If you’re a chess player who’s touched with the human weakness of impatience or just liked to be engaged and see things develop – as we almost all do on our smartphones, checking our emails over 100 times a day – it’s hard not to be drawn to speed chess or ‘blitz’ as I think it came to be called in NY. When I was younger I enjoyed blitz timed at 5 minutes a move – that was back in the days of mechanical chess clocks. Now digital chess clocks and internet chess have no difficulty allowing you additional seconds per move – which makes some sense – and the standard formats are 3 minutes plus 2 seconds per move (3:2) and a slower one which I prefer which is 5:5. Then there’s ‘rapid’ which comes in at 15 minutes for the game – often with 25 seconds per move thrown in.
At the other end there’s bullet which is typicall 1 minute for the game or 1:1. In that you more or less move on instinct. One of the best in the world is the Japanese American Hikaru Nakamura and one of his weapons is heavy use of ‘pre-moves’ which is to say that if you think you know your opponents next move you can move on your computer and it will play that move instantly the opponent moves their piece. One tends to do it only if one’s opponent’s move is forced or it’s a move that is only legal if your opponent moves in the way you expected – for instance a pawn taking a piece by moving one space forward diagonally as a pre-move will only be executed by the computer if it’s legal which might only be the case if your opponent makes a move you’re expecting.
Chess.com has started running tournaments which begin with 5:2 games, then graduate to 3:2 games and then end in a blizzard of bullet games of either the 1 or the 1:1 variety. They’re fun to watch if you like that kind of thing. If you want to watch Nakamura play Magnus Carlsen for over three hours doing this, for the world playoff recently, why not? Even if you don’t last the distance – even in lots of sittings like me – the commentary could help you ‘get it’. It certainly did me.
Oh and here’s another 4 hours the next year.
Carlsen wins pretty much anything he goes into and it’s completely mesmerising to watch how he makes life difficult for his opponents. Which brings us to the madhouse in the first video which is over two hours of micro-bullet or whatever you want to call it. Each player gets 30 moves a game, that’s it, and so they’re just moving pretty much as fast as they can pre-moves and so on. Hansen is no slouch and has presumably been preparing hard. He gets some strings of games against Carlsen early on, though generally catching up to Carlsen, and then Carsen gets better at it and ends up more than doubling Hansen’s score – though I’ve only got about two thirds of the way through it. I watch about five or ten minutes at a time for a break. Anyway, if you like this kind of thing … enjoy.