The most common way to win a chess game at the amateur level is through your opponent’s blunder. We would like to think that we win because of our brilliant abilities, because that makes our egos feel good. In reality, most games are simply one side noticing and taking advantage of the other’s mistakes.
Here I will show different examples of blunders from my own games. These are all mistakes I made. I didn’t think it very fair to show blunders from my opponents, as no one wants to admit to blundering, so I’ll use my own mistakes from my own games. Some of them are quite … well, I was much younger at the time.
This game is the oldest game I have in my personal database. It was played in 2000, so I was 15 at the time and between 1400 and 1500 rating. My opponent wasn’t much better. I played Black.
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nc6 4.Nxc6 bxc6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Qxd4 c5 7.Qd5
My opponent had just played Qd5. I knew that developing the Queen early was bad because minor pieces can kick her back with tempo. I’ll do just that, 7…Nf6?? … and White then took my completely hanging Rook. 8.Qxa8, and I resigned a few moves later.
This is the most frustrating type of blunder, pure chess blindness. I didn’t see my opponent’s threat. More to the point, I didn’t even consider if my opponent had a threat. I just played my moves, and I was caught off guard.
This game happened in 2001. My rating was about the same, so 1400-1500 range, and I was again Black.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Be2 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Be3 a6 9.f4
We have a very standard classic Sicilian here. I should point out here that I didn’t know any theory; I just knew basic setups. I knew Black normally plays a6, b5 and Bb7 in the opening, so I did that, 9… b5?? … and then White gobbled up the free Knight, Nxc6. In this example, I didn’t even think. I just wanted to play b5 and so I did. This is not a good strategy for winning chess games.
I can’t tell you how many losses I have like this, simply hanging a piece for absolutely nothing. The solution, of course, is easy enough: one, always ask what your opponent’s threat is, and two, always double-check that your move doesn’t drop a piece. When I started to do this and avoid hanging pieces, my rating went to about 1600, just by avoiding such obvious blunders.
I still blundered, of course, but they became more sophisticated, if that makes sense. Here’s a good example, where I was just over 1600 rating.
Example Three: Smithy – Marduk, 2001
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 exd4 5.Qxd4
Quick aside, this is my all-time favourite opening as White. I have played it 26 times, winning 20, losing four and drawing the rest. It’s my highest win rate for any opening variation. Sadly, as I played higher-rated opponents, less and less play the Open Philidor, so I don’t get many chances at this anymore.
5… a6 6.Bg5 Nc6 7.Qd1? Be7 8.Bc4 h6 9.Bh4?! Be6 10.Bxe6 fxe6
This was one of my first games here, so I didn’t yet know the typical plans. I wasted time moving my Queen back to d1, and now I start a strange plan with exchanging my Bishop for his Knight. Younger me really liked Knights over Bishops.
11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.Qd3 O-O 13.O-O-O?! b5 14.Rhe1 Nb4 15.Qe3
As you can see, I’ve exchanged my developed pieces and now castled right into Black’s attack. Material is equal, but things are already quite difficult for White, so much so that I lose in two moves.
15… Bxc3! 16.Qxc3? Nxa2+ 0-1
The Royal Fork decides the game. Unlike the previous game, I didn’t outright blunder a piece. No, I simply played a serious of inferior moves, which let my opponent play a little combination, and I fell in the face of tactics.
In the game, I could have played bxc3 instead, as Nxa2+? Kb2 actually traps the Knight. Black would instead just retreat the Knight and attack my very weakened King. I would still likely lose, but not as quickly.
Finally, I would like to share perhaps my worst blunder ever.
Example Four: Sanbarett – Smithy, 2006
I was around 1800 here, and playing some of the best chess of my life up till that point. This game was a perfect example: I had won a pawn early in the opening, and I then consolidated, improved my position and now have the much better endgame. White can barely move. Victory is in sight…
… and amazingly I have no way of avoiding mate! I have literally advanced my King right into a mating net, which my opponent was very alert to spring. Of course, the simple 38…e4 avoids this trap and wins the game shortly, but I got greedy, thought the game was in the bag and, well, lost in about the worst way possible.
Seriously, I got checkmated in a better endgame, in the middle of the board! There’s nothing harder to win than a won game…
This game shook my confidence so badly, it’s unbelievable. I played worse and worse, and I even stopped playing altogether. It is perhaps my most painful loss ever… until this one.
Blunders come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe you just drop a piece, maybe you drop a pawn, maybe you advance your King straight into a mating net despite having the vastly superior endgame. Whatever the cause, blunders destroy games. If you stop blundering, you will stop losing,
Every one of my blunders could have been stopped with the simplest of means, just asking, “What is my opponent’s threat?” If I asked that, I don’t lose these games.
You can do that, too. If you want to eliminate blunders, I highly suggest watching GM Smirnov‘s YouTube videos, linked below, as they give advice that I had to spend years learning the hard way. Apply his recommendations and your rating will soar.
There’s also the flipside of the coin. All of these games occurred between 1400-1800 ELO. I could show you dozens if not hundreds more. That means, if you are playing someone in this range, they will blunder at some point. Heck, I recently beat someone rated nearly 2100 because he simply blundered a piece. We all blunder. If you can be ready for that, you can capitalize and win.
A very important chess skill is seeing the opponent’s mistake and then taking advantage. Look for blunders. They will happen, and then you can win.