, and dozens of other psychological factors.”  –  Pal Benko


“Typically, in the last round of open tournaments the level of play is markedly lower, the number of blunders higher.”  –  Pal Benko


“My favorite victory is when it is not even clear where my opponent made a mistake.”  –  Peter Leko


“The mistakes are there waiting to be made.”  –  Savielly Tartakower


“In chess, there is only one mistake: over-estimation of your opponent. All else is either bad luck or weakness.”  –  Savielly Tartakower


“Even the most distinguished players have in their careers experienced severe disappointments due to ignorance of the best lines or suspension of their own common sense.”  –  Tigran Petrosian


“As a rule, the more mistakes there are in a game, the more memorable it remains, because you have suffered and worried over each mistake at the board.”  –  Victor Kortchnoi


“Confidence is very important – even pretending to be confident. If you make a mistake but do not let your opponent see what you are thinking then he may overlook the mistake.”  –  Viswanathan Anand


“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  – Albert Einstein


“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”  –  Napoléon Bonaparte



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