The US Chess Championships are coming to a close. Today is Championship Day, however, the possibility exists for a playoff scenario.
Let me be blunt- I am a crappy chess player. In the chess vernacular, I am a patzer. A patzer is a weak player. The word 'patzer' comes from the German for blunder- Patzen. In chess, a blunder is a bad move. It's not just a bad move, though. It's the kind of bad move that is made without sufficient compensation. To win a game of chess, you want to be forcing your opponent into the position where they are obligated to make a bad move. 'Blunder' seems to be somewhat more weighty than a simple 'mistake.' A chess player may make a mistake in her opening moves, but it is the level of the mistake, and the resulting consequences that define whether it is a blunder.
Blundering, however, isn't the same for all players. The more skillful you are at combining the power of the pieces with the tactical tools, and the long and short range strategies of chess, the fewer mistakes you make, and the more consequential each tiny error becomes.
Examples of blunders-
Moving out your f pawn one square on move one, followed by moving your g pawn out two squares on move 2. This results in the most consequential result of a blunder, a lost game. These are are the precursory moves to the fastest way to be checkmated- The Fool's Mate.
Leaving your queen under attack with no compensation while also not playing a move which attacks the king directly- check. Many of the most exciting chess games that we teach to beginner chess players feature the amazing, queen sacrifice. As in, "I just sacc'ed my queen for nothing, and then played a two move checkmate with my rook and my bishop!" Kids love the idea of doing that in a game. When one of my students blunders his queen, they sometimes will say, "I meant to do that. It's my plan."
As you look at games from more and more skilled players, simple blunders like losing a piece 'en pris,' do occur. Typically, however, the higher you go up the ladder, the finer the distinction becomes. A blunder can become something as slight as capturing with the incorrect pawn allowing your opponent to advance her pawn just one square, setting in then on a light square where it will then be untouchable by your opponent's defenses in the endgame- promoting a pawn to presumably win the game.
At the outset of a game of chess, the player with the white pieces is ahead. The computer analysis as well as common sense will confirm this. The white player has the initiative and has to make move 1. The most common move at this point is 1. e4, placing white's pawn in the center of the board for black to consider. The players at very high level when playing the black pieces in a tournament for the most part, are satisfied to simply hold the game to a draw when playing against equal competition.
A game of chess is won, according to Savielly Tartakower, by "...the player who makes the next to last mistake." Computers will basically play themselves to a draw. Human error in a game of chess is a nuanced thing. It relies on so many different factors, all of which exist in the past, present, and the future of that game. It can also stretch back beyond the game you are playing. The reputation and trust of your level of play can cause your opponent to misunderstand your error as the onset of a plan to gain more value in return. VIshy Anand did not capture the pawn on e4 in the world championships, even though it was free. Perhaps this was based on his trust in Magnus's skill level. You can see this when chess players discuss and examine positions and ideas as they play out on the board.
Chess players will spend hours a day studying and learning in order to reduce their errors by just the tiniest bit. Yet, if all they do is avoid error, they may never take the initiative to win the game.
The player then stands astride a wobbly board resting on a cylinder. She must take the initiative, yet with initiative comes the increase in the possibility of error.