In order to improve your chess game you need to play regularly. The slower the time control the better. Why? Because you need to spend time at the board, recognizing familiar patterns and applying your knowledge to your own games. Blitz chess is fun and so is bullet, but they don’t allow you the time to deeply analyze critical positions. It is during this analysis that your chess skills begin to improve.
I’ve written a lot about the value of playing slow chess. I gets lots of e-mail from people who tell me they simply don’t have the time to play classical chess time controls. That’s fine. Blitz is too fast, slow chess takes too long. Fortunately, there is a middle-ground: rapid chess.
Rapid chess time controls are more than 10 minutes but less than 60. That is quite a range. This allows for a variety of time controls time controls designed to encourage thinking over reaction time. One of the more popular rapid settings is 15 10, or game in fifteen minutes with each move adding 10 seconds to the clock. It should be noted that 15 15 is considered classical time controls. Just a five second difference separates rapid from classical chess!
The typical rapid game takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes. It is rare to see a game taking more than an hour. In fact, of all the games I’ve played, not a single one has extended more than that.
Eat lunch, improve your chess
A lunch hour is the perfect setting to play rapid chess. There are only a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you will need to go somewhere you will not be disturbed. An outside park bench or a break room are the best places. Second, you will need to play chess on either your smartphone or a tablet. Either one is fine but you need a portable device that you can manipulate without the distractions of work in the background.
Taking a break from work is important. The good thing about playing chess is that it’s hard to think about work when you’re fighting for equality, a pawn down in a rook and pawn ending.
Slower chess = better quality
Here are a couple of games I played at work during my lunch hour. I think you’ll see the quality of play is better and more thoughtful. Are there blunders? Sure, but not like you would find in a traditional blitz game. If you want to improve your chess, playing slow chess is critical.
This first game features a Sicilian Defense. Black begins a slow but methodical build-up on the queenside. White falls behind in development that costs him the center and control of the board.
From lunch the following day:
An offshoot of the King’s Indian Attack with b3 played. This is a game where I was outplayed and was dead lost in the middlegame. Despite the series of bad moves from moves 24-27 , it shows how having extra time can help you save a lost position.
If the quality of chess games is better with slower time controls, how do I explain that terrible 24 Rdc1?? That’s a good question. This is an important mistake, one that would normally be explained as a result of time trouble — and who could argue that point? In this case, time was not the reason – arrogance was. I simply refused to play Ng4 which would have left me worse but not lost.
Making mistakes is part of the game. But when you make outright blunders in slow time controls, it highlights weak areas in your game. A lack of patience and calculation is what caused me to play Rdc1 so quickly. So, the moral of the story is I need to play moves that I am not necessarily happy with if I want to stay in the game. Feeling gratified that an opponent won’t capitalize on your mistakes is not a good excuse for making bad moves. It certainly won’t improve your chess either. In the future, I will need to put aside my impatience and play Ng4!