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On Chess: At times, there is a need for speed

I don’t mean to go rogue, but one of the more controversial topics in the chess world currently is the amount of time a chess game should take.

There are the chess purists, who believe high-level chess games should be played at the classical time control (those games take 4-5 hours usually), and then there is a growing group of the chess community which thinks faster chess is better chess. That said, the games may not be better, but the idea is that the speed may be better for excitement and gaining more of a general audience.

We have seen this discussion throughout the years in other sports. Some people want to speed up football and baseball, and think under three hours is perfect, whereas long games, which go 3.5-4 hours are bad for viewers. This goes against the accuracy of the game, since instant replay can all but get rid of bad umpire and referee calls, but, at the same time, slows down the game.

It may not be accurate to compare televised sports events to chess, but, for many, getting chess more popular means more television and internet coverage, which means we must speed up the games.

One of the more outspoken critics of classical chess is IM Greg Shahade. Greg is the founder of the U.S. Chess League, the new Pro Chess League, and the U.S. Chess School. Shadade often posts on social media on the need to speed up the game to make it more spectator-friendly. Shahade is backing up this belief and starting the Pro Chess League in January 2017.

Instead of the previous time controls of the league, where games took 3 hours or so, Greg has made the games 15 minutes for each player. The effect is great for the online kibitzer: fast action, more mistakes, and more games in one evening.

Instead of spending hours watching one game at a snail's pace, we see fast and furious chess playing with mistakes usually only seen at the amateur level. Amateurs love seeing the pros make errors, which happens more often when time is limited and decisions are made in seconds.

The purists, however, who have been watching top-level chess for decades, prefer slower, more accurate games. This is the way to see who is truly better, when Grandmasters have enough time to figure everything out and make good, well-thought-out decisions. Does chess really need to spice things up and make the game lose some quality to ensure more interest in the game?

Luckily, chess can have its cake and eat it too!

Currently, there are many chess events, at all levels, with varying time controls. Some tournaments are slow, with classical games lasting hours, and some have very fast time controls, with a whole game taking minutes. This allows the chess player, at any level, to decide what kind of event he or she wants to watch or be a participant. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard time control, at any level, which makes it difficult to explain to the layperson, but that’s the price we pay for flexibility.

I prefer slow time controls when I’m playing, but I like to watch blitz chess (each side has 5 minutes for the whole game) as a spectator. I concede that getting the average person on the streets to watch or play chess for the first time may require marketing of the game at faster speeds, which sacrifices quality for excitement. Maybe I should stop telling my students “never sacrifice!”

Grandmaster Ben Finegold received his first USCF rating at age 6 and won his first major tournament in 1989 when he finished in a first-place tie at the U.S. Junior Closed Championship. In 1993, was awarded the Samford Chess Fellowship. Finegold has secured several GM norms across the U.S. and is a familiar face around the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and a popular name within the Club’s Resident Grandmaster rotation.

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.