There is no way to prove this, but I’m making you a promise right now.
Imagine that chess was invented last week. Imagine it’s invented in a time when we have clocks, when people are working 40 hours a week, when we have computers, Internet, video games, professional sports on TV, and dozens of other distractions on a regular basis.
There is absolutely zero percent chance that the world of excited chess enthusiasts would band together and say “Let’s make sure every single chess game lasts anywhere from 4-6 hours”. Just like every other new and popular game/esport that’s emerged, a typical chess game would not last longer than 30-40 minutes.
Slow chess should disappear and be replaced by rapid chess. Rapid chess should not be rapid chess, it should be chess. What should the standard time control be? Something like 30+5 second increment sounds perfect to me. And when I suggest 30+5, please note that I’m choosing a time control this slow only to appease the masses. I think 15+5 is more appropriate.
Why is slow chess so horrible? There are so so many reasons. But the main one is the simplest:
People don’t like to play slow chess!
Now wait you might tell me, “I really do love to play slow chess, and so do all of my friends”.
I have an answer for you: “No you don’t”.
Let’s run a little experiment. Let’s allow tens of thousands of chess players around the world to choose what time control they would play if they wanted to have fun and play chess. Since slow chess is so sacred and important for some unknown reason, I’m sure they would choose to play slow games? Nope. Almost no one has any interest in playing slow chess.
In an actual real life experiment, that takes place every day on the Internet and has for the last twenty years, less than 1% of 1% of games are played at a slow time control. If you log onto the Internet Chess Club with the goal of playing a slow chess game, you’re player pool is going to be greatly diminished because no one wants to play slow chess!
As an International Master, even if I wanted to play slow chess, it’s extremely hard to find an opponent around my level. Why? Because Grandmasters and International Masters don’t want to play slow chess! They don’t find it nearly as fun as faster chess, and they don’t choose to play it in their free time.
On the Internet way above 99% of all games are played at a time control of 5 minutes or less. On top of that, I’d suggest that over 90% of players will go an entire month without playing a single slow chess game online.
Why is the chess world based solely around a time control that people have demonstrated that they no interest in playing? Sure there are plenty of excuses you could use to explain why you don’t play slow games online.
- Maybe you are busy and don’t have time to play a four hour game. Newsflash for you: Maybe all major chess tournaments shouldn’t take three to five whole freaking days where you play chess every minute of every day and barely have time to eat or sleep? Maybe people are too busy for that!
- Ok but I really like slow chess, but online I’m just trying to relax and have fun. Yes, because slow chess is not fun. In fact it’s so not fun that not only are you not willing to play it, but even something like 10 minute chess is way too slow for 95%+ of online chess players to ever play. We are intentionally formatting chess tournaments to be as little fun as possible. This is stupid and detrimental to the long term health and popularity of the game.
- If chess games are too fast, then players will play so much worse: Every single top 10 player in the world will play just as strong, if not stronger, as the first 5+ world champions if the time control was 30+5. Do you know how freaking good Magnus Carlsen is? Do you realize how good he is even with 30 minutes for the entire game? He’s certainly still 2700 FIDE+, it’s just a question of where he would fall in that range. He would absolutely demolish someone like Alekhine even giving 2 hours to 30 minute odds. I suspect the average true strength of play would drop by about 100 FIDE points, but I am so happy to sacrifice 100 points of skill for a game that takes 20% as long and allows you to actually enjoy yourself and relax at a chess tournament. Many of the deep and interesting combinations that you see in top level tournaments, would also have been played in rapid games.
- If 30+5 becomes a standard time control, all of the top players will be different. This is almost certainly false. Who is the best blitz player in the world right now? I’d bet it’s Magnus Carlsen, probably followed by Hikaru Nakamura, Grischuk and other members of the current top 10. Who were the best blitz players in the world in the 80s-90s? Almost certainly Kasparov+Karpov. How about in the 70s? It was Fischer. In the 20s it was well known that Capablanca was the best. The best chess players are the best blitz players. The best chess players will also be the best rapid players, with very little exception.
Now let’s talk about all of the reasons why slow chess is horrible as a standard for the chess time control:
First of all it’s extremely unfriendly to fans. I think this is pretty obvious. A prime example was the 2015 Sinquefield Cup in which Maurice Ashley spent the last hour of a broadcast joking about how boring the game between Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana was. Chess doesn’t have to be this way!
It’s very bad towards retaining new players. There is a large pool of potential new players that comes from the Internet. They find chess online, become hooked, and want to try a chess tournament. Imagine their confusion when a chess tournament is so wildly different than online chess, and much less entertaining and action packed.
I can think of no other game or sport where the style of play in actual competitions varies so wildly from what the community has agreed is the most entertaining and fun way of competing. If you play in a Hearthstone tournament, they don’t suddenly increase the length of time you get to think each turn to 10 minutes. The slowest time control you’ll ever see in a Scrabble tournament is 25 minutes for the game.
The standard time control is so long you can basically play just one chess game per day. Yes, I know that in the United States we actually play two slow chess games per day, but I consider this a pretty barbaric practice. But again, this is only because I’m crazy and enjoy having time for meals, exercise, a small amount of relaxation per day and sleep.
What change could be made if the time control became 30+5? You could now play in a major tournament and easily play 4 games per day, while also having plenty of time to eat, sleep, exercise and have fun.
Imagine rounds at 12:00 PM, 1:15 PM, then a 5 hour break and two more games at 7:30 PM and 8:45 PM. You’re going to play a maximum of about four hours of chess, and if the tournament is in an exotic or interesting city, you actually have time to explore it and do fun things both during the day and at night.
Meanwhile you get to play a large volume of chess games. A four day tournament could be sixteen games. A super tournament between the top players in the world could be 36 games instead of just 9. A world championship match could easily be something like 50-60 games. In fact speeding up the time control and including more individual games would actually drastically reduce the amount of luck/variance that occurs in one single chess event, and you would get to enjoy more chess games.
When I play in today’s standard American chess tournaments, I honestly feel like less of a human being. We are not meant to wake up at 9 AM, shower and eat a quick breakfast, rush to play our game at 10 AM, play a 5.5 hour game where we are sitting in one place for the majority of that time, rush to eat in the 1.5 hour window we have before the next round, finish eating, go upstairs to wash up and maybe rest for 10 minutes, rush back downstairs for the next game, play another stressful 5 hour long game, search to see if there’s anywhere that’s still open for dinner, finally find a place and get back to our hotel room only to realize we have under 8 hours until the next round begins tomorrow morning.
The above is the life of a chess player and I’ve experienced it many times. We don’t have to live this way. However I know that when it comes to this topic it’s like I’m banging my head against the wall. Despite the fact that no one has even the slightest interest in playing a slow game if they are given a direct choice in what time control to play for fun, they will defend the slow time control until their lungs explode.
People are so unbelievably opposed to any change, and I consider it one of the biggest flaws of the chess community. The time control that we use in actual chess tournaments should actually be fun. If chess tournaments aren’t fun, lots of people will slowly stop playing in them and fewer people will watch them. We already know what people think is fun, so how about make our time controls reflect that at least a little bit.