Chess Time Controls: Which is Best Suited to You?

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  • GM Avetik Grigoryan GM Avetik Grigoryan

Chess Time Controls: Which is Best Suited to You?

What time control to choose in chess?

Tournament Preparation | 5 min read
Chess Time Controls: Which is Best Suited to You?

Many of us play online chess or friendly games with our sparring partners.
The question is – which time control in chess should you choose? A blitz time format or 60-minute game?
With increment or without? Is bullet (1+0) a good time control?

The answer is – it’s very individual. And after reading this article, you’ll find out what the best chess time control is for you.

Define the purpose

This is the first step for deciding which time control to choose.
Why do you play online? Or why do you play a sparring match with your friend?
What’s your purpose?

Quote by Tony Robbins on purpose

Do you play for fun or do you want to improve your chess?
If you say improvement, what exactly do you want to improve?
Your game? Practice your new chess openings? Gain experience?
Develop your time management skills?

Answering them honestly will help you to find out what the best time control is for you.

Let’s discuss the most popular answers. First, we’ll look at scenarios where your aim is to choose the best online time control to improve. And then at the end, we’ll talk about if you’re just playing for fun.

I want to raise my online rating

If this is the reason you find yourself playing online chess, I have bad news for you.
Your rating won’t increase until you start playing better chess.
And playing more games isn’t usually the fastest way to play better chess.

When I was a kid and I worried about my rating, my father used to say to me, “Son, just concentrate on becoming a better chess player, and your rating will follow. It will run after you and not allow you to go ahead alone.”

Quote by Dr. N Grigoryan

I want to practice my new opening repertoire

That’s cool! 😎
When you learn a new chess opening, putting it into practice is a good decision.
And what you need to do after each session is to download your games and check them to see where you went wrong in the opening.

I said, “games”, not “a game”, right?
This means the more you play, the more data you’ll have.
The more data you have, the more mistakes you’ll fix, and the more mistakes you fix, the faster you’ll master your new opening.

That’s why analyzing your chess blitz matches is so important for fast growth.

Important note
When you practice your new openings, you shouldn’t care about the final result or your rating either.
The only thing you should care about is to play the opening part correctly and to start feeling the positions that you get from the opening.

Therefore, you should play as many chess games as you can, preferring blitz/rapid over a long-time control like 60+0.

Now here’s a good question...

Is blitz chess better than classical?

Obviously not.

You’ll learn much more from a single 60+0 game than from a blitz chess game.

But if I change the question and ask - which is better: to play 1 longer game or 12 blitz games in the 2 hours you have, the answer will depend on your purpose - what do you want to get better at?

As we’ve seen, for example, when you want to practice your new opening, it’s better to play more so as to gain more data.

Quote by ChessMood on how data helps us grow faster

When should I play with longer time controls?

When you’re new to chess, playing blitz will definitely be very tough.
So you can start with longer time controls first.

Another typical situation is when kids learn to play chess. They play very fast, without thinking, without noticing what their opponents want to do.
In situations like this, playing blitz may be dangerous and you should prefer longer time control games for your kids, so that they develop the habit of “thinking, then playing”, instead of just playing 🙂

Should I play with an increment or without? 3+0 or 3+2?

One of the most popular problems among chess players is the ability to win winnable positions.

And one of the reasons they struggle in winning positions is that they don’t gain much experience in winning winnable games.
When they play with 3+0 control in chess, and on move 30 they get a winning position, they or their opponent has a few seconds left on the clock.
And now, instead of thinking about how to convert their advantage, they think about how to flag their opponent, or which would be the right pre-moves.

When you play with an increment, you know that you should win the game. You can’t hope to flag.

And automatically you start gaining experience of winning the winnable games.

At the same time, you also develop your skills of saving lost positions (SLP – as we call it within the ChessMood Family).

And there are many other chess skills that you don’t develop if you play without an increment.

Of course, it’s much more fun playing without increment, to have funny and spectacular moments in the end; but if you want to get better at chess faster, you should consider playing with increment.

What about playing bullet (1+0)?

It’s really fun playing chess with this crazy time control.
Lots of emotions, lots of adrenaline…

But if you talk to any experienced Grandmaster or a coach, they’ll tell you that if you want to destroy your chess, playing bullet games systematically can be the fastest way.

You may have already had an experience when you started playing 1+0 games, and after you came to your normal time controls, you felt how badly you started to play chess.

My advice – unless you’ve bought a new mouse that you want to test, don’t play bullet games.

My favorite time control

When I played professional chess, I used to play lots of friendly matches and I almost always played 5+3.

I recommend playing this time control to all of my students too, when they play online chess or when they have a friendly match.

5+3 is a time control between blitz and rapid.
You have time to think during the game. But at the same time, you don’t have enough time to sleep over the board.

Also, it helps to develop your intuition, ability to make fast and practical decisions, and many other important skills for becoming a better chess player. 

What if I want to play for fun?

Well, if you just love chess and don’t care about improving, if it’s your hobby or you just adore playing this game - it’s, of course, cool too 🙂

You should forget everything you’ve read above 😅

Just play the time control you enjoy and feel the most comfortable with. If you crave adrenaline and emotions - feel free to play not only bullets, but you can even play a hyper-bullet game too (30 seconds + 0) or even a 0+1 game – all good!

But if you also want to become a better chess player, to raise your rating, and compete with your friends who are better than you – first determine your purpose and think about why you play.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll find the best solution to – “Which time control should you choose?”

P.S. Share in our forum which chess time control you preferred before reading this, and what adjustments you’ll now make after reading this article.

Originally published Aug 18, 2020

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