Chess: Self-help guide for blunderers

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The Independent Culture
THE ART of blundering is something most players prefer not to think about, yet as a new book makes clear, it is wise to acquire a deep understanding of blunder techniques in order to steer clear of the beasts.

Danger in Chess by Amatazia Avni (Cadogan Chess, pounds 9.99) is a thoughtful and intelligent account of the causes of horrendous mistakes by strong players. On a superficial level, it is a collection of blunders that should leave any player shaking with fear, but its deeper aim is more ambitious.

By attempting to categorise and diagnose blunders, Avni hopes to provide the components that add up to a proper sense of danger. And that is where his book doesn't quite work. The following position (from Karpov-M Gurevich, Reggio Emilia 1991) is, in many ways, typical:

Karpov played 1. Bc4, offering his e-pawn, which Black grabbed with 1 . . . Qxe4, and that was the decisive mistake. The game ended 2. Bxd4 exd4 3. Qf7+ Kh6 4. Qf8+ Kh5 (4 . . . Kh7 loses to 5. Bg8+) 5. Qh8+ Bh6 6. Qe5+]] and Black resigned since 6 . . . Qxe5 7. g4 is mate.

Avni criticises Gurevich for taking the pawn: 'He should have asked himself: 'Why does White give up his e4 pawn?' The correct move was 1 . . . Qd7+ with a tenable game.' Yet Gurevich is a strong grandmaster who would certainly have asked himself just that question. The idea of Bxd4 and Qf7+ is the obvious continuation, and he must have analysed as far as 5 . . . Bh6, without finding the elegant mating conclusion.

Gurevich's diagnosis must have concluded that 1. Bc4 was bluff, an acceptance that White's only chance to extract something from the position involves manoeuvring his bishop to d5, which he cannot do without losing the e-pawn.

A very weak player as Black might take on e4, missing Bxd4 and Qf7+ entirely. A slightly stronger player, particularly after reading Avni's book, might suspect danger and decline the pawn on instinct. A strong player, like Gurevich, would certainly take the pawn unless he found a concrete reason for not doing so. Only a very strong player indeed would see through the whole thing and decline the pawn for the right reasons.

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