Can Blitz Chess Make You a Better Chess Player?

This question has been around for at least as long as chess clocks have been standard. How can it be beneficial to instantly blitz out moves in a game, chess, that requires spending so much time thinking through all of the possibilities? I learned to play chess in the early 1990s, and this topic was as popular then as it is now. The movie Searching For Bobby Fischer highlights two distinct camps on this topic.

Searching for bobby fischer.jpg
Theatrical release poster

In the movie, young Josh Waitzkin has a famous chess coach named Bruce Pandolfini. Mr. Pandolfini teaches Josh using traditional methods and is not a big fan of Josh playing blitz chess in the park. The logic is that playing blitz chess can create bad habits. Josh also finds a mentor in the park named Vinnie, who teaches Josh to play aggressively and love the game of speed (blitz) chess.

We will look at this from a data-driven perspective based on the ChessGoals survey respondent’s results.

Blitz as an Outcome Variable

In the ChessGoals survey, we ask players which rating category they consider the best metric to track their chess improvement. Excluding players who selected ‘other,’ 44% chose a blitz category (Chess.com Blitz or Lichess Blitz), and the remaining 56% chose a classical or rapid type.

ChessGoals Survey Question

We use the ratings above to track improvement over the past 12 months. Our free study plans will help with overall progress. The plans include a balance of online play and over-the-board play and a balance of blitz and slower time controls. We are also starting to roll out more specific study plans like the Intermediate Adult Improver plan, explicitly geared towards adults, and the Intermediate Rapid & Classical Plan for slower time controls.

Is Blitz Good For You?

We recommend blitz chess at about 25-30% of the overall time spent on chess. The amount of time spent on playing varies a bit by each level, though, so let’s look at this differently. The percentage of playing time spent on blitz is about 35-45% across the study plans.

In this plot, we are looking at the Outperform variable on the y-axis. Outperform is the rating change above or below the expected rating gain based on age, rating, and hours spent. Think of it as an efficiency metric. The x-axis, called blitzz, is the percentage of playing time on blitz chess. The line stays pretty close to the Outperform=0 horizontal line, but playing blitz above 50% of the time may be beneficial.

Overall Outperform vs. Blitz %

This plot may be more interesting if we stratify it by if a player wants to improve at blitz or rapid/classical. The plot shows what we might expect! Players wishing to improve at blitz (red line) tend to play more blitz and outperform by a more significant margin when blitz % is 50% or higher. For players wanting to improve at rapid/classical (teal line), the optimal percentage of time spent on blitz is much closer to 15%.

Blitz as % of playing time

Let’s now look at this same plot, separated by rating category. Since the data is getting sparse, I will split the plots into three groups:

  • Novice/Beginner (<1100)
  • Intermediate (1100-1699)
  • Advanced/Expert (1700+)

Novice/Beginner (<1100)

This plot’s confidence intervals (gray bands) are vast since we don’t have much data. I don’t recommend playing any faster than 5+5 time control in the beginner study plans. I also recommend playing around 45% of the playing time on 5+5 games.

The study plans are designed for overall improvement and efficiency. If your goal as a novice/beginner is to improve solely at rapid or classical games, I would suggest substituting some slower games for the blitz games depending on your exact goals.

Intermediate (1100-1699)

Interestingly, the red and teal lines at the intermediate level follow pretty closely together. There is a noticeable bump up in the green line for spending right around 12.5% of playing time on blitz if your goal is to improve at slower time controls. Based on this data, we have a new study plan titled “Intermediate Rapid & Classical Plan” that will focus on this. We have a base efficient layout of seven hours per week in the program and a new column called ‘maximize’ to add seven hours per week. The maximize column will bring in more blitz and an additional classical game each week.

Advanced/Expert (1700+)

We have fewer data in this rare space of players over 1700. The trend does appear similar. We recommend that you spend about 45% of playing time on blitz chess in our study plans. If your goal is solely to improve your blitz rating, the blitz % can be bumped up a bit. If the goal is to strengthen rapid or classical, some blitz games can be replaced by slower games. Another excellent option for slow-chess improvers would be to add one classical game each week and still follow the rest of the plan.

Conclusion

This article has proven to be a very fruitful exercise that will help explain chess improvement. I think the main takeaways are:

  1. Blitz chess is helpful for overall chess improvement
  2. Scale the % of playing time spent on blitz chess based on your goals

The optimal percentage of playing time spent on blitz probably lies between 15% and 75%. The plans are customizable, and hopefully, this post helps shed some light on how you can tweak the playing times based on your goals.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Brett

    Thanks for writing out this article. Even though I’ve started serious chess study much later in life, I would like to significantly improve my classical rating, so this gives me a lot of great data on how much blitz, rapid, and even slower time controls I should be playing each week. Cheers!

    1. Matt Jensen

      Thanks Brett!

  2. Joshua

    I only found your website today, this is fantastic. Have conducted a similar analysis for outperform effects by percentage of time spend playing rapid?

    1. Matt Jensen

      Thanks, Joshua! I have looked at the stats for rapid performance, but I think it could have it’s own blog post in the future. Thanks for the idea.

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