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I have a particular bad habit when I play chess. I play reasonably well (at least by the standards of people I play with), and am quite careful with my pieces. But in about 80% of games I play, once I get into a good position - one or two pieces ahead and in control of most of the board - I nearly always move my queen to attack something and then lose her. This is usually due to an unappreciated threat (sometimes I've even seen the threat a turn or two before).

Is this a recognised problem for many players, or is it just me? If it is recognised, are there any recommended strategies to overcome it?

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    When I ask you this, I am trying to get you to be both accurate and honest with yourself. Are you sacrificing your queen or are you just dropping your queen? Entering into an unsound combination is not the same as an out right blunder. – Robert Kaucher Sep 16 '12 at 13:51
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    Robert: It's more of a blunder than a sacrifice. – naught101 Sep 16 '12 at 22:26
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    Based on your response to Robert's comment, I took the liberty of changing the question's title. – ETD Sep 16 '12 at 23:08
  • Thanks Ed, I'm wasn't aware that was accepted terminology. – naught101 Sep 17 '12 at 0:21
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    This happens even to the best of us. Take this game (rapid) by Boris Gelfand chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1622753; nevertheless, Gelfand was able to win the overall match, and later (after beating Grischuk) qualified to play Anand for the title. – Akavall Sep 17 '12 at 0:50
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It's certainly not just you. While you describe a particular blind spot involving your queen, the more general phenomenon of throwing away sizable advantages is a very common one in chess, and it can be tough to kick. Here's a well-known saying that seems to be due to longtime U.S. champion Frank Marshall (and I'm paraphrasing):

The hardest thing in chess is to win a won game.

I've read folks like Vladimir Kramnik echo this very point as well (as have thousands of others, I'm sure). So this kind of thing is something that affects the very best out there, not just you. There can be many reasons behind this kind of difficulty (e.g. stubborn, defiant resistance from the player on the losing end), but the primary factor that the winning player can remedy himself is simply to avoid "relaxing" too soon. After all, as your experiences show, even a huge material advantage can disappear if you let your guard down even a little bit and blunder away a queen.

Something I noticed long ago in my own games is that if I allow myself during the game even just to briefly imagine a future in which I've already won (e.g. hypothetical thoughts of who I'll be playing in the next round of a tournament once I've won), then things often become much harder the rest of the way, even if I immediately catch myself after the fact and refocus on the game. Is that real, or all in my head? It doesn't matter, because if it's in my head that's enough to affect my chess play.

Refusal to consider any game won until it's actually over, coupled with constant tactical vigilance, will go a long way to avoiding the pitfall you've described. Exactly how to arrange for that in your own head will vary from person to person, of course, but that general approach is important. Basically, what I'm saying here goes hand in hand with the nice point Wes makes in his answer (slow down, take a breather before moving); take every move in the game just as seriously as any other, whether it's the first move of the game, or you're up three pieces, because the cruel truth of chess is that an entire game's worth of brilliant moves can be ruined with a single bad one.

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    Nice points Ed. Refusal to consider any game won until it's actually over works for the person "losing" as well. If you continue to play hard after you're down, you can turn it around, if the other person makes a mistake. – Eve Freeman Sep 17 '12 at 0:27
  • @WesFreeman, good point, as that flip side often factors into a won game being difficult to win. – ETD Sep 17 '12 at 0:30
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    I remember a master who played many tournaments in my area; he often said "Relax after the game." – Akavall Sep 17 '12 at 0:42
  • I, on the other hand, am an expert at first handing my opponent a better position before flipping it, and won't ever think a game lost before it's actually over. In fact, I recently realised that this behavior constituted a major part of my level (the most part of the games I win, that is). Fond memories of dropping a knight on move 16 to a 1650 player in a 1h30+30s tournament game, to win with time pressure a mutually passed pawns rooks endgame, still being down a piece. – Nikana Reklawyks Dec 4 '12 at 22:06
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It seems like you are trying to "push" things, once you get ahead. So you put your queen out front and get it "snapped off."

It should be other way. Once you are ahead, let your other pieces do the fighting, and keep your queen in reserve (except to trade off the other queen). Eventually, you'll end up with a piece ahead, with the queens off the board. Then your extra piece will win.

  • That seems sensible - maybe I'm just going in too early. – naught101 Sep 16 '12 at 22:27
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    +1 for this. The farther ahead you are, the more you can afford to push the game into end-game by trading pieces. You are probably losing a chance to make your advantage even bigger, but if you're up a rook it's usually better to start taking pieces off the board if you can trade evenly. (And if you can't checkmate someone with only a king and a rook vs a king, you should probably start learning more about end-game play.) – Patrick M Aug 9 '15 at 0:28
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Are you playing fast chess? If not: before touching anything on the board, take a deep breath and double or triple check the move you are considering; maybe even force yourself to take an extra minute to review a move after you think you've decided. Try to figure out what the opponent's best move would be in response to your move. I'm sure there are many other techniques to help you not blunder, but hopefully that will get you started.

If you are playing fast chess, then yes, blunders are relatively common.

  • Not particularly fast chess, no, just stupid :D – naught101 Sep 17 '12 at 0:22
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For standard time controls, this should only happen to beginners (at a frequency that is considered more than rare), and is not much different from other tactical blunders (unless you only have a problem with the queen but not other pieces, then please check with a certified psychologist). For faster time controls, practise more and improve your tactics (probably more of the latter).

To end, I might add the following quote by Teichmann:

Chess is 99% tactics.

Of course the quote isn't 100% accurate, but it is generally reflective of play between players under master strength, so don't feel bad unless you are planning to become a master. Masters may lose a queen, but not to simple tactics since they are supposed to be able to calculate longer lines and see deeper.

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    I am a beginner, but this problem is mostly just with the Queen. I don't know that this problems is really worth going to see a psychologist about though :) – naught101 Sep 17 '12 at 4:08
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I believe that there is something about your mindset and way of mentally handling the game from the get go.

I personally play for about 40 years, have been training tactical and studying quite a bit of opening theory as well as some great games.

I can solve pretty high level tactical problems rated over 2.2k on chess tempo without too much trouble.

However, that still doesn't keep me from making an average of one terrible blunder per actual game while playing 15+15 classical games on lichess.

The worse part is that when I actually look at the computer analysis and try to understand how I could make that blunder, I often have a hard time to figure it out.

There is always a reason, but it's often just not enough to explain the blunder by itself.

I believe it's related to how you built your basic chess processing system at the very beginning. I personally was taught chess when I was young by an overconfident and unskilled player. He could probably not even maintain 1200 on lichess...

I believe that it's pretty hard to cure this kind of issue at it's actually rooted deep in your "basic chess system"

The only way would require a long term effort to completely enforce a new way of dealing with the game. And the longer you've been using a faulty basic system, the harder it is to get rid of it...

I personally came to the conclusion that the amount of constant efforts that I would need to put into reshaping that system is way beyond the motivation I have to reach the end result.

The one thing that I've found somewhat effective was to actually enforce me to play as if I was the opponent and to end up playing a move that would go against "my" plans.

It doesn't keep me from blundering but it's enough of a different way to apprehend the game to tend to reduce the frequency of those. Unfortunately this mental process is quite boring to me and I rather just not play than bothering with something I just don't enjoy.

So I just tend to play rapid chess hoping for some nice problem like position to arise...

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I blunder lots as well. So I exchange queens at every opportunity so that I cannot blunder it.

  • Yeah, I was doing this too (I assume you mean queen for queen) - takes the entire problem away. – naught101 Aug 14 '15 at 0:28
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    This is a very bad idea. If you are prone to blunders, you should resolve the cause rather than try to mask the symptom. So if you are down material, you will exchange queens even if it's good for your opponent. – limits Aug 14 '15 at 5:11
  • The best strategy is to give up chess and play poker. – SmallChess Aug 18 '15 at 8:53

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