Playing Blitz

Playing Blitz

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People often ask me if they should play blitz, how helpful it is in terms of improving in chess. Experts’ views on this differ. Those who enjoy playing blitz often claim that it is very useful, and serves as an indicator of a chess player’s skills. Others, like Botvinnik, look down on this time control and prefer “not to waste time on entertainment.”

Nonetheless, nowadays time controls are getting shorter and tie-breaks more popular. Thus even skeptics have to take blitz more seriously. For example, it was quite surprising that Topalov was determined to avoid tie-breaks in the last WC match against Anand, and totally neglected his rapid and blitz preparation. It is no secret that Vishy is better at shorter time controls, but why give your opponent such a psychological advantage?

Let me offer you a few recommendations on blitz. Of course, none of us is perfect, I don’t follow all of them myself, but at least I’m trying:

1)    Treat blitz as a way of revising your openings. If you see that you don’t remember the plan and moves in a familiar position, here is your reason to go over your preparation once again after the game.
2)    Play a few games and stop to analyze them. Pay special attention to mistakes and gaps in preparation. This is easy to do if you’re playing online since all the moves are stored automatically. In otb chess the problem is that you might not be able to memorize all the games you have played. Therefore, you should either play less games before taking a break to record them, or improve your memory.
3)    If you haven’t played chess for a long time, you can try to regain your chess shape with the help of a few blitz games. Sometimes it’s extremely helpful.
4)    If you feel you are playing badly (compared with your regular level), try to relax and forget about revenge. Return to blitz some other day when your mood and chess shape are better. This way you will save rating points or money (if you are playing for a stake, which I avoid doing).
5)    Blitz requires extreme concentration. Before an important blitz event one should sleep well, prepare psychologically and consume enough food to last through all the rounds.
6)    Don’t mess with park players, chess hustlers. They have lots of dirty tricks up their sleeve: “acting like noobs,” fixing the clocks, chess-bluffing, provocation, etc. – all aimed at separating you from your money.

Conflicts are much more widespread in blitz than in classical chess. Here and there you can see someone queening the wrong way, trying to win rook vs rook, etc. In my opinion, chess wins are not worth risking the comfort of your conscience. I don’t understand people who love playing on time in dead drawn positions only because they have 2-3 seconds more on the clock. Naturally, emotions overflow, everyone wants to win, but, after all, one should act human.

Blitz is very addictive. When 15-year old Bobby Fischer came to the USSR and visited the legendary Central Chess House in Moscow, he ended up playing blitz for hours against the Soviet masters. As a result, Petrosian was summoned during the night to defend the honor of Soviet chess. Other opponents were no good against the American chess legend…

Later on Fischer proved his addictedness to blitz by occasionally playing Tal all night long.  Mikhail recalled that once Fischer came to his hotel room after the end of a tournament and said: “I have packed up my suitcases and bought a ticket for a plane, but I am ready to return it if you agree to stay for a blitz marathon.”

Performance in blitz is unstable: one day you may score great against a certain field, and the other day fail.  We could see that during the last Blitz World Championship. After the first day Anatoly Karpov made the news by emerging in the leading group, but finished the event in the “cellar” of the tournament table.

It is well-known that young brains think faster than old. Therefore, most top blitz players are young men. Women’s results are way more modest. Misogynists believe that women don’t know how to play blitz at all. Some even say the same about chess in general. Nonetheless, when Judit Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk received special invitations to compete at the World Blitz Championship last year, they upset quite a few top players, and scored decently overall.

While most blitz games take place online, I don’t like the idea of holding online chess events with prizes. As one can trace by reviewing the standings of the traditional Dos Hermanas tournament held annually at ICC, scandals occur all the time. Rating favorites (2700+ FIDE players with online ratings of 3400—3700) somehow get eliminated by relatively unknown IMs and GMs rated 2900-3000 ICC. Of course, this leads to complaints from leading world blitz experts – including the #1 US player Hikaru Nakamura – that their opponents have computer assistance. The anti-cheating methods which are supposed to prevent it don’t work out that well. One may disqualify the innocent, or leave someone’s misdoings unpunished (rewarded, in fact!). This spoils the impression of the event. As to female chess competitions, things are even trickier. Here one’s boyfriend/husband/friend may play for the girl, and the anti-cheating control won’t help at all. This factor is just one reason for my decision not to play in the recent qualifier for the World Women Blitz Championship Semi-Final held at PlayChess. Others include: that I have already qualified (with FIDE rating over 2350), that I prefer trying to conceal my preparation, and that I rather give lower-rated female players a chance to qualify.  By the way, after 8 rounds of the event the tournament software started malfunctioning, and all the participants (including a few top-20 players in the world) were kindly asked to “come back tomorrow and restart from round 1.” No comments.

The championship itself will take place in Moscow in October, just before the Chess Olympiad. Don’t miss it! ;-)

To end the story about blitz on a positive note, let me share with you a game from the 1st World Mind Sports Games in 2008 where our Russian team won gold. One day before the tournament I felt my shape was not good enough, and decided to play a training blitz match online against my second IM Vlad Akselrod. Initially I lost a few games, but then got angry (in the sports sense) and struck back. As a result, I was prepared well enough to win all 11 games the next day and score a nearly 3000 performance against a rather strong field (see the table):

Final Ranking after 11 Rounds

Name Rtg Team Pts. Games % Bo. Rp
1 RUS WGM Pogonina Natalija 2474 Russia 11,0 11 100,0 2 2941
2 VIE WFM Pham Le Thao Nguyen 2304 Vietnam 9,5 11 86,4 2 2547
3 RUS WFM Gunina Valentina 2381 Russia 9,5 11 86,4 3 2525
4 MGL WIM Anhchimeg Bayanmonh 2146 Mongolia 9,5 11 86,4 3 2490
5 RUS GM Kosteniuk Alexandra 2525 Russia 8,5 11 77,3 1 2486
6 CHN WGM Ruan Lufei 2496 China 8,0 8 100,0 4 2855
7 CHN WGM Huang Qian 2430 China 8,0 9 88,9 3 2591
8 CHN WGM Hou Yifan 2578 China 8,0 10 80,0 1 2563
9 HUN WGM Gara Anita 2312 Hungary 8,0 11 72,7 2 2463
10 IND IM Harika Dronavalli 2462 India 8,0 11 72,7 2 2454
11 UKR WGM Zdebskaja Natalia 2419 Ukraine 8,0 11 72,7 2 2411
12 ENG IM Houska Jovanka 2399 England 7,5 10 75,0 1 2337
13 SWE WIM Andersson Christin 2132 Sweden 7,5 10 75,0 2 2321
14 AUS IM Berezina Irina 2252 Australia 7,5 11 68,2 1 2431
15 BLR WIM Azarova Nadezhda 2308 Belarus 7,5 11 68,2 1 2338
16 CHN GM Zhao Xue 2518 China 7,0 9 77,8 1 2511
17 PHI
Cua Sherily 2143 Philippines 7,0 10 70,0 1 2406
18 IND IM Tania Sachdev 2425 India 7,0 11 63,6 1 2390
19 IRI WIM Pourkashiyan Atousa 2241 Iran 7,0 11 63,6 2 2268
20 ITA
Panella Fiammetta 2004 Italy 6,5 9 72,2 3 2118

The full tournament table is available here  

Here is one of the games I played at the event against WIM Arianne Caoili (more known for being Levon Aronian’s girlfriend and a notable person in chess beauty contests):


Good luck in your blitz games! Wink

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