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I've noticed that the most common reason for me to lose a game is not lack of knowledge but failure to observe whats happening on the board. This is specially true for rapid games but it happens in slow chess as well. In a recent game i moved a rook to a square where it was captured on the next move for free, although i spent several minutes before making that move! It also happens that i "forget" that a piece is defending something and move it away, or i don't see my opponents threat, even if it is straight forward. When doing tactics puzzles it happens sometimes that i look at it for several minutes and then suddenly realize something like "oh, i have a passed pawn in the top left corner on the board!"

If i could observe more quickly & accurately and reduce the amount of gross blunders i would win a lot more games, specially rapid games. What do you do to improve your observation skill and blunder less?

  • 1
    You gotta work in your tactics! – David Nov 5 at 11:09
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I will go back to what Artur Yusupov, three-time World Championship Candidate, former top-10 player, and one of the greatest living trainers recommends in the first book of his 10-volume series. In volume one, "Boost Your Chess - Build Up Your Chess", chapter 9, which is two-move mates, including composed problems:

The aim of this lesson is to improve your calculation of short variations. It is more important to find a lot of options in the first few moves than to calculate moves long variations. Most mistakes occur in the early moves in variations. What is the use of calculating a long and correct variation if your opponent has a much better reply on move one?

You must develop your skill at calculating short variations, while at the same time taking into account the possibilities available to your opponent. This skill should reduce blunders.

Exercises with mate in two moves are very well suited for training in the art of calculating short variations with great accuracy.
Emphasis as written, not mine.

I will take this one step further with my own suggestion. Try to train yourself that before you make every move, look at EVERY move your opponent has. I am not saying that you are calculating anything. You are simply looking at it so you consider it. It will do two things: If you are hanging a piece, just looking at it will usually "hit you in the face like a brick", and second, I have done many combination problems over the last 40 years, and sometimes, when I cannot figure it out, and look at the answer, I realize immediately that had I just LOOKED at the move, I would have seen the combination.

So, again, you are not trying to calculate, just consider every move. You will be amazed at what you register immediately.

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    Do you want to add the name of this awesome trainer? – Greg Martin Nov 6 at 21:42
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    @GregMartin LOL. Oops. I cannot believe I left that out. I will edit my answer. Thank you. – PhishMaster Nov 6 at 21:57
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One of the most important things we tell players who are a bit above beginner level is to have a checklist they go through before making each move. It looks like this:

  • checks
  • captures
  • threats
  • opponent's threats
    ...
  • blunder check

So, as part of their move selection, they first look to see if they can give a check. If so they calculate the results. Then they look for pieces they can capture and do the same. Then threats they can make. Then threats that the opponent can make, etc. Finally when they have chosen their move they check that it isn't a blunder.

The mere fact that they are looking over the whole board for these possibilities increases general awareness. This helps to combat the "chess blindness" that causes the errors you describe.

Having such a routine is particularly important at slower rates of play because it is easy when trying to execute a plan (or even just playing an opening you know) to play moves on autopilot. Your opponent makes a slightly unusual move and you ignore it, continue with your plan and blunder. In rapid and blitz it obviously becomes much more difficult to follow this routine because of the time constraints but if it has become a habit at longer time controls it will be easier to do a quick version at quicker time controls.

Note that very strong players can also make such blunders. They spend a long time thinking about their move, can't find a move, think of a move at the last minute and play it without checking. Here is an example from the recent St Louis tournament where Leiner Dominguez did just that and resigned next move.

[title "Ding Liren v Leiner Dominguez, St Louis 2019"]
[fen "q3rbk1/1Q3Rpp/1R2p3/4B3/3P4/5N1P/5nPK/r7 b - - 0 1"]

1... Rxa7?? 2. Qxa7
2

Yep, a very important problem. It essentially boils down to how well you know tactics and your command of chess geometry, but there are few shortcuts you can use, without having to perform a ton of cross-checks every time you make a move. I try to keep a picture in my head, based on the strategic plan that I've used for the game, which lines are controlled by me and which by my opponent. For example, if your black Q is on b6, with the open file in front of it and a7-g1 diagonal open, then it should be safe for your pieces to step onto those squares. Conversely, if your opponent's rook is on the open a file, and you are considering putting a piece on it, performing a quick check against that matrix will raise a warning. Another useful thing is to have a general habit of not leaving pieces unprotected, so that when you blunder a piece you at least get something back. It won't work so well in the endgame with a lot fewer pieces on the board, but it's quite helpful in the opening and middlegame.

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