The Human Touch
Time now to take a look at some more high-level blunders and perhaps discover the cause of each one.
Petrosian - Spassky
World Championship Match 1969
‘Iron’ Tigran, who at his best could be almost unbeatable thanks to his highly developed and uncanny sense of danger, has just played the awful move 14 Be2-d3?? Spassky pounced with 14 …d4! 15 Bxd4 Nxd3 16 Qxd3 Bc4 winning the exchange (and later on, the game).
Perhaps Petrosian had settled down to besiege the isolated Queen’s pawn over a long positional struggle and assumed that it would not be able to take any active part in subsidiary tactics.
Taking his eye off the ball gifted his opponent an easy chance that any club player would be capable of spotting quickly.
This was not the first time that 9th World Champion had missed a little something when he thought he had the position under complete control.
Liberzon - Petrosian
One can easily see that Black has real grounds for optimism. White’s pawns are split and weak, Black’s position is very sound and ultimately the classic French centre will outlast any sort of structure White tries to cling to. Why not turn the positional screw a little further and get rid of White’s better Bishop?
14 …Bb5?? A typical Petrosian manoeuvre and a potent positional weapon in many a French Defence player’s arsenal. Unfortunately it is very badly timed and White has a shot. It seems that Petrosian has relaxed and turned off his blunder-checker.
14 Be3! A short move but a very effective one. Did Petrosian, on a subconscious level, assume that the bad Bishop would automatically be of no use? Here, faced with the awful truth of 14 …Qc6 15 Nd4!, winning a piece, Petrosian resigned. 1-0 He could have struggled on for a while with 15 …d4!? 16 cxd4 Qd5 but was probably more eager to try and forget all about it.
Losing the sense of danger must be put down as one of the main reasons for blundering. It is easy to relax once a player believes the position to be an easy win or a comfortable draw.
Nunn - Plaskett
Black must have been pleased with the way the Petroff Defence had virtually neutralised the great attacking Nunn. But it only takes one careless move….
20 …Nb4?? 21 Qf5!! A beautiful rejoinder! Suddenly White has three tactical devices all working for him. There is a threat to the Black Queen, trouble on the back rank and major trouble after the sensible looking 21 … Qd8 when 22 Re7! mates in three more moves. Black struggled on with 21 …Re6 but after 22 d5 he faced ruinous material loss and resigned on move 26.
T. Middleton - E. Lazenby
Whitby v Middlesbrough Wasps
League Match, 2006
The same principle applied in a recent local league game. Ernie, who gamely submitted this snippet, had been entertaining the hope of a Kingside attack for some time.
Perhaps feeling that it was unlikely to happen in view of White’s consistently solid and careful play, Black lost his way and chopped off the Knight. 1 …Bxe5. Not such a bad move in itself, but part of the same sort of woolly thinking that led to the blunders above. Black feels that the initiative is not going to come his way after all and decides the game should be drawn. Exchanging on e5 is a symbolic gesture towards the sharing of the point, as was Ernie’s draw offer after the unfortunate - and quickly played - 2 dxe5 Rh6?? whereupon the shocking 3 Qxa7 ended the game. Ernie’s only loss of an otherwise great season.
Another type of ‘blunder potential’ occurs not when a player relaxes too soon but when the tension is considerably more palpable. The ‘big match’, the ‘difficult opponent’, the ‘last round’ and other such momentous occasions can all help to screw up the tension to fever pitch inside a player’s mind. Despite the greater concentration, blunders can still easily occur.
Here’s one of my own which sticks in my mind.
M. Closs v S. Marsh
Redcar v Guisborough
League Match, 1985
Mike and I have enjoyed a long and varied chess rivalry. (It’s not out of the question that a future UNCUT! will provide the definitive version.) There is usually a good deal of nervous tension when we play and this a good example of a double-blunder resulting from such pressure.
In this position, White is clearly much better and Black is trying to hold everything together. To that end, I played 19 …Qc8?? and realised, as soon as my hand had left the piece, that the Queen is terribly overloaded; 20 Bxb7 would win a clear piece. I tried the ‘straight face defence’ but also tried to make sure my hand was free from sweat to tender and immediate resignation after his next move. Sure enough, after a little thought, Mike picked up the Bishop…but put it down on c6! 20 Bc6?? Re7 and Black is still under excruciating pressure but managed to hold a draw on the 36th move.
Chigorin - Steinitz
World Championship Match 1892
The tension of playing a great friend and rival in a local league match can be serious enough, but blunders can decide a lot more than a mid-table pecking order.
In this famous example, the dangerous looking Black Rooks should not prevent White from converting a fine effort into a very important victory. Chigorin could have levelled the match and sent it into extra time if nervous tension hadn’t led him to produce the terrible 32 Bb4?? allowing the obvious 32 …Rxh2+ 0-1
Can you imagine the pressure the two players must have been under? Amazingly, taking advantage of the fact that the day this game was played was a holiday in Cuba, no less that 1,900 spectators followed the cut and thrust battle as it twisted its way to the tragic conclusion after four hours of play.
Another lowering of the guard can happen when a difficult game has been apparently saved and even turned around into a decisive advantage. It’s so easy to lose objectivity as one attempts to turn the final screw in the opponent’s coffin.
Reshevsky - Savon
This a classic example of ‘dizziness due to success.’ Reshevsky had been in serious trouble for most of the game but had fought back brilliantly to achieve a winning position. Indeed, he has a mate in four (which you might like to work out for yourselves) and was not even in time-trouble. Instead, he played the amazing 40 Qxg6+?? And had to resign after 40 …Bxg6! Reshevsky said, ’This was the worst blunder I have ever made. After the game, I was so upset that I has to sit somewhere alone for quite a while searching for an explanation.’
Oh, we all know that feeling only too well!
D. Smith v S. Marsh
Cleveland Invitation Tournament 1989
This game followed the same template as the Reshevsky example. White had been close to winning for a very long time but somehow the game turned and Black gained all the chances with a direct attack on the King. I thought I should win this position.
Time-trouble was no longer a factor as we’d just added more time to the clocks having reached the time-control on move 36. Yet my very next move is one of the biggest available blunders. I played 37 …Rxf3?? only to be shocked by 38 Qc8+! and 1-0 due to the inevitable 39 Qb7+ and the loss of the Black Rook.
UNCUT! Will return with more blunders and their causes in a future edition. Readers, we need your blunders! Please send me your howlers and the stories behind them.
Meanwhile, the best advice to avoid blunders of the sort we have just seen is to try and keep your concentration up at all times, no matter whether you think you are winning, drawing or losing; playing for local pride or in a World Championship final. When you do blunder, try to come to terms with it as soon as possible and move on. Take solace from the fact that every single payer in the history of chess has dropped Rooks, allowed elementary forks and missed easy checkmates, for and against.
It’s not east and we are all going to blunder horribly from time to time in games to come. In chess, that’s what the human touch is often all about!