When we make mistakes we have plenty of reasons (or excuses) for doing so. Shortness of time, missing a strong reply, or choosing the wrong plane, are just some of the more serious reasons. Feeling sick, assuming the opponent was weak, or being distracted by the lighting, are some of the less serious ones.
Now a study has looked at possible cause for why we blunder. "Assessing Human Error Against The Benchmark of Perfection" analysed over 20 million games between amateur players, and 1 million Grandmaster games to determine under what conditions mistakes were made. The paper identified three main indicators of blunders, but came up with a somewhat surprising conclusion.
The three major factors were
- Shortness of time
- Skill level of the player
- Complexity of the position
Shortness of time seems obvious, although it appears that once you have taken more than 10 seconds to make a decision, the chances of blundering drop off. Skill level is also pretty straight forward, in that stronger players blunder less. That leaves the complexity of the position, which the authors believe is the major factor in whether a player makes a mistake or not.
As suggested in this article which summarises the paper, this conclusion probably requires more testing. If the claim holds up, it may explain why players like Lasker and Tal seemingly 'hypnotised' their opponents into losing, as both relied on keeping the game complicated. Of course such a strategy may backfire, but or players looking to close the gap with stronger opponents, this may be a new approach to improvement.