Blunders Are Frustrating

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Chess Blunder Check: Stop Hanging Pieces And Avoid Frustration

ChessTacticsTournamentOver the board
You play a great game, four hours of high focus and great moves. It feels like victory is just about to happen, and then, in a split-second, you make an intuitive move and hang a piece.

All the hard work for nothing. Frustrated, you leave the playing hall and ask yourself: how can I finally stop blundering? The answer is:
By implementing a simple blunder check, which I'll explain in this Article. But first, let's understand why blunders happen.

Definition of Blunders

I don't agree with the definition you find when you google Blunders:

"In chess, a blunder happens when a player makes a move that negatively affects their position in a significant way. In many cases, a blunder can cause a player to lose material or be checkmated, but it can also lead to a strategically lost position."

In my opinion, what is stated above defines a big mistake. Big mistakes can happen to everyone. By trying to improve your game, you minimize big mistakes. Blunders are different. They are a specific subset of big mistakes. Blunders are big mistakes that would be avoided by this specific player under normal circumstances.

That is what makes them so painful. You usually realize immediately when you blundered and ask yourself: "But why did I miss this obvious move?" This also means that blunders are extremely subjective. Rarely will a beginner player "blunder" a checkmate in 5 moves because nobody should expect them to spot that under normal circumstances. However, a GM should be able to spot such a continuation and blunders if they miss a mate in 5 in a winning position. My definition of Blunder:

"In Chess, a blunder is a big mistake that would not happen to this specific player under normal circumstances."

Why Blunders Happen

To understand why my blunder check works so well, let's understand why blunders happen.
The definition from above comes in handy here. There are millions of reasons for a big mistake, ranging from not knowing how castling works to miscalculation and lack of positional understanding.
There are rather few reasons for blunders. As one would not make such a move under normal circumstances, we must focus on why our brain isn't functioning properly in the moments we blunder.

Blunders happen when you don't focus on the right things.

Most blunders happen because of a simple lack of focus. You might get distracted or be lazy to calculate properly. Your hand plays a move without your brain fully processing what you are about to do. And your Queen is gone. Oops. On other occasions, you might be fully focused but not on the right thing.

We humans love to think about our plans. Sometimes so much that we nearly forget that our opponents are allowed to have ideas and plans as well! So we might calculate only our attacking possibilities without realizing our opponent actually just threatened mate in 1. I speak from experience... The position below is from Handler-Studer in 2013 when I was an FM already. My opponent just played Nf3-g5.

I proudly played Qc8-c6. I only realized what I had done once my opponent played Qc2xh7#.

If you want to go deeper into what happens in your brain to allow for blunders, I highly recommend checking out Aiden Rayners wonderful Aiden goes deep into the science of how our brain works and specializes in visualization - or as he calls it - conceptualization training.
Really good stuff; go check it out.

How To Avoid Blunders

Knowing the problem brings us to the solution. We need to find a way to direct our focus to the important things going on in the chess game. On every single move. As most blunders are super simple to spot if you focus on the right things, this can only take a few seconds. And it saves you countless points.

The Chess Blunder Check

Hearing of this problem, my sports psychologist Robert offered a simple solution.
He told me, "Create a habit that helps you spot easy blunders before you are about to move." The easiest way to do so in OTB chess is to write down the opponent's time before executing your move. While writing down their time I asked myself "What happens if I play (my move)". If I was about to blunder, this little blunder check was enough to spot my big mistake before it was too late. Here is exactly how you can use the same chess blunder check to avoid annoying blunders in your own game:

  1. Write down the opponent's move after they moved.
  2. Think about your next move.
  3. Mentally decide on a move without executing it.
  4. Write down the opponent's time and think, "What happens if I play (my move)?"
  5. If nothing is glaringly wrong, play your move. Otherwise, go back to step 2.

Play Fair

This chess blunder check gets so much attention because the easier way, writing down your move before you execute it, is no longer allowed. As per FIDE rules, you can only note the times and moves of each player once they happen. So please, don't take illegal shortcuts, but instead go the extra way to use this allowed chess blunder check. Also, keep an eye out for possible rule changes. As of today, May 2024, when I'm writing this, my method described above is 100% allowed.

Use The Blunder Check In All Games

You can also use the blunder check for your online and Rapid+Blitz games. The important thing is to establish a habit of briefly focusing on what matters (mostly easy tactics) before you make a move. In online games, you could first click on the square you want to move to (without clicking on your piece and thus executing the move) and then think, "What happens if I move there?". In quicker OTB games, you can sit on your hands, so you have to first get your hands to the board, which gives you enough time to check for easy blunders.

How To Avoid Blunders In A Nutshell

Blunders are big mistakes that would not happen under normal circumstances.
The key to avoiding them is to bring your focus on the right things before you are about to make a move.
This can be done by asking a simple chess blunder check. Ask yourself: "What happens if I play (my move)?" Introduce a habit that helps you ask this question on any move. In my OTB games, I wrote down my opponent's time after deciding on my move but before executing it. This reminded me to ask myself, "What happens if I play (my move)."

Find a habit that works for other time controls and online games.
Over time, this blunder-check habit will save you dozens of points and, even more importantly, a lot of frustration.

Keep improving,

This article was originally posted on my Blog, You can read other articles by clicking this link.

Whenever you're ready, here is how I can help you:

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