Here are my top 10 favorite blunders made in world chess championship matches. The word blunder is too harsh a term but is commonly used in chess to describe almost any kind of oversight or miscalculation. By favorite, I mean that I could understand the mistake (many mistakes made by chess grandmasters are much too subtle to be understood by average chess players), the mistake was interesting, and it was taken advantage of by the opponent. In the recent 2014 match between V. Anand and M. Carlsen, Carlsen made a huge mistake but Anand did not see it so it’s not included here. It was that mistake which prompted me to review previous championship matches for other mistakes.
A world chess championship match has been held every few years since the late 1800s. Although there have been disputes and chaos, the list of more or less official world champions has 16 members: Wilhelm Steinitz (1886), Emanual Lasker (1894), J.R. Capablanca (1921), Alexander Alekhine (1927), Max Euwe (1935), Mikhail Botvinnik (1948), Vasily Smyslov (1957), Mikhail Tal (1960), Tigran Petrosian (1963), Boris Spassky (1969), Bobby Fisher (1972), Anatoly Karpov (1975), Garry Kasparov (1985), Vladimir Kramnik (2000), Vishwanathan Anand (2008), and Magnus Carlsen (2013).
World chess championship games are played at an unbelievably high level, but even so, mistakes that an average chess player can understand are sometimes made. Here is my list of mistakes, in chronological order.
1. Lasker vs. Steinitz (1894, Game 5). In the diagrammed position below, Steinitz has just played 41… Qd7. Lasker won a queen immediately with 42. Qg1+ d4 43. Qg5+ Qd5 44. Rf5.
2. Capablanca vs. Lasker (1921, Game 5). In the diagrammed position below, Lasker has just moved his king out of check with 45… Kf8. Capablanca won a knight immediately with 46. Qb8+ Ke7 47. Qe5+ QxQ 48. RxQ+ followed by RxN.
3. Bronstein vs. Botvinnik (1951, Game 6). In the diagrammed position below, Bronstein with the white pieces, instead of moving his knight with Ne6+ followed by Nd4 to stop black’s advanced pawn, has just played 57. Kc2. But Botvinnik won with 57… Kg3! (instead of Kf3) and the pawn cannot be stopped.
4. Tal vs. Botvinnik (1960, Game 7). In the diagrammed position below, Botvinnik has just played 25… Bg6. Tal won quickly with 26. Rxd7+ Nxd7 27. Rxd7+ Kxd7 28. Nf6+ forking king and rook, ending up a piece ahead.
5. Petrosian vs. Spassky (1969, Game 14). In the diagrammed positioon below, Spassky has just advanced his king with 43… Ke4. Petrosian played 44. f3+ Kxe3 45. Rd2 threatening Re2 mate. To escape, Spassky gave up his rook for a knight with Rb3+ and, surprisingly, was able to draw the game.
6. Spassky vs. Fisher (1972, Game 1). In the diagrammed position below, Fisher has just captured white’s rook pawn with 29… Bxh2. Spassky traps and wins the bishop with 30. g3 followed by Ke2, Kf3, Kg2. This game shocked the chess world.
7. Karpov vs. Korchnoi (1981, Game 2). In the diagrammed position below, Korchnoi has just made the move 34… f6 to free his bishop. Karpov pounced with 35. Rxa7 winning a free pawn because the rook cannot be recaptured because of 35… Qxa7 36. Qxe6+ Kh7 37. Qxc8 winning a knight.
8. Karpov vs. Kasparov (1990, Game 7). In the diagrammed position below, Kasparov has just played 27… Qa5. Karpov won a bishop with 28. Nd5 because if 28… Qxd2 29. Nxf6+ Kg2 30. Bxd2 and the knight on f6 is now protected by the rook on f1.
9. Anand vs. Gelfand (2012, Game 8). In the diagrammed position below, Gelfand has just played 16… Qxh1 after a three move combination. Gelfand missed that Anand could play 17. Qf2 trapping black’s queen in the corner with no escape. This was the shortest championship game in history.
10. Carlsen vs. Anand (2014, Game 2). In the diagrammed position below, Anand has just played 34… h5. Carlsen won immediately with 35. Qb7 threatening Rxg7+ followed by mate, to which there is no defense.
11. Carlsen vs. Karjakin (2016, Rapid Playoff Game 4). In the diagrammed position below, Carlsen with white had played 49. Rc8+ and Karjakin replied 49… Kh7. Karjakin is now threatening to mate Carlsen and there’s no defense — except Carlsen has 50. Qh6+! which mates Karjakin first! (If 50… KxQ then Rh8 mate, and if gxh6 then Rxf7 mate). A great finish to a tense and thrilling world championship match.