Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bullet Chess – Adrenaline and Addiction












Of all forms of chess, this is the fastest and most nerve wracking. It is not for the weak or faint of heart. Entire games are played with only 1 or 2 minutes being allotted to each player. Blunders and mouse-slips are commonplace. Time forfeitures in won positions may be frequent as well. The depth of calculation is compromised and there is rarely an opportunity to double-check your plans. So why do we play it? The answer, as any bullet player can tell you, lies in the rush one gets from crushing an opponent under such draconian conditions. It also provides an opportunity to play a large number of games in a short period of time. This makes it ideal for busy people with only a few minutes to spare, but also for addicts who want to get the maximum number of games in per session.

There has been much debate as to whether or not playing bullet chess can be harmful to your slow and serious game. Chess coaches have been known to advise students to avoid it in favour of playing only active or regular tournament time control games. The argument is that the student will carry their ‘bullet-thinking’ over to their tournament games and make more mistakes. My personal opinion is that it could scarcely cause harm to play fast games of chess. After all, you are getting exercise and practice in many of the areas that are applicable in slow chess. There is no question that the faster the game, the more demanding it is of intuition and knowledge, in contrast to calculation and planning, but bullet chess also forcefully teaches you how to prioritize and manage your time in a way that slow chess cannot possibly do. There are also times when a player in a slow tournament game might get into time trouble and find themselves in a predicament where the conditions are similar to a bullet game. They might have only a few minutes to make a series of moves. In this case their bullet experience is directly beneficial and those without it are at a marked disadvantage.

Aside from the conceivable practical benefits playing bullet chess may offer, in terms of developing your ability as a chess player in general, it is just plain fun. It seems like the ideal graduation from real-time video games, where hand-eye-coordination, quick decision making, and mental agility are just as important. But in the case of chess, you are immersed into a limitless labyrinth of theory and complexity, with a global following and universal rule set. Also, with video games a bright and avid player soon achieves mastery and must move on to a new conquest. But in the world of chess, mastery is only a relative thing, and even the best players in the world are continuously learning and improving. It is highly doubtful that a human mind will even completely conquer chess.

When someone first asked me if I played it, back in 2002, I thought they were crazy. My idea of speed chess was 5 minutes per side and anything less was tantamount to a ‘mouse-race’. Now, many thousands of games later, the roles have been reversed and I find myself in the position of defending bullet chess from the criticism of others. I’ve often wagered to take 1 or 2 minutes while giving my opponent 20 or 30, just to prove my point. I have not lost such a wager yet, although, to be fair, my opponents in this type of contest, thus far, ranged from casual players to moderately above-average tournament players. Admittedly, I would not be able to make such a concession to an opponent of equal level to myself.


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