What makes a difference?

"There is really only one mistake in chess - underestimating your opponent"


I found this session hard to prepare, and might try again! I have tried to find mistakes that are typical of a certain level of player - that is, mistakes of a characteristic kind, that better players no longer (or only rarely) make.

  The hope is that these are the sorts of error most easily avoided. This document is subject to two caveats:

  1. All chessplayers make mistakes all the time. Moreover, you cannot extract a win from a position by effort alone, or the application of only your genius, your opponent must make a mistake.

  2. There are some mistakes that everybody makes. These probably include misjudging (or simply failing to spot) combinations and other opportunities, attacking without justification, inadequate technique, and thinking only for yourself.

  So, mistakes are inevitable, but to be worked on - for example, try to eliminate one-move mistakes, then two-movers, and so on. I'm sure becoming more efficient or more consistent would for most of us result in a rise in grade without any great new insights being gained.

  I originally started out trying to find examples of good ideas unique to each level (e.g. to find a good move by a Major player that a Minor player couldn't have found) but this was much harder. Instead, I have given in the County player section, examples that we might all aspire to, and also offer a 'good' game for each lower level ("the player at their best") which shows decent play using ideas which we may be able to see at all levels.

Books with annotated amateur games

Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur, Euwe and Meiden

The Amateur's Mind, Jeremy Silman

The Improving Annotator, Dan Heisman

Thinkers' Chess, Stephan Gerzadowicz (Correspondence games)

Magazines: Rabbits Review, Chess Circuit, Popular Chess


{D} Minor BCF 80-100 (1240-1400 ELO)

The games of Minor players are often marred by tactical oversights, and the games are often decided that way. Is there any point in commenting further? Yes, because of two very important reasons:

  firstly, Alexander's observation that blunders only occur in losing positions (not always, but more than a grain of truth), and

  secondly, that there are other things about their games which could be improved by greater understanding, even while blunders may appear.

  In the opening, development is often started well and general rules are followed (e.g. move each piece once) but is at times too straightforward and is not always complete. After this the game may appear episodic, with not all the pieces being used to effect. In the endgame there may be some caution about using the King and theory is often not properly understood, but can win and advance pawns properly.


The Minor player at their best:

Morgan,A - Cooke,S (Exeter Juniors vs Exeter College, 1995)

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. Nf3 Nc6?!

  Too straightforward - the c7 pawn needs to counterattack with c5.

6. e3 h6



7. Bf4?!

  again, not very crisp: either Bxf6 or Bh4 are better

7... Nh5 8. Be5 Bd6

[8... Nxe5 9. Nxe5 Nf6]

9. Bxd6 cxd6?! hard to understand 10. cxd5 exd5 11. Nxd5 Qa5+ 12. Nc3 Nf6 13. Bd3 O-O 14. O-O Bg4



15. h3?!

[15. Qe2 is usually the right square for this bit; you can then uncoil with h3 and e4]

15... Bh5 16. a3 a6 17. Be2

  score reconstructed from here

17... Rfe8 18. Qc2 Rac8 19. Rac1 Ne7 20. Qd1 Ned5 21. Nxd5 Nxd5 22. Rxc8 Rxc8

  White has let Black become very active

23. Qb3 Rc7 24. Qd3 Bg6 25. e4 Nf6

[25... Nf4 26. Qe3 Rc2 27. Qxf4 Rxe2 28. Qxd6]

26. Nd2 Re7 27. Bf3 d5 28. b4?!



this gives Black an extra move to attack e4

28... dxe4?!

[28... Qd8 29. Re1 Qe8 recovers the pawn]

29. Nxe4 Qf5 30. Nxf6+ Qxf6 31. Qc4

  from my score

31... Qe6 32. d5 Qd7 33. Rd1 Qc7



34. Qc5

  A good-looking move but White did have one stronger.

[34. Qxc7 Rxc7 35. d6 Rd7 36. Bxb7 Rxb7

[36... Bf5 37. Bxa6 is killing]

37. d7 Rxd7 38. Rxd7 Be4 39. Rd6]

34... Rd7



35. Qxc7 Rxc7 36. d6 Rd7 37. g4

[37. Bxb7 is still right. I think Andrew saw it early enough but thought if he waited it would get better]

37... f5 38. a4 Kf7 39. Bxb7! fxg4 40. hxg4 Bc2 41. Bc6 Rd8 42. Rd2 Bb3 43. Rd4 Ke6 44. d7 Ke7 45. a5 Be6 46. b5 axb5 47. Bxb5 Rb8 48. a6 Kd8 49. a7 Ra8



50. Rd6

[50. Rf4 Kc7 51. Re4 Bxd7 52. Re7 Rxa7 53. Rxd7+ Kb6 54. Rxa7 Kxa7 55. f4]

50... Bxg4 51. Rb6 Bxd7 52. Bxd7 Kxd7



53. Rg6

[53. Rb7+ Kc6 54. Rxg7 Kb6 55. Kg2 Rh8

[55... Rxa7 56. Rxa7 Kxa7 57. Kg3 Kb7 58. Kg4 Kc7 59. Kh5 Kd7 60. Kxh6 Ke6 61. Kg6 Ke5 62. Kg5 Ke6 63. f4 Kf7 64. Kf5 Kg7 65. Ke6 Kf8 66. Kf6 Kg8 67. Ke7 Kg7 68. f5]

56. Kg3 Ra8 57. Kg4 Rh8 58. Kh5]

53... Rg8



54. f4

  score reconstructed from here

[54. Kf1! Kc7 55. Rxg7+ Rxg7 56. a8=Q wins - a common theme I associate with a Lasker study]

54... Kc7 55. a8=Q Rxa8 56. Rxg7+ Kd6 57. Rg6+ Ke7 58. Rxh6 Rg8+ 59. Kf2 Rf8 60. Kg3 Rg8+ 61. Kf3 Rf8 62. Ke4 Kf7 63. Kf5 Rg8 64. Rh7+ Ke8 65. Ke6 Rg6+ 66. Ke5 Kf8 67. f5 Rg1 68. f6 Re1+ 69. Kf5 Rf1+ 70. Ke6 Rg1 71. f7 Rf1 72. Rh8+ Kg7 73. Rg8+

  White lost on time


  Unfortunate, but it shows what Minor players can turn on given the chance - I thought both players fought well.


The Minor Player at work in the Opening

Example: Smith-Moulton, 1996

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6



White to move

Moves chosen: 4. d3 Bb4+
Better move(s):
4. O-O, 4. d4;
4...Bc5, 4...d6

These are common beginners' mistakes: 4. d3 is much too slow - White loses the advantage of the first move here - and 4...Bb4+ is pointless. Juniors also often end up in dismal Four Knights'/Giuoco Pianissimo lines which are blocked and static.


The Minor Player at work in the Middle Game

Example: Harding-Brown, 1996


White to move

Move chosen: 15. Qd7
Better move(s): 15. Rad1

White is obviously winning here but the mistake I think is common: I would bring the Rooks into play before starting an attack.


Example: Moulton-Teasdale


Black to move

Move chosen: 10... Ng4
Better move(s):10... Re8; 10... Bxc3; 10...Nxd4!

Same again: you have no right to attack unless (a) you are fully developed, and/or (b) you have some other advantage.


The Minor Player at work in the Endgame

Example: Kennedy-Morgan, 1995


Black to move

Move chosen: 39...Kd7
Better move(s): 39... Kd6!

It should become second nature to take this square.


Good reading for Minor players:

An Opening Repertoire for the Attacking Player - Keene/Levy

Chess Openings for Juniors and Attacking the King - John Walker

Logical Chess - Irving Chernev

Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge - Averbach

Winning Endgames - Tony Kosten

Winning Chess - Chernev/Reinfeld

{C} Intermediate BCF 100-120 (1400-1560 ELO)

Intermediate players are usually pretty efficient - solid, get their pieces out properly, play sensibly against odd moves and have mastered the King's-side hack. There is a tendency to adopt fortress-like defensive blockades in the middle-game, and may overlook unobvious moves, or tactics in quiet positions. They know basic book wins in the endgame but may only defend rather than seeking counterplay.


The Intermediate player at their best:

Rosseinsky,J (2840) - Collins,C (1800) [B71] (Spectrum Torquay #2, 1996)

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. f4



6...Bg7? 7. e5 dxe5 8. fxe5 Ng8 9. Bb5+ Bd7 10. e6 Bxb5 11. exf7+ Kxf7 12. Qf3+ Nf6 13. Ncxb5!

  Quality move

13...Qd7 14. O-O




[14... a6 15. Qb3+ Ke8

[15... e6 16. Nxe6 Qxe6 17. Qxe6+ Kxe6 18. Nc7+ Kf7 19. Nxa8]

16. Ne6 axb5 17. Nxg7+]

15. Qb3+ e6 16. Nf3

[16. Bf4! Kg8 17. Nxe6 [17. Rad1]]

16... Nc6 17. Bf4 Kg8 18. Rad1 Qe7 19. Nc7 Ng4 20. Bg3 Kh8 21. Nxa8 Rxa8 22. Rd6 e5 23. Rd2

[23. Re6!? Qc5+ 24. Kh1 Rf8 25. h3

[25. Rd1]

25... Nd4]

23... Re8

[23... Rf8!?]

24. Bh4 Qc5+ 25. Kh1 Rf8 26. Rd5 Qe3 27. Qxb7 Nd4 28. Rd7 Qh6

[28... Nxf3 29. Rf7 Rxf7]

29. Rf7 Nxf3 30. Rxf8+ Bxf8 31. Qxf3 Be7 32. Bxe7??

[32. Qxg4! Qxh4

[32... Bxh4 33. Qc8+ Bd8 34. Qxd8+ Kg7 35. Qf8#]

33. Qxh4 Bxh4 34. g3 Bf6 35. Re1 Kg7 36. c4]

32... Qxh2# 0-1



The Intermediate Player at work in the Opening

Example: Regis-O'Grady 1996


Black to move

Move chosen: 2...d6?!
Better move(s): 2...Bc5

This apparently solid attempt is in fact a serious concession. White rapidly built up an attacking position on the King's-side where Black had little counterplay.



Good defence needs active pieces.


The Intermediate Player at work in the Middle Game

Example: Kruse-Regis, 1977


White to move

Move chosen: 10. Qc2?!
Better move(s): 10. Nbd2

White ignores the positional elements of the position. Black whipped back 10...Bxf3 pretty quickly, and a few moves later had achieved the following crushing position - although only drew through inadequate technique. Lack of experience on both sides - White not imagining the positional trouble he could get into, Black not being able to take advantage of the trouble.



The Intermediate Player at work in the Endgame

Example: Blackmore - Isaac (116) (3), 1995


Black to move

Move chosen: draw agreed
Better move(s): 33...e4, 33...c4

Black has generally better pieces and two Bishops, while White has little play. Either pawn move gives the Black Knight a superb post.

Good reading for Intermediate players:

Repertoire books e.g. Winning with...

Think/Play like a Grandmaster - Kotov

Rate Your Endgame - Mednis/Crouch

Test Your Chess IQ (Book 1) - Livshitz

The Middle Game (I/II) - Euwe and Kramer

Simple Chess - Michael Stean

{B} Major BCF 120-150 (1560-1800 ELO)

Major players usually have a well-worked-out opening repertoire and can set their opponents problems in each phase of the game. Even 200-grade players cannot dismiss the better Major contenders as easy prey.

  There are standard plans and "clockwork" attacks which the Major player understands and plays well. Where a solid formation is adopted there is usually also a view to some flexibility and keeping the pieces at least potentially active. They will seek counterplay and know how to limit the play of their opponents. They usually notice all the relevant features of the position even if they choose the wrong move/plan.


The Major player at their best:

Abbott,M - Rudall,D (Exeter vs. Teignmouth, 1994)

1. d4 d6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. e4 Bg7 5. Be2 O-O 6. Bg5 Nbd7 7. Nf3 c5 8. d5 a6 9. a4 Qa5 10. O-O Qc7 11. Qd2 Re8 12. Bf4



White inaugurates the standard attack and Black is crushed without mercy.

12...Nh5 13. Bh6 Ndf6 14. Bxg7 Nxg7 15. h3 Rf8 16. Qh6 Qb6 17. Rab1 Qc7 18. Ng5 Nge8 19. f4 Bd7 20. e5 Bf5 21. exf6 Nxf6 22. Rbd1 Qb6 23. Rd2 Qb4 24. g4 Bc8 25. Nce4 Rd8 26. Nxf6+ exf6 27. Qxh7+ Kf8 28. Qxf7# 1-0


The Major Player at work in the Opening

Example: Regis-Rivett, 1977

1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4



Black to move

Move chosen: 5... Bd7
Better move(s): 5...Bf5, 5...Na6, 5...Bb4

This is an interesting attempt in a well-known position. I suspect all three 'book' moves were known to Black, but chose this 'inferior' alternative in order to set White a problem: how to recover the c-pawn? I still think the move is a mistake, but it is an intelligent one.


The Major Player at work in the Middle Game

Example: Tart-Regis, 1996


Black to move

Move chosen: 14...O-O (15. Nf6+)
Better move(s): 14...h6 (15. Bf6 O-O)

The alternative continuation does concede the dark-squared Bishop but that is not fatal. Why did Black imagine he would be able to survive the Knight coming in on f6? Because there was no refutation within the horizon of Black's analysis. This failure of vision is I think typical, and results from lack of experience in attacking/defensive positions.


The Major Player at work in the Endgame

Example: Regis-Greet, 1995


White to move

Move chosen: 44. Kf4 and offered draw
Better move(s): 44. Kf4 and glare at opponent.

This is, of course, completely won for White...

  44. Kf4 Ra3 45. Ke5 Kf7

[or 45... Rxc3 46. Kf6 h6 47. Kg6 Kf8 48. f6]

  46. Ra7+ Ke8 47. Ke6 Kd8 48. f6

  Post-time-control nerves played a part here, but also lack of confidence in the analysis or technique of the endgame. [At each level I looked at I found examples of games just stopping with a draw in a won endgame.]


Good reading for Major players:

Specialist monographs e.g. The Complete...

Practical Chess Endings - Keres

Batsford Chess Endings - Speelman et al.

Secrets of Grandmaster Play - Nunn/Griffiths

  Reading as for intermediate players too.


{A} County BCF 150-180 (1800-2040 ELO)

The County player is an alert player of openings - they will often know some of the theory outside their own repertoire, and play their own lines with some depth - in fact, they play any sort of position pretty well.

  They are beginning to master the art of analysis, being able to sustain assessment of a main line with variations throughout a tactical game, and in complex positions can isolate a theme and crystallise it. They defend much better than weaker players and swindle well.

  In the endgame they do know a bit of theory, and can calculate well enough to improvise a strategy for unknown positions. How often I have embarked optimistically on a slightly worse endgame against county-strength players, only to be ground down without mercy. I often feel there are three games to be played at this level before you can secure the whole or half- point: once in the opening, middle and endgame.

  Obviously there are still things that separate the lower from the higher (approaching 200) boards of county teams: things like judging positions on their merits rather than by analogy, and the coordination of their pieces. And of course, all the common threads (depth of analysis, thinking for the opponent, knowledge of theory) can all be expected to be stronger in the better player.

The County player at their best:

Peter Lane - Einar Einarsson (1995)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. e4 g6 7. f4 Bg7 8. Bb5+ Nfd7 9. a4 O-O 10. Nf3 Re8

  a mistake, said Peter

11. O-O Na6 12. f5!

  An unobvious move - Agust queried it, but Peter knew it was a winner.

12... Nb4 13. Bg5 Qc7 14. f6 Bf8 15. Qd2 Qd8 16. Bh6 Qxf6 17. e5



17... Rxe5

[17... dxe5 18. Bxf8 Rxf8 19. Ne4]

18. Nxe5 Bxh6 19. Rxf6 Bxd2 20. Nxd7 a6 21. Nb6 1-0

  A crush against a strong opponent.


The County Player at work in the Opening

Example: Peter Lane - RJJ Gibbons, Exeter vs. Kingston, 1995

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 O-O (too early?) 7. Bd3 d6 8. Ne2 Qc7 9. e4 e5 10. O-O



Black to move

Move chosen: 10...Nc6
Better move(s): 10...Ne8

This is the difference between a general and a specific understanding of the position. Generally, ...Nc6 is the right sort of idea. But White's opening (with Ne2 rather than Nf3) is too dangerous for normal methods, so ...Ne8 and f5 was called for. I think even if you don't know what White has in mind (if you haven't been playing the Nimzo long) I would expect a good County player to see f2-f4-f5 coming and do something about it.


The County Player at work in the Middle Game

Example: Timms-Regis 1996


Black to move

Move chosen: 15...Nf4

It's not a very hard move to spot or play, but it was necessary to envisage the forcing game continuation:

15... Nf4 16. Bxf4 exf4 17. Ne6 Bxe6 18. dxe6 Bxc3 19. bxc3 Qe7 20. Re1 Nc6 and ...Ne5

  I think White had seen the Knight coming in to e6 and just jumped at the chance without really thinking it through; Black however anticipated the line in its entirety. When you can regularly see main lines like this and assess the resulting positions properly then you can expect good results against club players.


The County Player at work in the Endgame

Example: French-Greely, 1996


Black to move

Move chosen: 41...d4

and we saw only seven more moves: 42.cxd4+ exd4 43.Kd3 Kb4 44.Kd2 Re4 45.Kc2 Re3 46.Rg1 Rxb3 47.a5 bxa5 48.Ra1 Rc3+ 0-1


At last a won endgame which was won! How did you react when you saw the diagrammed position? Did you think White not much worse (level material)? Or did you think Black had a straightforward win? Black has a number of advantages which add up to a win: better King, better Rook, central control and a passed pawn. I think when you have the control and understanding to win these technical positions, you are well on your way to being a classy player.

  French,P (1890) - Greely,P (1840)

  Major Plate [DR]

  1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Bg5 Be7 7.f4 h6?! 8.Bh4 Nc6?! [8...Nxe4! 9.Bxe7 Nxc3 10.Bxd8 Nxd1 11.Bc7 Ne3 12.Bxd6=]

  9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.e5 Nd5 11.Bxe7 Qxe7 12.exd6 Qxd6 13.Nxd5 cxd5 14.Bb5+ Bd7 15.Bxd7+ Qxd7 16.0-0 Qb5 17.Qd4 Qb6 18.Rad1 Rc8 19.Qxb6 axb6 20.c3 Ke7 21.f5 Rhd8 22.fxe6 fxe6 23.Rf3 Rf8 24.Rdf1 Rxf3 25.Rxf3 e5 26.Kf2 Ke6 27.Ke2 g5 28.g4 Ke7 29.Rf5 Ke6 30.h3 Ra8 31.a3 Rc8 32.h4 Rg8 33.h5 Rc8 34.Rf2 Rc4 35.Rg2 Rf4 36.Ke3 Re4+ 37.Kd3 Rf4 38.a4 Kd6 39.Rg3 Kc6 40.Ke2 Kc5 41.b3 {DIAGRAM} 41...d4 42.cxd4+ exd4 43.Kd3 Kb4 44.Kd2 Re4 45.Kc2 Re3 46.Rg1 Rxb3 47.a5 bxa5 48.Ra1 Rc3+ 0-1