Learn from the blunders of the super grandmasters

The FTX Crypto Cup was an exciting tournament where any chess player could find something to like. For me, the most appealing part of the tournament was its abundance of goofs. Yes, you read that right ! Now let me explain my point.

I noticed a long time ago that we remember big blunders much better than brilliant shots. For example, if I ever mention GM Tigran Petrosian to my students, I often hear, “Isn’t that the guy who dropped his queen all at once? Of course, they refer to the following infamous game:

You see, World Champion Petrosian has played hundreds of great plays and thousands of brilliant moves. Yet, for many less experienced players, he’s still “the guy who blundered his queen”. Why is this the case? Well, every time a strong grandmaster, or better yet, a world champion, makes a huge mistake, it gives hope to many lower rated players.

Here is their reasoning: “Yes, I make dozens of blunders every game, but that’s not so bad considering that a super grandmaster blundered a checkmate all at once. It means that I still have a chance to become a grandmaster or even the world champion one day.”

Even the solid world champion Petrosian made a mistake. Photo: Dutch National Archives, CC.

So the blunders of world champions give some comfort and hope to us mere mortals. Therefore, we remember these blunders for a long time.

I see here a great opportunity for us chess coaches. If most chess players remember the mistakes of grandmasters so well, why not turn them into learning experiences? Let’s start with the biggest blunder of the tournament, where a super-talented player checkedmate in one move.

It’s a quick game, so blunders are inevitable, but I guess one of the contributing factors was white winning. It’s quite similar to the Petrosian game above and quite typical for many players: when we have a winning position, we tend to lose our sense of danger. Thinking that “the game is almost over already” isn’t exactly what helps you focus better. As a result, blunders in a completely winning position are quite common in chess.

Here is another case of incredible blunder:

How could a super GM love Alireza Firouzja make such a mistake in a basic position? By the way, if you think the position isn’t really basic, check out the next game. This is how a chess player who has 500 points less than Firouzja easily drew. The position is so simple that he unfortunately had no chance of being wrong. Why did I say “Unfortunately”? Alright, here’s the game:

So why did Firouzja make a mistake in such a basic final? Yes, he didn’t have a lot of time on his clock, but if you know that theoretical position, then you should get a draw without too much trouble, especially considering the game had an increment. Let’s take a look at the match, which was played three days later!

Again, Firouzja had the same rook ending with rook and bishop pawns, and again it’s a theoretical draw. The first basic research on this endgame was done by GM Mikhail Botvinnik in 1949. He recommended keeping the black rook at a1, where it can check both horizontally and vertically.

It’s very difficult to hold finals like this when you have seconds on the clock. Nevertheless, knowing the key ideas makes it possible. It seems to me that somehow Firouzja overlooked this specific endgame study; so the result. This is not the first time that a chess player, whom I call a future world champion, has missed a basic endgame. I think this could be a major area for improvement. Meanwhile, if a former world number two made such basic mistakes, we would all greatly benefit from studying the finals!

GM Alireza Firouzja
Firouzja will certainly remember this endgame. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

As we talk about world number two players, former GM second-best player Levon Aronian immediately comes to mind. In this tournament, he made a mistake that I don’t remember seeing in grandmaster games! Judge by yourself :

It’s just an amazing sequence of moves. First, by playing 67.Bd2??, White offers to exchange his h4 pawn for Black’s f4 pawn. It goes without saying that these pawns do not have the same value. While winning the f4-pawn gives White absolutely nothing since his own f3-pawn will never become a setter, Black’s h5-pawn immediately becomes a passed outside pawn, which should quickly decide the game.

Levon Aronian
Former world number two Aronian blundered not once but twice in a game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

To my amazement, Duda didn’t accept the offer but played 67…Rd7??, allowing White to fix his mistake by playing 68.Be1. Instead, Aronian insisted on the trade and as a result the game was pretty much over right away.

My only explanation for Duda’s howling 67…Rd7 is that he expected 67.Bf2 and simply pre-moved. Otherwise, I don’t know what to think of this double blunder. Either way, this is an incredible example of two super grandmasters failing the ABC of Endgames.

The purpose of this article is not to make fun of super GMs. In fact, I still believe that Firouzja will become world champion one day. As I mentioned above, the bigger a mistake, the easier it is for chess players to learn from it. Therefore, at the very least, I’m sure that from now on, you, my dear readers, will never again give an opponent passed pawns outside of endgames.

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