Slow chess – the key to getting better
Most of the games I publish on this blog are either blitz or rapid time controls. The reason I do this is to highlight common themes and motifs the average player encounters during their games. Playing slow chess, often referred to classical time controls, is still the best way to improve your game. The time you spend calculating ideas, strategies and defenses stay with you longer in a slow game compared to faster time controls. The problem is that slow games take longer to play (duh!) and are not always interesting. It’s a question of trying to balance quantity with quality and I do the best I can.
Recently, I have been trying to practice what I preach and play more classical time controls on Lichess. The next game is a 30 30 time control that surprisingly lasts only 16 moves. My 1896 ELO is still provisional so it will take me several more games to get my established rating. My opponent attacked too quickly, sacrificing a pawn without adequate support from his pieces. In fact, his queenside pieces never left their starting squares!
Develop first, attack second. In order to attack, you need to develop. There are rare cases when one or two pieces deliver a knockout blow to the enemy king. Ideally, you want to make sure all of your pieces work together towards a common goal. I did not see 12. e6 and at first that bothered me. The more I think about though, the more I am convinced that my subconscious mind simply knew it couldn’t be dangerous. Why? Because White did not have enough pieces to create any major threats.
Calculate all captures. This is a basic principle we are taught before making a move. It’s also important when calculating your opponent’s move. The position below is a good example of this.
Technically, Qd7 is an inaccuracy as it allows the strong reply 15. Qh3, attacking h7 and putting a pin on the queen. Instead, Qc8 was the right move. I did not see Qh3 and neither did my opponent. However, I did look at Rg6 which doesn’t work as after hg6 Qg6 and Qf5, White must trade queens or get mated on f2. As it turns out he did play that line and resigned a couple of moves later. Playing slow chess allowed me to spend more time calculating variations that my opponent was planning.
Use your time. Playing slow chess can feel like running a marathon. You have lots of time to think but managing your time can be challenging, even exhausting. It’s hard to know much time to invest on a particular position. This comes with experience. The more you play slow chess, the more comfortable you get in budgeting your time. In this game, I definitely spent more time per move than in a blitz game but my timing wasn’t quite right. I should have seen White’s Qh3 idea and played Qc8 which would have been lights out for my opponent. Transitioning from blitz to slow chess takes time so the sooner you integrate it into your routine, the better.
While blitz is certainly the most popular and practical way to play chess, it’s important to remember that slower time controls is important to maximize your improvement. That doesn’t mean you have to commit to playing a tournament-style game every day. I have found that a 15 15 game lasts about an hour which is perfect for playing on a lunch break at work. In fact, some of my best slow chess games were played on my Android phone during a lunch break using the Lichess chess app. A sandwich in one hand, my smartphone in the other!