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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Blitz Tie-Breaks

I’d like to talk a bit about the current setup of some of the major tournaments. I’m talking about the big ones where the field is all 2600+ Grandmasters competing. While they definitely provide great competition and some pretty intense games, I’m specifically having a problem with some of the tie-breaks. Let me clarify.

Imagine a tournament with a field of ten GMs. The time control is longer, say game in two hours with a sudden-death of sixty-minutes after time control is reached. That means that if both players use a lot of time and approach 0:00 on the clocks, the game could end up being a grueling six-hour slug fest. That’s real chess, not this 15-minute “standard” crap that is so popular on the Internet. But I digress.

So, after days and days of battling, two of the GMs tie for first. The rules of the tournament say that any ties will be dealt with using a tie-break system. Sounds fair enough, right? Maybe not. The problem with the “tie-break” is that it is sometimes done using BLITZ games! Now, if this makes sense to you please, leave a comment, because it surely doesn’t make much to me.

I regularly see IMs and even GMs on the ICC who are rated 1400 or below in bullet and not much higher in their blitz ratings. Why? Some folks, even if they are past Master level by a few hundred points, just simply aren’t good at the fast games. After all, they didn’t get their titles playing 1-minute chess. They achieved them in the grueling six-hour slug fests mentioned earlier. Of course, some reach insane rating levels, even at one-minute chess, but others don’t work well under that kind of time pressure.

So, my question is this: How in the world is it fair to have two very prominent GMs tie in a quality, long time-controlled tournament and then have the whole shebang decided with five-minute chess? That’s like having a tie at a NASCAR race decided by each vehicle’s 60-foot launch times. It isn’t a drag race, it’s a long and dangerous battle of stamina. So the 60-foot launch times mean literally nothing in that genre. It’s the same, I believe, between classic time controls and blitz chess. No difference.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel that’s a fair and competent way to decide a classical time-controlled tournament? How would *you* feel if you had to do the same? In my opinion, blitz chess has no place in a tournament like that. A blitz tournament is fine, and that’s a whole other animal. I bet contestants who share first at the end of a 5-minute tournament aren’t made to play a 90-minute game to break the tie. I’m just sayin’.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Universal Bullet Chess Openings

I know many of us “chess” players are vehemently against using the premove function on Internet chess sites because technically, it goes against everything we have ever learned about the game. Think, take note of all threats and checks, form a plan, move only when you are sure, etcetera etcetera. However, in bullet (1-minute chess), premove is not only an option but a way of survival. Sure, there are probably some extremely quick and accurate players out there who don’t use it, but for the rest of us, it’s an essential part of wicked-fast chess.

*What is premove?*
Premove is when it isn’t your turn, but you make a move on the board anyhow. The server acknowledges that you’d like the selected move to be your choice, no matter what the opponent does. So, after your opponent makes his or her move, the server interjects your move instantaneously, regardless of position or safety. So, as you can see, the risk involved is huge, but sometimes it pays off. Other times, you drop big material or get mated in one. That’s the adrenaline rush of bullet or lightning chess.

I was speaking with GM Nigel Davies the other day about a line for black that he feels is good in any circumstance. In short, he likes ...e6...d5...c5 – no matter what white plays! Yes, it’s a universal line that is virtually impossible to go wrong with. Because it can be played against anything white opens with and the positions reached are largely similar, I believe it is a great bullet opening for black to “premove” with. As you get more and more comfortable with it, the lines will become second nature and you’ll find you are winning a lot more games than you are losing.

If white plays 1. e4 of course, the line becomes a French Defense. If they play 1. d4, the line becomes a QGD more often than not. If white goes 1. c4, the position is likely to become the same as if he’d played 1. d4. If he goes hypermodern and plays 1. Nf3 or 1. b3, for instance, black is totally safe and is already off to a good start.

*Can white do the same?*
In short – yes. He can mirror those moves by playing 1. e3 2. d4 3. c4 (Van’t Kruijs opening) and likely have a very good game. Although it isn’t the most aggressive opening available, it is sure to keep white safe from cheapos and such right out of the opening. Do I employ these lines myself? Yes. Not every time, but many times I do. It always leads to a fun game where I’m slightly ahead on the clock by the fifth move alone, which is a huge plus in bullet chess. After that, as the BeeGees said, it’s just “Stayin’ Alive”.