Avoiding Common Mistakes in Chess

Two Examples of Mistakes in an Amateur Game

The following two blunders were made in the same informal game, in Magna, Utah, in October of 2015. The first error was by White; the second, by Black. But those two mistakes have one thing in common, and this is rarely covered in chess books.

The black knight is being kicked out

Diagram-1  after White moved a3, attacking the black knight at b4

In Diagram-1, White has just advanced the pawn that was near the lower left corner. That pawn is now attacking the black knight on the left side of the board, but we need to take this in context. White’s previous move was Ne1, putting a knight onto a square that would prevent the black knight from forking the white queen and a rook.

How does that knight move relate to the mistake that White will soon make? When the black knight was on c6, near the black queen, it was attacking the white pawn at d4. That was no problem at the time, for White had a knight at f3, helping to protect that white pawn. Both the black knight and white knight moved away from those attacking and defending squares. But now that the black knight is attacked by that pawn near the lower left corner it will return to c6 and again be attacking the white pawn at d4. That should have been noticed by White.

Black now has three pieces attacking White's pawn at d4

Diagram-2  after Black moved Nc6

Black’s knight was attacked by the pawn White had moved to a3, so it moved to c6. White saw that move only as a defensive response by his opponent. He failed to see that Black now had three pieces attacking White’s pawn at d4, and White has only two pieces defending it.

White now made a long-term strategic-type move: Kh2. It would better prepare for the advance of the pawn at d4 to d5, for the king would then be defending the pawn at a3, in case the bishop at g2 needed to move up the diagonal towards d5. But Kh2 was a blunder, a narrow-minded move. White would have been much better to move Nf3, defending the pawn at d4 or advancing it immediately to d5.

This kind of error is not examined in most chess books, especially if the author is a grandmaster. Yet this concept is critical in over-the-board competition, whether the players are beginners or more advanced in their abilities.

White forgot to protect the pawn on d4

Diagram-3  after the black knight captured the pawn on d4

After White moved Kh2 (failing to see the need to defend a pawn), Black captured that pawn on d4, and White advanced his rook from d1 to d2, preparing to double rooks on the d-file. Black should now support that knight at d4 by moving c5 or e5, protecting it with a pawn. That knight at d4 has a great outpost, for White cannot attack it with a pawn.

Instead, black responded with a blunder, a long-term strategic-type move: Qg2. It freed the knight from a pin and the potential future pressure that could come from White’s doubling of rooks on the d-file.

White can capture the knight at d4

Diagram-4  after Black moved Qg7

White now has two pieces attacking a Black knight that is protected by only one piece. Black made a very similar blunder to White’s. And just as Black took advantage of White’s error, White takes advantage of Black’s.

Black left a piece en prize

Diagram-5  White captured the knight on d4

Interesting to note, the blunder by Black was only two moves after White’s and on the same square. It was a tit-for-tat comedy of errors. Some experienced chess players would brush off those mistakes as common beginner blunders, but this game, in its earlier stages, had an absence of such mistakes. Both players were quite experienced amateurs.


To best understand why we blunder in chess, we need to know something about the best way to search during a chess game. Searching while playing? Yes, we always do that, although the word searching may not come to mind. During the game, we’re always looking for something.

In the chess book for beginners Beat That Kid in Chess, it says:

In a chess game, when it’s your turn to move, what should you look for
first? Here’s the order for an early beginner:
1) Can you make an immediate checkmate?
2) Is your opponent threatening you with an immediate checkmate?
3) Can you set up a potential checkmate?
4) Can you win material?
5) Is your opponent threatening to win material?

In fact, if you play better than an early beginner, even much better, the above order is probably close to what you need. But there’s another way of searching during a chess game.

When your opponent makes a move, it generally opens up new move possibilities for that piece. In particular, that piece sometimes attacks one of your pieces or threatens to move to a square that forks two of your pieces or pins one of them or makes another tactical threat. The immediate response to your opponent’s move should be automatic: What is my opponent threatening by that?

Of course that sense of awareness can be taken to extremes. If your opponent makes a move that allows you to checkmate him or her in one move, make that winning move and win the game. It matters not what your opponent’s move appeared to threaten when it allowed you to win the game with one move.

The big point is tactics. They should be first priority before looking into deep strategic needs.



Beginner Chess Books

The following are NOT pseudo-beginner-chess-books (to the best of my knowledge) . . . these appear to be chess books for REAL beginners.

Avoiding Chess Blunders

Your chess rating is not only an indication of your ability to find good moves. It’s just as much an indication of your ability to avoid mistakes.

Book for Chess Beginners

The book [“Beat That Kid in Chess”] trains the “early beginner” in the most basic tactics and winning methods, regardless of the age of the chess opponent

Best Chess Book for the Beginners

One estimate for the number of chess books published (in history) is about 100,000. Probably less than 10% of those were written for the raw beginner