I am currently playing in a tournament and my last game was a total disaster. Without going into details, I missed a two-move threat my opponent had in the position (I'd expect a ~1600 Elo rated player to find this threat during a game) straight out of the opening and my position was practically hopeless afterwards.

However, after some time spent on self-pity I started reflecting on the nature of my blunder and I started to realize that this is a type of blunder I've lost countless games to. In this game, the following happened:

  • I was having trouble finding a good plan out of the opening, and before making the losing blunder I spent around 30 minutes on the clock.
  • The move I played should have been easily recognizable as a blunder for a player of my strength (~2200 Elo at the moment).
  • I noticed the threat almost immediately after pressing the clock, long before my opponent actually played the winning move (naturally he was a bit suspicious that someone like me would miss something THAT obvious; I could even see him throwing some suspicious glances, seeming like he wanted to ask me: "Are you for real!?").

After realizing that this was not an isolated event for me, I started to wonder: is this actually common for players rated, say, 2100+ Elo? Also, does anyone have any advice how to counteract this self-destructive psychological issue? Right now I'm at a loss for how to deal with it.

  • The first thing to do is to generally see what is the threat of your opponents previous move. Then see if your move commits suicide. Apr 21, 2019 at 0:22
  • I suspect most players spend too much time looking for a way to win a position, compared to the time spent analysing opponent threats - I guess the way to combat this is to be aware of it, and set aside time for it. Apr 21, 2019 at 14:34
  • How much have you been playing recently? Are your tactics alright or maybe a bit rusty? Of course it was an easy move, but you just get oblivious to these things if you haven't played in a while. Apr 24, 2019 at 0:19
  • And I know that feeling, I also sometimes kill myself over the board in a completely fine position when I just can't find a plan. Fortunately, that has gotten better. Apr 24, 2019 at 0:21
  • 1
    The first step to solving such a problem is awareness. Congratulations! You are well on your way to solve it. Of course, this time you didn’t realise the root cause until much later, but each next time, it might be a bit sooner until you realise just before you press the clock.
    – 11684
    Dec 28, 2019 at 1:38

2 Answers 2


Good question, but rest assured, the most important part has already been achieved! Namely, you've taken full notice of a pattern in how you often lose your games. To remedy the problem of avoiding combinatorial/tactical blunders can be a somewhat systematic (thus definitely achievable) process, so it's definitely the easier part.

Always check for forcing moves:

These typically are, ordered according to priority:

  • Checks: clearly, the most forcing moves are checks, without exception and almost in a computer like manner you should exhaust the list of checks your opponent can give. Example (1).
  • Captures: Take note of the possible captures in the position, it shouldn't matter how crazy it might appear at first glance (like giving up a queen for a rook, but a mating threat might be following, example (2))
  • Positional gains: Relative to the first two, this one's admittedly rather vaguely defined. However, as a shortcut, let's simply treat them as possible combinations in the position, which I will further elaborate below.

Types of combinations to consider:

  • Checkmating combinations: This is the easiest combination to understand, as it is purely concrete and when it works, immediately decisive.
  • The combination to win material: Can be any forced sequence of moves, e.g. starting from a bait (a sac'ed pawn), which ends in winning or trapping more important material.
  • The third type, is the toughest, the strategic combination: again it might start from a forced sequence, but for a specific type of a goal, such as creating the king's position vulnerable, or in contrast to create a defensive setup, it might be to an exchange sac opening up the position for our pieces or permanently damaging our opponent's light/dark squares, it might also be a sequence that creates a weak pawn or one that ends up with you having an endgame with a bishop pair, and the list goes on.

How to efficiently check for all these:

  • Keep calculating variations both on your own and your opponent's time, irrespective of how winning or equal you might find the position.
  • Keep taking mental notes about positional aspects of the position throughout the game, namely anticipating critical moments where: the pawn formation might change, or potential of changing it thereof (e.g. noticing a minority attack could be achieved, see here for more details), the king safety can be compromised (either by a pawn advance, a sacrifice, or a simple trade of a good defensive piece guarding the king), and last but not least, the combo of pieces (bishop pair, Q+N vs Q+B, etc).
  • Keep asking yourself questions about your opponent's decisions, no matter how strange they might appear sometimes: e.g. "why did they play a6? what are they trying to prevent?" or "why are they not resolving the center?" ... Again this helps keep you sharp during the game and not relax too early (and miss simple ideas).
  • Take note of whether one of your defensive pieces are possibly getting overloaded.
  • Take note of tactical themes: hanging/attacked pieces, pinned pieces, discoveries, etc.
  • Step up your tactics training! Sounds obvious but this really should be part of your daily practice no matter the level of play. This will not only add to you bag of tactical ideas and motifs, but it will also prevent your calculation skills from getting rusty.
  • And finally, don't make assumptions about variations that you'd like to see occur, instead consider your opponent's alternative options specially when making a committal decision in the game.

Finally, for the promised examples of (1) and (2), here's one where both are combined:

 [title "Meier vs Kramnik 2013"]
 [fen "1r3bk1/2R2pp1/p3p3/4q3/Qn2N2p/5BP1/4PPKP/8 w - - 0 1"]
 [startflipped "1"]

 1.Qd7 {Here's the position of interest, white's last move Qd7 both defends the rook on c7 and creates a threat on f7} Qf5 {Kramnik defends f7 with Qf5 while also preparing h3+} 2.g4 {Meier notices that black is playing a potentially dangerous game allowing the battery against f7 and having only their queen as defender. White then try to decoy the queen from defense of f7} Qf4 3.g5 {Setting up a neat combination with Nf6+, which is a tactic of type (1) that Meier is planning for, a move that would blind the queen's access to f7} Nd5 {casually played by Kramnik, almost in a manner suggesting he's missed Nf6+, but it is in fact a bait} 4. Nf6+ {let's first see the candidate lines I reckon white had anticipated, namely gxf and Nxf} Nxf6 (4...gxf6 {other losing line} 5.Qxf7+ Kh8 6.Qh7#) (4...Qxf6 {!!! Here's our case (2), white had simply dismissed the crazy possibiliy of queen taking on f6 instead of pawn or knight. The queen sacrifice comes with a checkmating combination, surprisingly of the backrank type despite white's fiachetto pawn formation!} 5.gxf6 {clearly then seeing the previous line, white cannot take the queen, so game continued as follows} (5.Qxd5 Qg6 6.Qe5 Rb5 {and with g5 falling white resigned soon thereafter.}) Nf4+ 6.Kf1 Rb1+ {and mate is unavoidable.}) 5.Qxf7+ Kh8 6.gxf6 Qxf6 7.Qh5+ Qh6 8.Qxh6+ gxh6 9.Ra7 {likely a draw, despite black's shattered pawn structure.}

To finish, I leave you with a problem (though relatively simple so it mimics what you might have experienced in your game), where to recognise the combination in a real game we would:

  • take note that white has back rank issues
  • rook on f4 is attacked by the queen
  • and our rooks are doubled along the open e-file

These already bring to mind: forcing moves such as captures and checkmating combinations.

 [title "black to play and win"]
 [fen "4r1k1/p3rppp/2pqb3/2p4Q/N2p1R2/1P1P4/P1P3PP/5R1K b - - 4 24"]

I am not 2000+ rated, but I experience this myself from time to time (I actually got better). Reasons I found why I do this:

  • Being to excited about my plan, e.g. I see a nice tactic, which my opponent might not see, he plays a move which does not prevent it (apart from his threat).

  • "I am winning feeling", I get this when I won previous games against someone and am in a winning position again. Sometimes (especially when tired) I start to "just play it down". Then I start missing things like a Zwischenzug.

For countermeassures:

  • I focus more on opponents threats during his time, while developing my plans during my time. If he plays an unexpected move, I take my time. This way, I am constantly up to date about my opponents threats and I distribute enough time to think about his plans. If he plays really fast, I have to spend some of my time. Since I am used to spend more time for his plans, I do this quite automatically.

  • If I am feeling happy about a position, I tell myself, "Nice position, lets focus and find the closing moves". This helps me to focus (again).

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