Speed Curious
By Joel Benjamin   
September 2, 2006
GM Benjamin,

It seems that more and more these days we see speed chess as the determining factor at some tournaments, especially at the higher levels. I have never cared for speed chess because, honestly, I'm terrible at playing fast. However, many at the local chess club spend countless hours playing five-minute (and less) games of chess, and I simply cannot participate because I'm not good at it.

My question for you....should I at least try to play speed chess to acquire the skill, or would I be better off merely trying to improve my game by playing classical chess at normal speeds? I am mostly afraid that speed chess will only reinforce bad habits or sloppy play. What do you suggest?

Thank You,
Speed curious
Don Wade
Huntsville, AL

Your question brings up the more general issue, "is speed chess helpful or harmful to one's game." I've always believed that speed chess is good - in moderation. Fast games, whether played in person or on the Internet, offer a maximum of practice in a minimum of time. One can develop knowledge in various openings and gather useful experience. Slow players can get in a rhythm of playing faster, and can get themselves used to time pressure.

On the other hand, there are "speed traps." If you are playing at a rate that does not allow you to think at all over your moves, you are wasting your time. [You will not catch me playing bullet on the ICC!] Worse yet, you may develop patterns of superficiality. I think it is a particularly bad idea to play blitz right before a tournament game - you will probably crank out your moves too fast.

The time and place for speed chess depends a lot on the individual's skills and temperament. In your case, you have already established that you do not enjoy speed chess and are not good at it. So do not feel you need to torture yourself. Stick to what works for you - slow chess - and perfect that as best you can.

Joel Benjamin