Slow Chess

Man Ray Chess Set

The Context of Slow Chess

There is a valid argument that slow chess is dead.  But is this indeed the case? With online play, chess has certainly evolved light years from its origins. As this article will discuss, slow chess still has it’s place in the chess world and can actually help you improve your skills

A Brief History of Chess

Chess has changed over thousands of years from Indian and Persian origins. Our present form of the game dates from 14th Century Europe. Organized chess competition began in the 19th Century, eventually producing great standard chess champions like Bobby Fischer, Susan Polgar, and Magnus Carlsen. With modern times, came today’s special chess clocks and timed games. Time controls for tournament chess competition vary, but a typical tournament game, of classical or “slow chess”, can last from 4 to 6 hours or longer.

Faster modern versions of the game became possible with the advent of modern clocks. Games with times of a minute to five minutes per player! Blitz chess! Bullet chess! The overall quality of these rapid games wasn’t as high, but, oh, what fun! And they especially fit the faster tempo of modern times. When online play became possible, the number of players of quick chess skyrocketed. One estimate is that 99% of today’s internet games are rapid, blitz, or bullet games. Slow chess, it is said, would never become popular if it was just being introduced now. And this might be true. Shorter time controls for standard tournaments, like 60 minutes per player, have also become more common.

A great portion of the surge in chess popularity today no doubt comes from an increase in play of these rapid games. Most of the great players of classical, slow chess play rapid chess and excel at it, as well. Bobby Fischer became the first unofficial Blitz World Champion in 1970. Magnus Carlsen is the current Blitz World Champion. Critics say slow chess is dead, and we do not mourn its passing. But perhaps the bell has tolled too quickly.

The Advantages of Slow Chess

Like marathons, cross country races, or sprints, each type of chess has its purpose and place. Slow-paced tournament games are the ultimate test of a player’s ability to focus deeply and concentrate. Time is available to lay the most complex and deep plans. There is no doubt that this is likely the most difficult test in chess, outside of playing unsighted “blindfold chess” or “simultaneous chess” against many players. If you really desire to fully develop your chess skills, these longer time controls must be played. Also, similar to marathons, they test physical stamina and preparation, as well as knowledge and tactical skill. The longer tournament time controls help instill a deeper understanding of the game.

The rapid games have certainly become an easy, quick, fun way to learn and play chess. The pace adds excitement and permits much play in short periods of time. But they can lead to shallow, thoughtless, low-quality chess. It is better to develop a solid chess foundation by various methods:

  • Studying master games is beneficial, especially when they are annotated.
  • Puzzles develop tactical skill.
  • Judicious reading can develop knowledge of chess strategy. Chess is not all tactics!
  • Opening study prevents being caught early in common opening traps.
  • Lots of play, a combination of slow and fast, can help you improve quickly. Chess.com and the Internet Chess Club are both great places to play and learn online!
  • Local or national tournaments can be exciting and beneficial, as well.

Conclusion

It’s terrific that blitz and bullet are leading the way in reviving interest in the greatest game! But let’s not count slow chess out yet! The deep study and longer time controls of serious chess still have a place at the table. Of course, if that’s not for you, you never need to worry about longer games and deep study. You can just Play On!

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