How to Win After a Blunder

chess pawn king Blundering your queen immediately is bad, not blundering your queen is good. As a Class B player, this truism is one that I often find myself not following. Last tournament, it was a bishop, this tournament, it was the sacred “queen blunder.” I am the 1600 player. The man who plays as often against people who have been in Class B for 40 years as against first graders whom may very well soon surpass him in chess skill if his own tactics work isn’t kept up regularly. This is the story of how I blundered my queen on move 7 and went on to win nevertheless. I played the black pieces.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "*"]
[PlyCount "12"]1. e4 Nc6 2. d4 e5 3. Nf3 exd4 4. Nxd4 Bc5 5. Be3 Qe7 6. Nc3 Nf6 $4 *[/pgn]
This mistake could easily be pawned off by me as fatigue, but it was really me thinking that 7.Nf5 wasn’t a real threat. It looked like a weird move.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b1k2r/ppppqppp/2n2n2/2b5/3NP3/2N1B3/PPP2PPP/R2QKB1R w KQkq - 0 7"]
[PlyCount "1"]7. Nf5 $1 *[/pgn]
Turns out, if a move looks weird, it doesn’t make it a bad move.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Round "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b1k2r/ppppqppp/2n2n2/2b2N2/4P3/2N1B3/PPP2PPP/R2QKB1R b KQkq - 0 7"]
[PlyCount "1"]7... Qe5 $4 *[/pgn]
“It was like when you make a move in chess and just as you take your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you've made, and there's this panic because you don't know yet the scale of disaster you've left yourself open to.” -Kazuo Ishiguro
Blundering your queen in the opening is typically bad, whereas controlling the center, developing your pieces, castling, and connecting your rooks is good. However, being the 1600 chess player and generally rash individual that I am, the openings of my long-form chess games do not always go as I plan. This was the sixth game out of six total games in a three-day weekend tournament, and I was not just tired---I was fighting the urge to check-out of my mind, the way I had just checked out of my Sheraton suite, moments before the round began.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b1k2r/pppp1ppp/2n2n2/2b1qN2/4P3/2N1B3/PPP2PPP/R2QKB1R w KQkq - 0 8"]
[PlyCount "1"]8. f4 $1 *[/pgn]
My first impulse after realizing that my queen was trapped was to immediately look at the positive side of losing this game. As a psychotherapist, this is what I’m trained to do. When playing chess though, overwhelming positivity about negative outcomes usually is not the way to go. After my first few moments of shock, I  realized that I could at least obtain two minor pieces for the queen, and I made a plan to gain compensation based on better piece development. The task before me required a radical acceptance of the current, and the building upon it to create a successful outcome for myself. After a blunder, there is no other choice but to do this, unless one plans on instead to try and pretend as if you had a good opening. For this particular game, that would have entailed saying, “okay, I have blundered my queen, but I can still castle, I can still develop my pieces, I can still create the response that I had planned before the blunder.” This type of thought after a blunder is a bad idea for a few reasons. First of all, the lines after a blunder are irrevocably different from any book lines; ergo, to continue to work from one’s book knowledge would be an exercise in futile inaccuracy. Secondly, it is unlikely one would be able to maintain a workable chess position when blundering the queen immediately in any traditional sense, but this was the task that I had set in front of me. Luckily, I had studied tactics books and have been yelled at by YouTube tactics training videos enough to prepare me for such a blunderful moment.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Round "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b1k2r/pppp1ppp/2n2n2/2b1qN2/4PP2/2N1B3/PPP3PP/R2QKB1R b KQkq - 0 8"]
[PlyCount "5"]8... Qxf5 (8... Qe6 9. Nxg7+) 9. exf5 Bxe3 10. Qe2 O-O *[/pgn]
Like a child failing a test and getting straight A’s for the rest of the year, the losing of my queen in the beginning of the game created an acceleration of drive to defeat my opponent. I was ready to fight. I knew victory was still possible, even if the engine would have undoubtedly placed me many points behind. A game in a chess tourney isn’t about how many plus or minus points on Stockfish you would be, it’s about beating your opponent, period.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b2rk1/pppp1ppp/2n2n2/5P2/5P2/2N1b3/PPP1Q1PP/R3KB1R w KQ - 0 11"]
[PlyCount "2"]11. Ne4 Re8 *[/pgn]
Having studied the attack-at-all-costs Smith-Morra Gambit from my chess instructor, I knew that if I could keep my opponent from castling, if I could keep the pressure on and could choke his high value pieces, cutting off their development and attacking relevance, and not let them grow to their full potential---like a one episode Game of Thrones character. Or a two episode Game of Thrones character. Or that one prince who died in trial-by-combat after four episodes? Actually, I forget how many he was in. At this point, it became apparent that I had a chance to keep the pressure on in a big way.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b1r1k1/pppp1ppp/2n2n2/5P2/4NP2/4b3/PPP1Q1PP/R3KB1R w KQ - 0 12"]
[PlyCount "9"]12. Nxf6+ gxf6 13. Qg4+ Kf8 14. Be2 Nd4 15. Kd1 d6 16. Bc4 $4 *[/pgn]
With the pressure on, my opponent misses the idea Bd3 to protect the f5 pawn, leading to disaster. My opponent's narrative turns tragic: Given a head start in life, our antihero blows it all, VH1 special, etcetera etcetera etcetera, you get it, tragedy for the White pieces.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b1rk2/ppp2p1p/3p1p2/5P2/2Bn1PQ1/4b3/PPP3PP/R2K3R b - - 0 16"]
[PlyCount "6"]16... Bxf5 17. Qh5 Bxc2+ 18. Ke1 Bg6 19. Qh6+ *[/pgn]
My opponent, continuing his theme of tragic decision making, puts his queen in the corner, pins his own f-pawn, and makes a meaningless check.
“Patzer sees a check, patzer gives a check. Woah, look at that check! That was an especially bad one.” –Bobby Fischer’s ghost, probably
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r3rk2/ppp2p1p/3p1pbQ/8/2Bn1P2/4b3/PP4PP/R3K2R b - - 0 19"]
[PlyCount "18"]19... Kg8 20. Kf1 d5 21. Bb5 Nxb5 22. Rd1 Re4 23. g3 Rae8 24. Rxd5 Nd4 25. Qh4
Bd2 26. Qg4 Kf8 27. Qd7 Re1+ 28. Kg2 *[/pgn]
At this point, I could've created fatal checkmating threats, but I missed it. Can you find the idea? [fen]4rk2/pppQ1p1p/5pb1/3R4/3n1P2/6P1/PP1b2KP/4r2R b - - 0 28[/fen]
Black to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "4rk2/pppQ1p1p/5pb1/3R4/3n1P2/6P1/PP1b2KP/4r2R b - - 0 28"]
[PlyCount "9"]28... R8e2+ 29. Kh3 Rxh1 {And if} 30. Rxd4 Rhxh2+ 31. Kg4 h5+ 32. Kf3 Rhf2# *[/pgn]
Instead, I played:
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "4rk2/pppQ1p1p/5pb1/3R4/3n1P2/6P1/PP1b2KP/4r2R b - - 0 28"]
[PlyCount "3"]28... Be4+ 29. Kh3 Rxh1 *[/pgn]
And, eventually, the game was won in the endgame. Despite blundering the queen, I won. Why did I win? Because, as Frank Marshall stated, “the hardest thing to do is win a won game.” When I lost my queen, I did not despair. Instead, I shifted my game strategy to one that involved getting as many pieces as possible for the queen, damaging my opponent’s position, not letting him castle, and keeping unrelenting pressure on him until I eventually won the endgame.
"A lost battle is a battle one thinks one has lost." -Jean-Paul Sartre
Eliot Rosenstock is a humorist, surrealist, post-postmodernist, and Nimzowitzian with an M.A. in Clinical Psychology.

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