Before the invention of chess clocks, chess was played at a slow rate. Normal chess time controls are one to three hours per player. But speed chess, or fast chess, is played at faster time controls. There are even different names to distinguish the maximum duration of a game. All regular chess clocks have a special device, usually called a “flag,” that indicates that time control was met when the flag falls.
Before the common use of digital clocks, the regular chess clock was set to 5-minutes per side (10 minutes total) for a game of sudden death (no increment) blitz chess (also called 5-minute chess; blitz is the German word for lightning). If you ran out of time and your flag fell on your chess clock before you checkmated, stalemated, got a perpetual check, or there is insufficient material to mate, you lost on time. Before the popularity of blitz chess, there was “rapid transit” chess in which a referee would call out “move” every 10 seconds. If a player did not make a move at the end of 10 seconds, when the referee said “move,” he would lose.
Blitz chess seems to be the most popular type of speed chess among experienced chess players who are playing for fun.
Rapid or quick chess soon became popular in tournaments with faster time controls. The chess clock was set at 15 minutes to 60 minutes per player (blitz chess was any time control less than 15 minutes). Later, digital chess clocks included a feature that allowed a player to play rapid chess with a small time increment per move. For example, after every move by a player, the clock would add 10 more seconds to that player’s time control.
Rapid chess more closely resembles a regular, slower game of chess. There is more time to make proper plans and play more carefully with less blunders and more calculation, rather than rely on intuition and tactical cheap tricks. These time limits in rapid chess are often used in one-day chess tournaments with 5 or 6 games played in one day.
With digital clocks, blitz chess could be played at 3 to 5 minutes per side, with an additional small increment. Usually, the time control for blitz chess with newer digital clocks would be 3 minutes with a 2 second increment added after every move.
Lightning chess is a general term for extremely fast chess. Time control could be from 1 minute to 3 minutes per side. Usually, the term is reserved for 2-minute chess.
Bullet chess is sometimes the term for 1 minute chess games.
An Armageddon chess game is usually one speed chess game that determines the match or tournament instead of a tie-breaking point system. Usually Black has draw odds (if the game is a draw, Black wins) in Armageddon chess. To compensate, White gets more time on his chess clock. Common time controls are 6 minutes for White and 5 minutes for Black ( or 5 minutes and 4 minutes, respectively). This is also known as “time odds” chess.
In some tournaments, the final results of the players may be resolved by a series of speed games with shorter and shorter time controls as tie breaks.
In speed chess, it is a common rule that if a player makes an illegal move, the player’s opponent may point out the illegal move and claim a win. For example, if a player leaves the King in check, the other player may claim the win, or just take the King and win.
In speed chess, each player must press the clock with the same hand that moves the pieces (in regular chess, either hand can press the chess clock). When castling, a player may use both hands to move the rook and king. When capturing a piece or pawn, or completing a promotion (i.e., substituting a Pawn for a Queen), both hands may be used if it is clear that the chess clock is pressed after the move is determined.
In speed chess, players do not need to record the moves.
In 1897, perhaps the first speed chess tournament was held at a London chess club. The time control was 30 seconds a move.
In 1970, Bobby Fischer won the Herceg Novi, Yugoslavia Blitz Tournament (5-minute chess) with the score fo 17 wins, 4 draws, and 1 loss to win the unofficial “Speed Chess Championship of the World.” Mikhail Tal took 2nd, followed by Viktor Korchnoi, Tigran Petrosian, and David Bronstein. The tournament had four world chess champions competing (Smyslov took 8th place). Fischer finished 4.5 points ahead of Tal in second place. According to one report, Fischer spent no more than 2.5 minutes on any one game.
In 1971, Fischer played in a strong Manhattan Chess Club blitz tournament and won 21 games, drawing one game, and losing none.
In 1988, the first World Blitz chess championship was held. The winner was former world chess champion, Mikhail Tal.
In 2001, the first World Rapid chess championship was held. The winner was world chess champion Garry Kasparov.
Many chess players play speed chess to help them improve their regular game. Speed chess helps you think quickly and you are able to practices more openings and total games in a short period of time. There is little time for deep thought. Internet chess sites have speed chess time controls that automatically track the time elapsed for you and most record the game as well. Speed chess is more about reflexes, intuition and quick decision rather than making long detailed analysis and lots of calculations. Speed chess is a good time to practice tactics, since recognizing chess patterns is a crucial ability once you have less time on the chess clock.
Speed chess include games full of blunders and overlooked moves. Most of the games are lost on time rather than a checkmate, stalemate, or draw. Speed chess is a good testing ground for opening ideas and tactical play.
For Internet chess players, some feel that speed chess is the real test of chess prowess. Slower games may be played by an unknown opponent with a chess engine, but speed chess, especially bullet chess, takes away the likelihood that someone is using a chess computer. It is just too fast for someone with a chess engine to input the moves and wait for the computer to respond, then make the move. Strong chess masters and grandmasters dominate the Internet rating for speed chess (blitz or bullet chess).
For street hustlers, speed chess is the preferred game of choice. A speed game is generally played for money, usually a 5-minute game with no increments.
For speed chess, the player must play much more quickly of course. A player will go from making 2 or 3 moves every 10 minutes in a regular game to making hundreds of moves in 10 minutes time. The speed player must be more physically alert. Once a move is decided, which is usually in a few seconds, he then must move quickly and also quickly hit the chess clock.
One need good preparation to play speed chess. A player must know the hand movements for capturing pieces, castling, and promoting a pawn to another piece before the move happens. If a player is about to promote a pawn, he better put a piece (preferably a Queen) ready in the other hand on his opponent’s time so that he won’t waste valuable seconds on the chess clock looking for a piece to promote. When capturing, it is best to move your own piece with one hand and pick up the opponent’s piece with the other hand in a single fluid motion, then hit the chess clock with the bottom of the piece you just captured so that you don’t waste any time putting the captured piece down, then hitting the clock.
Opinions vary whether speed chess is good for your general chess at regular time controls. Some feel that playing a lot of speed chess leads to superficial thought processes and rushed decision-making. Others say that speed chess helps with recognizing tactical play and awareness. Speed chess helps a player at making quick decisions, which is helpful when a player is in time-trouble in longer games.