Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Value of Blitz Chess

I think there are differing opinions out there about whether young players should play speed chess. The most famous of these may be from the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer," when 7 year old Josh Waitzkin's coach requests that he no longer be allowed to play speed chess in the park because it is teaching him bad habits, stating that it would make his job (of training Josh) harder. In the movie, Josh's mother ends the debate with the simple conclusion, "then I guess your job is harder."

I have to say that I side with the mother in the film. I only recently started playing blitz chess with Richie and it has had an immediate positive impact on his general playing ability. The reason for this is really simple, in my opinion. At the initial stage of learning (say rating under 600), the most common problems have very little to do with a lack of strategic knowledge, tactical strength, or even ability to calculate variations, but fall into the category of what I refer to as "sight" errors. Players become distracted or confused during the game and simply disregard the opponents last move, leading to hanging pieces or mate in 1 type errors. The best and surest way to reduce this type of error is practice. And blitz chess gives players an opportunity to practice this much faster than in slower time controls. Because blitz is fun, I found that not only do we play faster but we play longer than when we play slow chess which multiplies the number of moves played by 3x to 6x per session.

I'm sure there will come a time when blitz might begin having a negative influence, but I guess that's a ways down the road. Incidentally, many of the historical players I admire (Capablanca, Fischer, Kasparov) were fiendishly strong blitz players and are famous for their ability in post-mortem analysis for the rapidity with which they demonstrate variations. I have a theory that "intelligence," as difficult as it is to define, has a lot to do with how fast a person's brain can cycle through "variations." I have observed that even in my academic experience as a mathematics student, that my peers who had this sort of high calculation rate (as opposed to accurate or deep analysis) were generally the most successful. Of course, this may be an artifact of the correlation between practice (which would increase the cycle rate at any particular endeavor) and success. But I would suggest that there is also an inherent or innate cycle rate that gives some people a better chance of being "intelligent" than others.

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