There was lots of positive feedback and also lots of violently aggressive negative feedback. I can’t imagine that I’d get more hatred from some of these people than if I kidnapped their child. Multiple people even made it clear that I must have wrote the blog because I was so jaded due to some slow chess game that I lost in the past or that I had some deep, dark emotional problems that were finally manifesting themselves in my blog.
One person, a complete stranger, was seemingly so offended by the article, that at 4:17 AM they posted a tweet on my Twitter feed that simply said “
What’s the truth? I love chess but I also live in the real world and realize that 5-6 hour chess games are an impractical use of resources and time.
In fact quite a few strong players felt there was lots to agree with. For instance one of the top players in the country, GM Daniel Naroditsky, replied with: “Agree with every word.”, while GM Jonathan Tisdall replied with “An interesting read, I completely disagree with it, and completely agree with it.”. IM John Bartholomew agreed with the general tone although felt the time control should be a bit slower than what I suggested, and IM Keaton Kiewra also agreed with the general idea.
I can only imagine what people who were against adjourned games had to fight against for decades. I suspect that they were told by many people that if you eliminate adjournments, that chess as an art will simply die as a result, and that the only real chess is chess with adjournments.
Somehow chess managed to survive the elimination of the adjournments, which in retrospect I’m sure seem to be completely ridiculous. I think we can survive if we reduce the length of a chess game by a few hours.
In any case I’d now like to summarize what the key focal point is of this discussion:
The perfect time control should be a time control that allows all levels of players to play somewhere close to their highest potential, while at the same time making sure the game is fun for both the players and spectators.
What does this mean? Well it means that a time control of 10 hours per side is a bad one. You aren’t going to play much better with 10 hours as opposed to 2 hours, and meanwhile you are going to completely destroy any enjoyment that fans will get from the game, while making the experience of playing completely impractical.
Meanwhile a standard time control of anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes isn’t great either. The large majority of chess players will play moves that fall far below their maximum potential. Meanwhile the action will come so fast and furiously that announcers will have a difficult time explaining it to the audience.
Chess players are perfectionists in general, which I think is a bit of a personality flaw. If we make a time control too fast (and to most people, a single chess game taking an entire hour is too fast), then I admit that all players will experience a significant dip in their playing abilities. I still believe that something in the 30+5 range is the ideal time control for chess, due to the many practical benefits it provides, but I also admit that there will be a noticeable decline in the skill of most players. I think this is easily an acceptable loss, but not everyone will.
What is the time control that strikes the perfect balance between length of the game, and skill of play, so that we can make this game more fast paced, more media friendly, while at the same time not demonstrating a significant hit to the quality of play?
I think the answer to this question comes when you take a look at other sports. How long is a football game, soccer game, or a basketball game? They are all in the range in the 2-3 hours. How long is a movie? The typical movie length is anywhere from 1.5-2 hours. Despite the fact that it’s clear that 2-3 hours is a standard for a sporting event or contest, for some reason a single chess game massively eclipses all of these wildly popular sports by lasting a potential 5-6 hours.
I think that a time control of 60+5, or basically anything in which you’d expect a game to take 2 to 2.5 hours, would be a reasonable compromise. First of all it easily allows for two rounds per day, at high level chess events. For the chess obsessed Americans you could even fit 3 very high quality games in every day.
Most importantly, people will still play very close to their maximum chess potential. This time control still gives you the opportunity to think for 10 minutes on a move on more than one occasion during a game. Now might be a good time to quote GM Gregory Kaidanov when he tells his students “There is no reason to spend more than 10 minutes on any move”.
These extra 3 hours that you’ve cut from the game definitely do a small amount to add to the quality of play, but what you are sacrificing for these 3 hours is massive. We are currently alienating large amounts of potential players and fans so that we can maybe play 20-50 points stronger. We are making chess tournaments unwieldy and long, and reducing the number of games you can play in any given tournament.
An expected chess round of 2 to 2.5 hours is a great number, allowing fans to follow the ebb and flow of each game in a reasonable and condensed period of time. Meanwhile it would be very easy to play two games in the same day of any tournament. You could immediately double the length of any important match or tournament in order to be more likely to determine the appropriate champion. I’m willing to even admit that you could get away with making the time control as slow as 75+10 and experience similar benefits. Meanwhile players are going to play very close to their maximum skill level at a 75+10 time control, while shaving hours off of the length of the game.
Let’s look at some more of the amazing benefits of having a faster time control as our standard:
The FIDE World Cup, which many people consider to be not such a serious tournament due to the seemingly random nature of the results, could change drastically. Imagine if the time control was 30+5, and players played mini matches of eight games instead of two games. You are going to suddenly start seeing the top players advance with much more frequency, to the extent where it actually becomes seen a legitimate test of chess skill. Aronian loses a game in Round 2? No problem, he has seven games to catch up instead of just one, and trust me when I say that he’s probably going to catch up. Even at 55+5, you could increase the length of the matches to at least four or six games with no problem, and this will still drastically benefit the stronger players.
This same logic could be used for both the Candidates Tournament and the World Championship Match. Don’t forget that in 2013 Magnus Carlsen was extremely lucky to have won the Candidates tournament. Imagine what a shame it would have been for chess if Magnus, who was far and away the best and most marketable player in the world at the time, didn’t come out on top.
The strange conclusion is that a faster time control, with more total games played, actually reduces the variance in results instead of the opposite. The best players will start winning much more frequently in grand and inclusive events like the World Cup, which as far as I can tell is exactly what people want. These ideas will result in more demonstration of skill during chess tournaments, not less.
So in conclusion, if the standard time control is reduced to something in the range of 30-75 minutes per side, you suddenly:
- Make chess less strenuous for the players
- Make the games much more entertaining for the viewing audience
- Will retain the ability to play high quality moves, while making chess accessible for the large number of people who don’t want to play 6 hour games
- Allow for more games in a given tournament
- Ensure that in the major chess competitions, the top players will have the best chances to come out on top.
The current standard chess time control is way too slow and those extra hours of play provide very little in terms of quality of play and entertainment. I hope someday to see a 40-50 game World Championship Match once again.