Online Blitz: Yea or Nay?

When this article is published, I will be taking the AP World History test back at school.  Fortunately, this is the last of the AP tests I am taking this year, with AP Computer Science being held the week prior.  In the midst of all this, Supernationals is this upcoming weekend.  With the conflicting timing, I was stripped for preparation time for this tournament.  With the little time I had, I decided that playing online blitz was going to at least get me somewhat prepared for this tournament.  This led me to think about how beneficial of a preparation strategy that online blitz truly is.

While there are definite merits, there can also be unintended negative effects.  We will attempt to examine both sides and come to a conclusion at the end.

We will start by examining the positive effects of playing blitz.  To me, there are a few effects that constitute as beneficial to a player’s game:

  • Improved tactical vision
    • Explanation: If a player’s tactical vision is slow, or he/she finds it hard to spot tactics in general, blitz may be of help.  Blitz requires a player to make fast, accurate moves.  In some positions, there may be a move that could work, but immense calculations would be needed to decide for sure.  Obviously, that time isn’t available in blitz games.  However, the prospects seem decent, so the player makes the move anyway.  Whether the move works out in the end is a different story, but the fact that the player actually saw the move and experimented with it makes the difference.  Continually experimenting with such tactical moves will help the player spot similar moves in real games.  At that point, the time is available to calculate variations and decide whether it is a good move.
  • Openings
    • Explanation: Playing games online can aid opening play if done correctly.  There are two ways to help openings through playing online.  One of these ways is to practice already-known openings.  Of course, one cannot assume that every game will follow the desired path; but, for those that do, the player can play as far as his/her opening knowledge allows, then play out the rest of the game.  Then, the player can load the game into an engine (or whatever tool you use) in order to find an improvement in their own play or how to capitalize on an opponent’s miscue.  The other way for a player to improve opening play is to keep playing games until he/she stumbles upon an opening that is relatively unknown.  This game can then be analyzed to reinforce the depth of knowledge in these unknown openings.  Both of these methods can greatly help to improve opening play for players at any level.
  • Time management
    • Explanation: This is probably the most obvious benefit, and is also the most important.  I know that I play blitz for this benefit myself.  As stated before, blitz requires a player to play fairly quickly, and these have to be safe moves.  In this way, blitz helps by allowing the player to be more confident in his/her ability to play quick moves that improve the position rather than spending a great deal of time trying to find the one best move in each position.  Over the long run, these methods will save a lot of time and put more pressure on the opponent since he/she has the clock on their side for a greater portion of the game, and they may even end up in time trouble.  Playing blitz online can help decrease the average time spent on moves as well since calculations have to be parsed at a faster rate.

While these are all great benefits that could be maximized by spending a lot of time playing blitz, there are also possible downsides that one has to be aware of.  While these reasons are geared slightly more towards inexperienced players, they can apply to anyone of any strength:

  • It can cause players to play too fast
    • Explanation: With playing blitz comes a responsibility, and that responsibility is to make sure that it doesn’t affect your game too   Sometimes blitz can make a player too trigger-happy in terms of moves, which can come back to hurt the player if not enough time is spent on a move.  It is important to clarify that blitz should be used for playing quicker in slow positions that aren’t rich in tactics and require positional improvement and/or allow a player to see tactics quicker – it should not be used to play faster overall and without care.
  • Results can be misjudged
    • Explanation: Despite the practice gained from online play, results are based on very different parameters.  For one, moving pieces using a mouse is very different than moving with hands over a board, and “knocking pieces over” isn’t a thing online.  In addition, many online interfaces now support “premove,” which allows a player to preload a move on the board before the opponent has made his/her move; obviously, that is not allowed over the board.  Lastly, illegal moves aren’t allowed online and waste precious time when the clock is ticking, whereas illegal moves may be played and not spotted in games over the board.  So, it is important to take all of these factors, among others, into account when considering online play as practice for real tournament play.
  • Frustration
    • Explanation: Online chess is notorious for becoming very frustrating when a player loses multiple games in a row; this is only due to the sheer number of games being played a time.  If this occurs, it can completely undermine any possible benefit coming out of the time spent.  In order to avoid this, it is best to only play a few games at a time and focus more time on analyzing the games played rather than binge-playing with no end goal.

So, we’ve examined a few of the pros and cons of playing online to practice for a tournament.  However, there are a few things a player can do to maximize the benefits of playing online.  One of these things is to play with a time control that reflects the time control of the real tournament.  This means playing with the same increment/delay online as the real tournament since all competitive tournaments these days have one or the other.  This will allow the player to be better suited making decisions as they would in a real tournament.  For example, if a player plays with 30-second increment online, but the real tournament is 5-second delay, then the player would be practicing with 30 seconds per move online when they really only have 5 seconds per move over the board (when in time trouble).

Another follow-up question that some people ask is, “At what point does too much blitz become bad for you?”  Well, to give a few examples, too much laughter can cause asphyxiation, too much oxygen can cause hyperventilation, and too much water can make you drown.  Basically, too much of anything is bad.  As discussed earlier, too much blitz can cause one to speed up their game too much, to the point where moves are actually rushed, and mistakes can result.  So, it is best to limit playing online to a few games per session, and spend more time analyzing the played games.

In conclusion, we have examined the pros and cons of blitz, we have discussed the extent to which one should play, and that players should focus on analyzing blitz games in order to receive feedback on the opening phase of the game.  And, as always, thanks for reading, and see you next time!

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