How to Stop Blunders: The Ultimate Grandmaster Guide
Uncover the reasons why blunders happen and learn practical strategies to reduce them.
Uncover the reasons why blunders happen and learn practical strategies to reduce them.
“Life's not about how hard of a hit you can give... it's about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward.” - Rocky Balboa
Imagine playing chess without making blunders, without those painful and heartbreaking moments, without broken mouses…
How much higher would your rating be if you never blundered? 200 points more than you have now? Maybe +300?
Sounds like paradise, right?
But is there a way to stop blundering completely? Is it realistic?
Or should we just try to reduce them as much as possible?
Over the years of playing and coaching, I learned a lot about overcoming blunders.
I also spent months consulting with other professionals, coaches, and psychologists to cover every aspect and then create a detailed course about blunders, why they happen and what are the solutions.
And I also summarized many of the concepts here, so, even if you don’t watch the course, you still will dramatically reduce your blunders.
You’re going learn:
I’m also going to share important resources to help you on this topic🙂
There’s an ancient proverb in the game “Go”.
“Lose 100 Games As Quickly As Possible”
The idea is when you begin playing a new game, you will feel completely lost. You will have no idea what the plan should be, you’ll miss lots of chances for yourself and for your opponent. And often you’ll say, “Ahh… I didn’t see that.”
After you play 50 games, your intuition will start kicking in, and you’ll start to feel some of the game’s key concepts and plans.
With 100 games, you blunder even less…
Then with 1000 games, even lesser…
Just play more!
The more you play, the better the connections between the neurons in your brain will be!
If you’re like most chess players, your first games of a classical tournament or an online session are generally the worst.
In the same way, your first games of an online session are bad ones.
Usually, this happens because whenever we don’t play chess for a long time, the strength of the connections between our neurons weakens, and we don’t perform our best.
That’s why, just as athletes warm up their bodies before playing sports, we should warm up our neurons before playing a chess session.
Here are the simplest ways to warm up:
Before the tournament:
Most professionals play blitz/rapid games before a tournament and solve chess tactics. It’s a great way to warm up and reduce the chance of blunders.
Before online sessions:
Solve tactics for 5-10 minutes. Not hard ones, the purpose is to warm up.
You can do it on many platforms and also through our Tactic quiz.
A very common reason for blunders is a lack of concentration. For a second, we lose focus, and oops…
There’s a fork on the board, and our Queen must leave the board😁
How can we be hyper-focused during the game? From my experience as a Grandmaster and after coaching many students, I have 5 practical tips that work extremely well in such situations:
Tip 1 - Control your mind: Our mind wanders too often. It goes to the past and to the future, the warm home, or recalls unpleasant memories.
Instead, we want it to be in the present. Easier said than done, I know.
For that, I have 3 tips that can help tremendously:
a. Whenever your mind wanders, just acknowledge it, gently bring it back, and be here in the moment.
b. Have a self-talk to motivate and encourage yourself. I know people who talk with their heroes in their heads. In the same way, you can also talk to top grandmasters in the world in your head, visualizing how they’re speaking to you, and keeping you focused.
c. Use a reminder. It can be anything that helps you stay grounded in the present. One of our students, Jay Garrison, who raised over 500 points in 1 year, shared how a fidget ring helps him stay in the present. Pick what works for you.
Tip 2 - Eliminate distractions: This advice you’ll need especially when you play online.
Try to close the door of your room where you play. (unless you don’t have a naughty parrot-like mine, who will break a vase from the table 😁)
Turn off your phone, and close any unnecessary browser tabs.
Tip 3 - Play only your game: This advice you’ll need especially during OTB (over-the-board) tournaments.
A common mistake I see is when chess players walk to check the games of others. What ends up happening is they take lots of unnecessary information into their head which affects their focus.
Now it’s fine to walk and give your brain a break from time to time. Just make sure you don’t watch other games and load your brain with any kind of unnecessary information.
Tip 4 - Control your eyes: You might want to glance at someone’s game or someone attractive who entered the playing hall. But be mindful and don’t do this.
In the position below Capablanca was thinking about his next move, when a beautiful woman entered the playing hall.
He played 9…Ba6, left the board and went to “walk.”
After 10.Qa4 he lost the piece and resigned 🙂
I also have such stories 🙂
But as my wife helps me edit these articles, I’ll tell them to you when we meet in real life 😁
If you find it hard to control your eyes, sit in a pose like the one below.
GM Alireza Firouzja in hyperfocus mode | Source - Alamy
Make it harder to glance at someone’s game or see someone attractive 🙂
Tip 5 - Focus before the game: During online sessions, most people simply go to the platform, and click “new game.”
They have no routine to get into focus mode. So if you optimize for this, imagine how much better you can concentrate than your competitors.
Before you start an online session, close your eyes, try to be in the now. Remember the positive moments when you played a good game or won a tournament.
And if you’re playing an OTB tournament, come to your board at least 5 minutes before the round starts.
And then you can do the same things as above; close your eyes, try to stay in the present and focus on positive memories.
While a lack of concentration can cause many blunders, the opposite is also true.
Many blunders happen because of too much psychological pressure and your mind just freezes.
Brain freeze cost Mikhail Chigorin the title of the World Champion.
You might also have this feeling when playing a higher-rated opponent or when there’s deep time pressure during an important game.
How should we deal with such pressures?
I remember listening to an interview with the legend Kobe Bryant when he said something like “There’s no such thing as pressure. It’s only your ego.”
I had to pause to digest what Kobe said. I just wasn’t ready to understand at that moment. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made!
So the first piece of advice I have to deal with the pressure is to prevent it in the first place.
Detach your self-esteem from the outcome of the game, shut up the ego, and do your best.
And during the game, if you still feel the pressure, the best tip is … Take some deep breaths. It’s simple as it is, and there’s enough evidence that proves why it’s so effective.
It’s very exciting when you play a very nice game and get a winning position. There’s an adrenaline rush in the brain. You’re proud of yourself.
And at this moment the worst thought you can have in your mind is “What a game I played!” or anything referencing the past.
Remember, the game isn’t over until your opponent resigns.
Here’s what happened to me in a blitz game many years ago…
With a weaker heart, I would’ve had a heart attack, and you wouldn’t be reading these words… Even though this was a blitz game, I was so-so angry at myself for what I did.
Not for blundering but for relaxing too early and laughing instead of carefully converting the advantage… Years have passed, but I still remember the negative emotions that came with my blunder.
(If you’re a hypnotist, please contact me; I’ll ask you to remove this game from my mind 😂)
So, here’s a rule I designed for my students and me.
No matter how winning the position is… Never ever laugh, relax, smile, or do anything that can harm focus. The game is over only when it’s really over, not when you think it’s over.
After your opponent resigns, or the online platform informs you that you won, you can celebrate, you can jump up and tell yourself how fantastic you are😁
But never during the game.
Right Mood - Right Move is the slogan of ChessMood. We can’t make the best moves when our mood is bad, in both chess and in life.
It’s tough to keep the right mood when we blunder. But very often, the tragedy happens not when we blunder, but when we continue playing in a bad mood.
This often leads to another blunder…
Below you can see an example:
There are times when we blunder, but actually, we made the best move.
But as we lose the mood and are frustrated, we miss the brilliant continuation we have.
Such blunders are called “lucky blunders.”
Below you can see an example:
Often we blunder when our tactics aren’t sharp. This especially happens when we’re low on time.
Even Grandmasters make very simple blunders when long periods of time pass between working on their tactical skills (because the connections between their neurons weaken).
There’s only one cure for this. Solve tactics regularly.
Without fake humbleness, I should “confess” that it's the most comprehensive course ever created about tactics. You’ll not only learn all the tactical motifs but also how to notice tactical opportunities, including learning how to identify those that are hidden.
The same goes for mating patterns.
Often in a winning game, we suddenly get mated or we miss simple mating chances ourselves. Very often the cause is just a lack of familiarity with the mating patterns.
The solution is quite simple. Just study mating patterns.
We have a detailed course on mating patterns that includes a very useful training feature to get better at studying mate patterns.
(If you have a ChessMood membership, you have access to all of the mentioned courses. Just watch them one by one, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how much you have reduced your blunders, how often you notice your opponents’ blunders, and how sharper your tactical vision becomes.)
When you’re a beginner at chess, it’s okay to think about your options and what to do.
But as soon as you have played your first games, and mastered all the rules, you want to instill in yourself the habit of thinking about what your opponent wants to do.
Maybe they’re going to mate you, while you’re looking for that weak pawn? 😁
So build a habit of asking “What do they want?” until it becomes automatic. This will help you see if they have a threat, or what they want to do.
Once you read the opponent’s threats, you’re in a better position to anticipate them and make fewer mistakes as a result!
Ever see yourself in the following scenario?
You see a very nice tactic that finishes the game.
You’re so excited that there’s a rush of blood in your head. You can’t wait, and your hand goes faster than your brain to make a move on the board.
And then a tragedy occurs.
Here’s an example:
I have a very important tip:
If you notice a move that potentially finishes the game, don’t do it immediately. It’s a critical moment. Double or triple-check it. Take your time.
If everything works, you’ll not need the remaining time on your clock.
Check twice/thrice if you see a winning move!
When we play against someone much weaker than us, often we might find it difficult to focus fully.
We start to calculate lazily. We don’t put enough effort before making moves. And this is when there’s a big chance for us to blunder something.
You know you’ll win anyway, and you can’t focus fully. So what should you do?
A quick tip:
Instead of focusing on the result, focus on playing a high-quality game. A brilliant one that you’ll be proud of and will add to the library of your best games. Then you’ll automatically focus and try to play the best moves.
The opposite is also true. Don’t be afraid of your opponent or think they can’t make blunders.
We’re humans and can make elementary mistakes.
Can you believe it? Black, one of the top players of their era, blundered a full Queen!
Never trust your opponent, even if they’re much higher rated than you. Everyone can blunder. Keep your eyes fully open, and be ready to catch your mistakes.
We also blunder because we get tired or even exhausted by the end of the game.
Look what happened in the next game between 2 Grandmasters.
Now there are thousands of such examples. The advice is simple.
For online sessions, don’t play when you feel tired. If you want to be close to chess – solve chess puzzles, read a book, watch a course. But please don’t play.
For over-the-board tournaments, ideally, you should avoid this problem before it arises by working on your physical stamina.
Now I’m not the best guy to tell you how to work on your physical health. There’s lots of material out there on this topic and you can simply search on Google for it.
But as a coach who has worked with students facing this challenge, I might be one of the best guys to tell you how to work on your chess stamina – The best way is to have longer training sessions.
Most blunders happen in the middlegame. During the opening, we just develop our pieces. Our army slowly comes into the fight, and then we transition into the middle game.
As a result, our brain often relaxes and misses opportunities in the opening stage.
Often in boring fights in the middlegame, it’s easy to relax. You know those positions where you just have to maneuver pieces and where there’s less thinking to do.
I remember this game from my career against GM Karen Grigoryan.
Now if you were to give this as a tactic to solve, I bet neither of us would miss it.
So remember to stay focused throughout, no matter how boring it gets.
The same is true for endgames.
We relax and forget about tactics. Especially when we don’t like playing endgames and consider them boring…
As a result, the brain switches off and doesn’t look for tactics.
You can guess what happens then.
Yeah, a top player like Aronian blunders too 🙂
Keep your attention in the endgame. Tactics are everywhere.
My friends, we’ve seen potential reasons for blundering and the solutions for that. In case you need to refer to it, I’m attaching an image below that you can download and keep on your phone.
Now in an ideal world, we never blunder…
And if you follow the tips I shared with you in this article, you’ll be very close to playing focused chess and will significantly reduce your blunders.
But at the end of the day, we all are humans. We all make mistakes. Even the best players do.
So what should you do after a blunder?
You want to get into the right mood, make necessary adjustments before you respond.
I’ve written an article on bouncing back from blunders in 5 simple steps that work extremely well for my students. You can find more details and tips there.
If you don’t have time at all to read it, I’ll briefly summarize it:
First, you should freeze any decision-making. We make bad choices when we’re not in the right frame of mind, which is often what happens after blundering. That’s why you want to pause.
Next, calm down. Deep breathing helps you to get back to your senses.
Then forget about the moves that happened in the past. Instead, look at the board with fresh eyes.
Often a blunder changes the evaluation of a position. Like you go from winning to losing, or winning to making a draw. So you want to also switch the mode to adjust to the new position on the board.
And finally, call your hero and tap into your spartan spirit. Give yourself positive self-talk before you’re ready to make your move!
Dear friends, after reading this article, you’re now aware of the most common reasons why blunders happen and how to stop making them.
Implementing this knowledge will help you a lot in making lesser blunders.
To learn even more about this topic and reduce your blunders to an absolute minimum, watch the BlunderProof course.
As I said at the start, I spent 1 year creating it, after consulting with other professionals, coaches, and psychologists and combining it with my knowledge.
You’ll find more tips and examples on this topic, a system to detect common blunders, weed them out from your game, a detailed guide on bouncing back from blunders in longer and shorter time controls and so much more!
P.S. What type of blunders do you make the most? And which tip you liked the most? I would like to hear them.
Share it in the forum.
Originally published Apr 10, 2023