Chess Time Controls: Which is Best Suited to You?

Article by GM Avetik Grigoryan
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 should you choose? Blitz or 60-minute games?
With increment or without? Is it OK to play bullet (1+0) games? 


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



Do you play for fun or do you want to improve your chess?
If you’re playing to improve, what exactly do you want to improve?
To improve your game? To practice your new openings? To gain experience?
To develop your time management skills?  


Answering this question 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 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.” 



I want to practice my new opening repertoire 


That’s cool! smiley 
When you learn a new 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 games 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. 


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 games as you can, preferring blitz/rapid games over longer 60+0 games. 


Now here’s a good question...


Is blitz better than 60+0? 



Obviously not.


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


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


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



When should I play long time control games?  


When you’re new in chess, playing blitz games will definitely be very tough.
So you can start with long time control ones. 


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 long time control games for your kids, so that they develop the habit of “thinking, then playing”, instead of just playing smiley


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 games (by the way, soon we’re going to launch a course on this topic). 


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, 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 premoves. 


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 skills that you don’t develop if you play without an increment. 


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


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, 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 about playing bullet (1+0)? 


It’s really fun to play 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. 


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 smiley


You should forget everything you’ve read above smiley


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 bullet games, but you can even play hyper-bullet games too (30 seconds + 0) or even 0+1 games – all good! 


But if you also want to improve your chess ability, 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 right answer to your question – “Which time control should you choose?”


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


Article by GM Avetik Grigoryan