How do you excel in classical chess? (Proven tips!)

To perform better in classical chess it is best to raise a player’s mental endurance as much as possible, avoid rushing and spend at least 30 seconds on each move, bolster endgame knowledge to overcome eventual fatigue, and limit sacrifices unless there is deep thought behind it.

Nowadays longer time formats are less discussed due to the unpopular stigma that it has to the general population, not a lot of people play it.

I have browsed a lot of chess blogs on the internet and have not found a good resource for how to improve in classical time format, which is a bit surprising.

This is why I am going to discuss this less noticed time control and give it some love. How exactly do you perform better in classical chess? This is the topic for today.

I’m going to be honest this is not my favorite time control as well, which is why this writing really gave me interesting insight since I have to think.

I have to give my opinions in a way that would actually be helpful, I will let you be the judge of that if this article accomplishes such a goal.

With all of that in mind, let’s get started.

Which aspects of chess should you focus on to be good in classical?

To be able to perform well in classical a chess player needs to work in their openings to save time for crucial moments most likely to be in the middlegame, and their endgame to minimize the damages of mental fatigue commonly seen in long time formats.

Most people think that since the time format is so long in classical that they have enough to spare in every phase of the game, especially the opening.

This is not true however since some phases are more important than others, you would want to focus your attention on these important phases (middlegame/endgame) by not thinking much in the opening.

Learn your openings, calculating power is reserved in the middlegames/endgames where both players are likely to be thinking a lot in order to play the best positional moves, wasting time in the opening is just bad.

If you could save a couple more minutes by knowing some basic theories then it will have an impact on other eventual phases, making you more likely to be efficient in the game.

It is not the thing that will get you winning for the most part but is just a side note, something that a lot of people don’t prepare for in classical games (unless they are a professional).

Endgames are very important in long time formats

Endgames as you know is the most important phase of a match since it is the one that will conclude the winner, and it is even more essential to be capable of handling it in classical formats.

You have to absolutely master endgames, players are usually feeble at the end of long time controls and mess up in the phase where it matters the most.

When you have been playing for so long making critical decisions left and right you will definitely be weak in the endgame susceptible to making mistakes, mostly due to fatigue.

Even if you have a tenacious mental endurance it is just unavoidable, you will experience a loss of focus and degree of disorientation that will carry on to the decision-making.

One way to not neutralize, but minimize the damages is of course knowing basic endgames, sometimes you don’t even have to calculate that deeply to know the moves.

Getting the feel of the position is enough, it will save you calculating power as well as time that would enable correct moves with the least energy spent as possible.

Endgames are the domain of time-trouble situations as well, you are more likely to be equipped with the appropriate knowledge in dealing with time-pressured situations if you actually took the time to learn it.

Sacrifices are less executed in long time controls

The thing with long-time controls is it allows the competitors to think of the moves even if they have not analyzed them beforehand, it is easier to formulate continuations to avoid dangers.

This is why sacrificing a whole piece or a pawn should have a very good plan behind it since there is enough time for the opponent to revoke that move, you have to know what you are doing.

You should limit the sacrifices in classical chess as your opponent will have all the time in the world to put up a detailed response due to the margin that the time allows, good positional moves are often better.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t take attacking opportunities when possible, but it does mean that you will have to put more thought into it than usual.

If you actually rushed and play on intuition it is likely that your opponent can even take 5 minutes of their time to out-calculate you and still have some to spare.

What psychological approaches are best for classical chess?

From a psychological perspective, it is best to approach long-time formats in chess by avoiding resignation unless the position is totally lost, limit obvious moves throughout the game, and practice taking a long time to make moves in order to eliminate the tendency of rushing.

This is something that is least talked about, some people think that trying to out-maneuver an opponent that is up in material in long-time formats is just futile since they have time to think.

This is true for some cases but not for all, when someone is up material they are more likely to be overconfident especially if the time control is long, giving you opportunities. 

If your opponent is rated under 2000 trust me, there will be chances (unless you are down a piece) so you should play it out and try to wait for mistakes.

I mean your opponent will have all the time in the world to think about their moves but so do you, plus they are unlikely to take their time if they are winning anyway (again, overconfidence).

When you make mistakes do not automatically resign unless it is that bad (blunders), the time is long enough for you to figure out how to navigate in the worst-case scenarios and you should take advantage of that.

Limit expected moves in long time formats

The thing with long-time controls is mistakes are less likely to be committed, a player will win if they played the best moves available more than their opponent (most of the time).

Really bland positional moves with no ulterior motive will not work in your favor, the so-called obvious moves that most people will think of upon seeing the position.

In order to excel you should avoid obvious moves that your opponent is able to identify themselves, it’s just hard to win in a long format if you are not doing something quirky.

If your opponent can figure out the moves in 30 seconds less especially in classical time controls then you are in trouble, it’s going to take some unexpected turns in order for you to actually convert. 

It is okay to think longer in classical formats

Most players will be wary of spending a significant amount of their time in a single move, they want their decisions to be spread out.

This is the wrong mindset in classical since only a handful of decisions are critical (will have grave consequences) and I would even argue that you should spend most of your time in these critical situations.

Do not worry to spend even a couple of minutes for critical moves in the position, depending on how long the classical time format it is usually fine if the decision is that important.

However you do not want to be thinking long all the time, so learn to identify if the moves you’re going to make have a huge impact in the match and take your time to find the best move available.

Blitz chess is different from classical chess

This is a heads-up for those who are used to faster time controls as I do, classical is a different type of chess that requires a different approach.

You don’t want to be taking too much time but you don’t want to be rushing either, you can spend a minute per move and still be okay especially if there is an increment.

Grandmasters can in fact spend even 30 seconds plus in a single move if it is that important. Vishwanathan Anand infamously spent 1:43 minutes thinking about a single move in the Petroff defense.

That game is the world blitz semi-final where Anand is in a knockout match (which he later won). He recognizes the importance of doing good thinking in moves that are important to the match (even when it is blitz).

In classical though it’s always a good practice to wait 30 seconds before playing a move especially if there is no preparation, this is to ensure that you are not able to rush moves and make detrimental decisions.

Automatic moves are not recommended for most people (unless you are a professional) even in the opening with the exception that you have vigorously studied that particular line.

Are there actionable tips to make you excel in classical chess?

In order to excel in classical time formats a player needs to bolster their mental endurance to last a long time of thinking without suffering from fatigue, ignore the body language and intimidation of the opponent, as well as practice consistently to get used to the said time format.

Mental endurance is a must if you want to perform at the top level in classical time controls, it is just hard to think for potentially hours straight without losing focus.

Try increasing your mental endurance, you will have to tolerate long hours of playing without showing signs of decline, sometimes games are lost simply of mental fatigue.

Of course if you have experienced dizziness after all this time of playing it is actually fine, but try to reinforce your concentration in a way that you can still think even if there is some fatigue.

This can be easily done by taking good care of your body and mind, while also avoiding some dangerous drugs or alcohol.

I also suggest taking a good night’s sleep before going into a serious over-the-board classical time-control competition since you will have to tolerate a lot, meditation can help too.

Classical chess in over-the-board is also a psychological battle

In classical there is more room for intimidation since the format is too long, you will have to spend more time with your opponent than usual.

This is why preparing psychologically in a classical time format is essential unless it is online where you couldn’t really see your opponent.

If this is over-the-board classical do not be intimidated by the psychological tactics of certain players that try to get you to rush your moves (getting off the board and walking, looking around when it is your turn, etc.).

It is actually best to just ignore the opponent while the game is still at play, focus on the situation at the board and nothing else to perform at your peak.

Play more classical!

If you want to be really good in classical then a repeated consistent practice is the best advice I can give you, there are just things that will work for specific people and you should find that out yourself.

There is a famous saying that experience is the best teacher which is true, when you get used to something it is easier to navigate its intricacies.

All of the advice that I have talked about will come to you naturally and can easily be implemented, but you actually have to gain that experience by going out in the world.

These are just guidelines that I think would make that experience better and easier, but there’s no replacement for consistent practice for the most part.

Do you now know how to excel in classical chess?

Classical chess is really becoming unpopular nowadays with the explosion of online platforms that favor beginners, and it is not such a bad thing.

The catering to beginners part at least, but faster time controls generally have lesser meat for learning within them than longer ones like a classical.

If you really want to play competitively later on then you should play classical not just for the sake of it, but to actually gain experience.

See how it pans out for you, it might be more accommodating than you think, especially if you are quite advanced than most people.

I hope you see the beauty of this time format with all this writing, personally though, I just enjoy making articles like these, sleep well and play chess.