What Is The Best Online Chess Time Control?

What Is The Best Online Chess Time Control?

| 263 | Fun & Trivia

It's difficult to get a large group of chess players to agree on anything, and time controls are probably not the exception. Could the chess community come together, though, to select the best online time control from a short list of choices? 

A while back, a poll sought to answer this very question, and no single time control received more than 31 percent of the vote.

So let's add some totally subjective clarity to this question by ranking the options from worst to best. The criteria: solely my personal judgment.

Before we get started, a note on increments: They were not included in the poll options, and while they might be a good idea for super-grandmasters who've memorized complicated and esoteric endgames (like king-and-rook vs. king), I generally dislike them for online play—because there is nothing sweeter than flagging your opponent in a hopeless position.

6. Two hours

Two hours? I can't believe this is an option. It gives me a jolt of anxiety to even ponder the existence of a two-hour online time control.

Remember, chess time controls are for each side, so if you choose a two-hour game you could potentially be playing for four hours. Does your battery even last that long, or are you one of those aristocrats with plug-in chargers?

I choose to believe that the 10 percent of the poll respondents who selected this option all misclicked. It's the only logical explanation.

Imagine you're playing such a game. You make a move and start watching reruns of The Office while your opponent thinks. You could potentially watch five full episodes before it's your move again. Sure, you were going to watch five Office reruns anyway, but that has nothing to do with chess.

5. 30 minutes

This is a much more reasonable option if you want to play at a glacial pace. I don't think I've ever played a game this slowly, but I can see the appeal of having the luxury of deep analysis if one had the basic attention span necessary to perform it (clearly, I do not).

A 30-minute game will wrap up in an hour or less, which means you could play it on your lunch break if you don't mind eating at the same time.

With 30 minutes on your clock, you could even think about more than one candidate move as you play. I can only imagine that is a helpful thing.

4. Five minutes

This is a time control that isn't quite sure what it wants to be. It's pretty slow for blitz, but it's definitely still blitz. You're not likely to flag in a simple endgame, but you could find yourself in time trouble in a complicated middlegame.

Something just feels off about this time control. How quickly do you play the opening? Should you ever premove or even hover your pieces?

Listen, just because we have five fingers doesn't mean five minutes is a good time control for a chess game. I think this time control is much more suited to over-the-board blitz, where you have to toil mightily, moving physical pieces.

Save the five-minute games for the IRL tournament skittles room, once normal society resumes itself from the current apocalyptic hellscape.

3. 10 minutes

Now this is an enjoyable online time control. You've got plenty of time to think, yet the game will conclude in no more than 20 minutes. It was the leading vote-getter in the poll, and it's not hard to understand why. 10-minute chess is just pleasant.

If you've made yourself a cup of coffee, this is the ideal game to sip and play. If you find your coffee growing cold, you've arrived at the endgame. That's probably in a chess textbook somewhere.

This is also a great time control for playing on mobile phones, where you don't really have to worry about if your opponent has the latest $200 laser gaming mouse to flag you. You could win by—get this—actually playing better moves. It's a revolutionary concept, but it just might catch on.

2. One minute

True bullet chess. One minute. No increment. No fluff. No crying. Can you checkmate me in 60 seconds? Well, if you're GM Hikaru Nakamura, you definitely can.

But how many people reading this are Hikaru Nakamura? At most, one.

Traditionalists are eager to point out the degree of luck in one-minute chess, but luck is a strange word for what's really going on. Bullet chess combines not only tactics and strategy, but also speed, dexterity, daring and bluster.

The clock is as much a factor in bullet chess as the board and pieces. Would you rather be up 10 seconds in time or up a rook? I know what I'd prefer, and I am not telling you just in case we are ever matched in a bullet game together.

Besides, you can actually learn and improve your bullet chess skills. There is even a very helpful video on how to flag your opponent. 

1. Three minutes

This is the sweet spot for online chess. There's non-stop action, yet you have time to play a coherent game from start to finish. It's also one of the most liquid time control pools in online chess, so you just click that 3/0 button and within seconds you've got six minutes during which you don't have to think about your life. And isn't that what chess really is all about?

Three minutes seem designed for the game of online chess. You've got to move quickly, but you can't just make bad moves and hope to flag your opponent. That might work in bullet, but with three minutes, they'll figure out how to beat you.

Yet the beauty of three-minute chess is that a mistake isn't fatal. If you lose a pawn in a two-hour game, you might as well resign. But in three minutes, you can mount a comeback if you play sharp, aggressive, and strong moves.

Take a look at the blitz leaderboard. Three-minute games are favored by the best players in the world, and for good reason.

The next time you start a game of three-minute chess, take a moment to savor the fact that you're playing the best possible online chess time control. But don't savor it too long—after all, you've got just three minutes.

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