Mistake vs Blunder in Chess: Know the Difference

In the world of chess, mistakes and blunders are two common terms used to describe bad moves.

While both terms refer to errors in judgment, there is a significant distinction between the two. If you want to improve your chess skills, it is important to understand this distinction, as it allows you to identify and address your weaknesses more effectively.

In this article, we distinguish between mistakes and blunders, providing several examples to help illustrate the concepts.

At the end of the article, we will consider some tips to help you minimize your suboptimal moves and learn from them.

This article uses algebraic notation like Qh5 and Bxb4+.

If you're not familiar with it, I suggest you read my article where I explain all about this chess notation.

Mistakes in Chess

Defining Mistakes

Some people use the term “mistake” interchangeably with “blunder”, but in the context of chess, these terms carry different meanings.

Mistakes, in a general sense, refer to moves that deviate from the best course of action. They are errors that worsen a player’s position but do not necessarily cost them the game on the spot.


In chess annotation, a mistake is denoted by a question mark (?) after the move.

Mistake annotation in chess.
Mistake annotation in chess.
Common Mistakes

Some the most common mistakes in chess include:

  • Bringing your queen out early in the game
  • Delaying piece development with unnecessary pawn moves
  • Losing tempo by moving the same piece twice in the opening
  • Launching a premature attack before adequate development

Strategic misjudgments can also be considered mistakes. These involve errors in evaluating the position — such as underestimating an opponent’s counterplay or failing to recognize the importance of a key square.

Strategic mistakes can have lasting effects on the game, but with careful play, there may still be room for recovery.

Example 1

In this position, Black made a mistake by playing Qh5.

The reason it’s a mistake is because it allows White to play Qe3+, which will force Black to move their king and lose the right to castle.

Notice how Black’s move results in no immediate material loss, but is a strategic error which makes matters worse for Black, and therefore is considered a mistake.

Example 2

In this position, White made the mistake of moving their king to f1, away from check.

The problem with this move is that it allows Black to play Re2, placing another rook on the second rank and causing all sorts of trouble for White. Instead, White should’ve played Be4, blocking the check with the bishop.

Blunders in Chess

Defining Blunders

On the other hand, blunders are critical errors that lead to significant material loss, tactical vulnerabilities, or an outright loss of the game.

You can think of a blunder as a mistake, just a terrible one.

Blunders are often characterized by overlooking straightforward threats, falling into tactical traps, or making moves that dramatically worsen the position.

Distinguishing between mistakes and blunders is crucial for assessing the gravity of errors in a chess game. If you’re analyzing your game as a beginner or early intermediate, you would ideally want to find no blunders, but may condone an occasional mistake.

The same cannot be said for top-level chess, of course. When grandmasters go head to head, one mistake may very well decide the result of the game.


In chess annotation, a blunder is denoted by the infamous two question marks (??) after the move.

Blunder annotation in chess.
Blunder annotation in chess.
Common Blunders

Some the most common blunders in chess include:

  • Hanging a piece
  • Hanging a forced checkmate, whether immediate or eventual
  • Stumbling into stalemate when in a winning position

Blunders often manifest in well-known tactical patterns, such as forks, pins, and skewers. Beginners are particularly susceptible to these tactical traps, which quite often loses them games.

Recognizing common tactical themes is essential for avoiding blunders and maintaining a solid position.

Example 1

With this queen move, Black allowed White to play Bxg7, followed by an inevitable loss of the trapped rook on h8. This definitely classifies as a blunder.

Example 2

In this position, White made the huge blunder of capturing Black’s pawn on d4.

This allows Black to play Bxb4+, forking White’s king and queen. The Black knight on c6 defends the b4 square, so capturing the bishop cannot save the queen.

This examples illustrates the importance of king safety; if White had castled earlier in the game, they would’ve moved their king away from the center and avoided this headache altogether.

Comparing the Impact of Mistakes and Blunders

Naturally, the impact of mistakes and blunders on chess games is significant.

A single mistake can lead to a positional disadvantage, which can be difficult to overcome, even against a weaker opponent.

A blunder, on the other hand, can often lead to immediate material loss or even checkmate — provided your opponent spots the opportunity and capitalizes on it. In any case, you should always assume your opponent will respond with best play.

As one would expect, statistics show that blunders are more costly than mistakes in terms of game outcomes. A study of over 100,000 chess games found that blunders led to losses over 80% of the time, while mistakes only led to losses around 60% of the time.

Some Helpful Tips

Here are a few tips that should help you minimize mistakes and blunders in your games:

Slow down: Take your time before making each move. It is better to spend a few extra minutes thinking about your move than to blunder a piece or lose a game due to a hasty decision.

In blitz games, the name of the game is to play fast. So if you’re a beginner, you may want to start with rapid games (10 or 20 minutes) rather than blitz or bullet games.

Be careful: Double-check your moves before making them. Make sure that you are not hanging any pieces or falling into any traps.

Stay focused: Avoid distractions and stay focused on the game. It is easy to make a mistake when you are not paying attention.

Don’t give up: Even if you make a mistake, don’t give up on the game and resign. Chess is a game of many possibilities and opportunities, so even if you don’t see it immediately, there may be a chance to come back and win or at least manage to save a draw.

Learning from Mistakes and Blunders

Chess players at all levels make mistakes, but the key to progress lies in learning from them.

Recognizing patterns of mistakes and understanding the underlying causes leads to consistent improvement. Beginner players, in particular, can speed up their development by focusing on the root causes of their mistakes and actively working to address them.

Blunders are especially disheartening. From first-hand experience, I can definitely tell you that.

The double question marks in red can make a grown man cry. However, blunders really serve as powerful teaching moments.

Analyzing blunders in post-game reviews with the assistance of chess engines helps players understand the consequences of critical errors. By incorporating lessons from blunders into their training regimen, players can fortify their tactical awareness and strategic understanding.

The best way to learn something is to learn it the hard way.

Wrapping Up

Distinguishing between mistakes and blunders is essential in understanding the dynamics of a chess game.

While mistakes represent deviations from optimal play, blunders are critical errors that can change the course of a game dramatically.

Of course, recognizing and minimizing mistakes are key aspects of improving your chess game, contributing to your growth and proficiency on the chessboard.

If you have any questions or insights you’d like to share, feel free to leave me a comment. I’d be more than happy to have a chat with you.

2 thoughts on “Mistake vs Blunder in Chess: Know the Difference”

  1. I never have played chess before, so it was interesting to read more about the game of chess and the details of the game.

    I enjoyed learning more about the difference between a mistake and a blunder in chess. After reading this post on chess I want to go out, and learn more about chess to the point I will be able to understand and play the game!


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