A Week in Chicago, Part 1

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Apr 2, 2014

I recently participated in an IM norm tournament in Chicago. This was an unusual kind of tournament for me - and you might find it strange that a tournament for international master norms would have grandmasters. Most of the tournaments in which I have played have been open, Swiss-style tournaments. In fact I have only played a handful of round-robin tournaments in my life. The organizer of this particular tournament wanted to increase the rating average of the tournament, which is why he invited two GMs (myself and GM Mikheil Kekelidze).

I hadn't actually played much chess this year - in fact, prior to this one, the only tournament I had competed in was the Liberty Bell Open. The truth is that my experience in the Liberty Bell Open- and in a couple tournaments in the fall of 2013 - pretty much killed my desire to play in U.S. tournaments. The conditions have declined rapidly in the last couple of years (not that they were very good to start with), and the atmosphere was completely undignified and unpleasant.

Liberty Bell | Image Wikipedia

Playing in a small round-robin such as this one was like a breath of fresh air, even if most of my opponents were lower-rated players. Still, before we started, I was concerned about whether I would be able to maintain any kind of motivation to play in a tournament with no prizes.

In the first round these worries seemed to be real when I couldn't really make myself care about the game properly, made an early opening inaccuracy, and only drew as white against FM Monokroussos (to be fair, he did play well). But in the next few rounds, I managed to get into the tournament, with wins against the young players Gopal Menon, FM Awonder Liang (the world under ten champion!) and FM Eric Rosen.

It was this last game against the young Chicago player Rosen with which I wanted to begin this short series. This was hardly the best game I have played, and certainly not the most accurate. But it was a fascinating and creative game - an enormous battle full of intrigue.

It began like this:

An unusual kind of Benoni led to this sharp position. Now White threatens 27.Bb6. My original intention had been 26...Nxd5, but this could be met by 27.Qb3. Therefore I began to look at a shocking move, which allowed White to go ahead and trap the queen anyway...

Black has two pieces for the queen and a very active position, but White is threatening the rook and hoping to return the queen by capturing on d4. While Black will be up the exchange in that case, White will have several pawns and be out of danger. Instead, a surprise followed.

An unusual, varied, and creative game, I think. Naturally I was very relieved to win it even after committing errors which threw away an easy win. But now a small comment about the time control, which was 90 minutes for each side, with a thirty second increment - what has become the standard time control for international chess:

The players spent 70(!) moves playing solely on the increment. That is 70 moves - over an hour, since each side gets 30 seconds more per move - sitting at the board, in constant tension, unable to get up or relax for a moment, always having to worry about overstepping the time limit. This would never happen under the traditional, non-increment time control - even a shorter one, such as two hours for the whole game.

Of course, this game was unusually long, but even if just the moves 40-60 had been played under these conditions, it would not be good. I am not normally the kind of player to get in time pressure - but this time control brings everybody into time pressure. 

Game Clock | Image Wikipedia

Personally, I believe the increment has not improved chess. I think it leads to poor endgame play and lots of false results, which causes unhappy emotions and a lack of artistic accomplishment. I think it would be better to have more time devoted to the overall time control, and no increment. There are good reasons why chess was never played on an "x seconds per move" basis, and the players were instead given a certain amount of time for the entire game. For one thing, some moves are more difficult than others.

Having had plenty of experience with the '90/30' time control, I can assure you that a large number of games are decided in these long periods of play with only thirty seconds a move. By devoting more time to the increment and less time to the general time control, this is assured to happen. I would prefer to have fifteen minutes on the clock for the rest of the game and be able to solve the problems with relative peace, than have one minute on the clock but get thirty seconds a move added - under those conditions, a player just cannot think. 

Naturally, I understand that it is hard to change this now that it has been established, but I hope at least some people will start to consider whether or not the increment is a good thing. I have heard some other strong players say that they also do not like the increment. I am just asking that you think back to your experiences with increment and without, compare them, and if you prefer the latter, then speak up.



  • 2 years ago


    Benoni Counter-Blast is looking for a few good Benoni players.
  • 3 years ago


    completely agree with z99j

  • 3 years ago


    What do you mean when you say the atmosphere  of U.S tournaments is "undignified" and the conditions have declined over the years?

    Also, I prefer increment to standard time. With the normal time that used delay instead, the time pressure was 10x more tense. Because of increment, you are guaranteed at least a 30 second think on every move.

  • 3 years ago


    Honestly I see your points about increment but im positivly sure it does more good than bad som masters even famous ones like Ivanchuk/Grisenchuk might agree but thats because thats just the way they play consuming a lot of time. There are lots more masters who love increment as a 2nd chance type thing to get back into the game and I personally and im sure others play better with increment. Just some 2 cent advice but sounds like you just need to learn to get use to playing better under pressure I don't think theres a problem with increment times at all overall your problem with it just sounds like a perspective thing its different for everyone.

  • 3 years ago


    Honestly, i can't see how G/120 is better than 90 30 in terms of time pressure.  If you know you want to have time for a long think or a bio break in the ending in both systems that onus is on you to save such time.  On the other hand 90 30 at least affords you the comfort that you will have 30 seconds per move for the ending if you do wind up needing to play a 100 move ending that you didn't save any time for.

    As for classical TC, I've seen far more game-changing scrambles in the chess i've viewed that runs 40/120 20/60 in trying to make move 40 than i've seen messed up endings in 90 30, but i suspect the real issue there is total game time in a world where even 90 30 is often considered too slow and rapid tournaments are becoming more popular.

  • 3 years ago


    I still like the old fashion time control. Undignified? I agree. I would like to see a tournament where a dress code is required. I always admire players wearing a blazer/jacket and a tie, although I would settle for a blazer as a requirement. I remember a tournament where I faced a player that smells like a sewer and dressed as if he came from the dumps.

    Let's bring some prestige and dignity to the game!

  • 3 years ago


    I didn't complain about new time control until I switched to good old Ruy Lopez as Black. You know this stuff better than me: black does some shuffling including backward moves (Re8, Bf8, Nb8, sometimes Nd8) and if things go well, launches a counterpunch when White's attack goes out of steam. Games played in such a manner are tense, incredibly interesting and... time consuming. And I hate the feeling when a decisive moment occurs about move 30-35 and both players have less than 20 minutes on the clock. It's possible that some modern openings (i.e. open Sicilians with opposite castling) are better suited for current time control, but I don't feel comfortable with them.

  • 3 years ago


    I'm old-school. Miss using clocks that actually have a flag. The ticking was soothing and everyone knew how to set them. I see people (including myself) fumbling with digital clocks at every tournament so, no, I don't think that they've helped the game at all.

    I played in a tournament last weekend. In one my opponent (a master) set the 2nd time control incorrectly. In my last round my new DGT clock decided to wig out and jump to the 2nd time control after 36 moves (move counter wasn't bening used and we both had time remaining.

    Time for a new clock ...

  • 3 years ago

    FM Thunder_Penguin


    Played in the same tourney, didn't get into time trouble. 


    IDK, maybe I don't feel like playing 6 hours of chess per round. I like the time control the way it is, but I would like 2 hours + 30 seconds per move.

  • 3 years ago


    increment helped me in an end game . just think that how do you feel when you lose on time when you are about to win 

  • 3 years ago


    Excellent stuff!

  • 3 years ago


    I dont like the increment. Two hours for the whole game is enough, or 120/40 moves and 1 hour to the end.

  • 3 years ago


    i live 45 minutes from chicago

  • 3 years ago

    FM gauranga

    I also don't play anymore. And yes that increment is not good for many reasons. No time even for a bathroom run!Surprised

  • 3 years ago

    IM MEsserman

    Great critique of the "standard" 30 second increment Bryan and how it has not helped chess!  I agree 100%. 

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    great game!! I am amazed!!

  • 3 years ago


    Congrats on winning a great game, GM Smith!


    For an amateur like me this kind of level is kind of intimidating. Still, I admire your skill and the skills of modern masters and the way chess knowledge and techniques advanced over the years. Kudos!



    Understanding the clock issue was a lot easier Laughing and I agree with your arguments about it. On the other hand, the fast moves might be good for spectators and hence popularization of the game. Imagine broadcasters going live after players reach the increment. It would provide exciting entertainment that.

  • 3 years ago


    would you please elaborate on how the " atmosphere (of US tournaments) was completely undignified and unpleasant" ? I'm curious...

  • 3 years ago


    I was there the night you played David Peng.  I'm hoping that game winds up in the series because I thought that endgame was relatively interesting.

    It seemed like there were b pawns hanging forever in that one...

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