Upon entering chess you might be dazzled with the time pressure that is required to be exerted in each game, the time control that we call it.
And all have different effects on the game ranging from very slight to adverse, but one thing that I’ve been wondering about is which is the best for learning chess.
That in a particular stage of a player’s progress bar which time control should they prioritize? Which time control is best for chess learning? Here is what I know:
A beginner will find the most learning in playing a rapid time format (10 minutes), a semi-advanced player by playing classical (15 minutes), and an advanced player by competing in all time controls, from bullet (1 minute), blitz (5 minutes), rapid (10 minutes), and classical (15 minutes).
This is something that I have fair experience of and can give a reasonable answer, I have experimented a lot during my earlier years and saw the results on my own making me qualified to write about this.
I’m just going to express my personal take, which will have value to you as my readers. With all of that in mind, let’s begin.
Which time control in chess is best for beginners?
The best chess time control that would maximize learning for beginners is the rapid format (10 minutes) where a bullet (1 minute) or blitz (5 minutes) is too fast to absorb anything, and a classical (15 minutes and above) can make the game appear boring for beginners.
This is the problem with our current modern environment filled with online chess that dominated over-the-board ones, it makes us more likely to play quick time formats.
The problem is, it is generally bad for a beginner to start learning chess in fast time formats since it will make them impatient and undervalue the principle calculations.
A game of chess revolves around critical thought processes, planning, and slow execution that is not indicative of a quick-paced time control such as blitz and bullet.
If someone is a beginner that hasn’t had time to develop their sense of principles they are much more likely to develop habits that are unhealthy, something that is short-term in a long-term game.
They are likely to subscribe to quick tactical shots that usually involve surface-level calculation without much planning into it, you need fundamentals to apply tactics properly.
But you don’t know that since you are still a beginner, so one will usually favor very short-term incentives that would have work better in their position if they have just waited longer.
If you want to learn exactly why blitz chess in particular is harmful to your chess this article (will open in a new tab) tells the full story.
But essentially faster time formats do not contain the same elements that you need to excel in other time controls, it is exclusive in the learning that it provides therefore not good for overall progress.
Bullet chess is even worse than Blitz chess for beginners
A beginner should never play bullet games (1-minute chess) since such a format is a kind of exhibition that is only properly executed by players who already learned from other time controls.
This time pressure is where pre moves dominate and calculations are pretty much intuitive in nature, you wouldn’t excel nor learn anything from this as a beginner.
You can actually gain a grasp of this concept just by watching a simple bullet game, both players are moving so fast that thought processing is mostly dismissed.
Chess masters can perform reasonably well in this time format since they already played so many games in the past, and they have theoretical opening knowledge to avoid nearly every trap at the start of the game.
A beginner obviously wouldn’t be able to tap into that initial knowledge since they are just starting to learn, a bullet game just leaves an impression that is not how chess is usually played.
This is dangerous in the sense that you are likely to lose confidence by losing in a time control that you are not supposed to be playing, or develop habits that are actually unhealthy long-term.
Here is a video of how Magnus Carlsen (world champion) loses to an amateur (non-professional) since Magnus is playing too quickly as if it was a bullet game.
Of course, he would never lose to a classical against the guy but shows how a really fast time control (bullet) are not really a test of skill (the game is not bullet, more like a modified time format that is similar to bullet):
Here you can get a sense of how fast this kind of time formats are and why it is so bad for learning (it is a different kind of chess), I don’t think anyone can learn from something like this early.
Long time formats are also bad for beginners
Objectively someone who is trying to enter competitive chess should get the most learning in longer time formats, however this is a beginner we are talking about.
It may also be a bad idea to introduce long chess (15 minutes and above) to a beginner since it will appear unappealing to such a demographic.
Someone who has just engaged in chess is likely attracted to tactical shots and beautiful combinations, this is far different from how chess games are usually played.
If you seriously try to force a beginner to play a classical game they would definitely be bored and move away from the game onto something else, you cannot improve if you don’t even try.
If you think about it it is even better to make them play blitz than a longer time control since they are more likely to stick long enough to see improvements later on rather than just quitting.
Rapid games are best for beginners
A rapid game (10 minute chess) is the best time control for beginners since it will stimulate further gameplay by not appearing as boring, while still giving leeway for mid-level calculations.
It is not too short that it will be tactic-focused but not too long that one will be bored of playing, it is the perfect set for someone who is just starting.
You can still play tactically in this time format but should accommodate some form of calculation behind it, in other words, you actually have to think.
Even elite players don’t play a rapid game out of intuition, there is much more time for choices than just by playing on predefined experience.
The appropriate time control to maximize learning can depend on the skill level of the person, whether they are a beginner, semi-advanced, or an advanced player.
But for beginners specifically, I recommend the rapid time format since you have to need to do calculations while still having room for attacks and tactics even if you are just a beginner.
What is objectively the best time control for learning in chess?
Blitz or bullet time control is best for learning tactical combinations, rapid is best for surface-level calculations, while the classical style format is the best time control in regards to learning chess since it stimulates deep calculation and thought processing.
Trying to find out objectively which is the best time control to learn chess is pretty tricky since it will depend on which aspect of the game you are trying to improve.
Playing blitz games for example (3-5 minute chess) is the best time control for learning tactical combinations, where the format is short but not too short (unlike bullet) that it will hamper tactical calculations.
The reason why it is so good for tactical training is it will force the player to find the combination in the shortest amount of time possible without making it too short.
Your opponent is also more likely to be aggressive in this time control forcing you to tactically out calculate them rather than positionally as with normal chess, so it is the best in this aspect.
Classical time control is proven to make the player competitive
If we are talking about learning everything there is to chess as someone who already knows the fundamentals, the longest time control is definitely the thing you should focus on.
A classical time format (15 minute chess and above) is the best time control a player can participate in by maximizing opportunities to perform deep calculations and positional planning.
Usually, good chess players can see the best 1-5 moves of the position just by looking at it in the span of 30 seconds however if there is much time the player will think more deeply than that.
It is not desirable to play moves that are good enough, you have to play the best moves available since your opponent will have time to think of their own best moves.
Suddenly in the game is not just about who makes a mistake first, it’s about who can out calculate and outcompete the opponent (positionally) by playing the best set of moves.
Mistakes are much less likely to be committed in this time control as well, meaning that you actually have to squeeze for a small positional advantage in order to win.
It is the ultimate test involving all the elements of chess, by being exposed to this time format you are very likely to improve in every aspect since you are forced to do so.
Tactically speaking, blitz is still better but classical is not that bad either, you are forced to not only play tactics that are appealing but those that are actually hard to defend and work.
The classical time format is the most common format in tournaments
Long-time formats are actually the default control in most competitive environments, this is actually the reason why most people fail in tournaments.
Over the board chess revolves around very long time formats mostly lasting for hours, this provides the most value if you can master it (since it is what is most competitively used) than any other format available (although not a lot are willing to do it).
Are there chess players that can acquire learning in all time controls?
A player who has gained enough knowledge in all time formats will improve different aspects of their game from playing any one of them (not necessarily just from classical games) playing bullet, blitz, rapid, and classical in this case is fine.
It is still a fact that longer time controls give the most benefit, however it cannot be denied that some time controls just work better at some point.
What separates a good player from a great player is their adaptability to different time formats, where they are able to gain all benefits that different time controls offer.
I still suggest that you should follow the normal trajectory of which time control to prefer, rapid, then classical, then bullet and blitz before going into all of them.
This way you will have enough experience to each that you know which works and which does not in order for you to place your priorities.
Though once you have acquired a degree of mastery in all time formats it is best to try to maintain them, one can learn different things from different time formats so you should take advantage of all the time controls.
People are different after all, some will learn more from playing blitz than classical but you should be able to experience all of them to know that.
There are very few exceptions to the guideline that I am talking about, there are just talented people out there that can thrive in hard time controls even if it is not supposed to be at their level.
What I mean by that is a beginner prodigy can skip the rapid part and best everybody in classical time control (since they have the talent to do so).
Not everyone will be capable of that though, so this general guideline of which time control can give the most learning is what you should follow, it is likely to be compatible for most people.
Do you now know which time control is best for learning chess?
Time controls can be an intimidating aspect especially for beginners who have never played chess, but you will get used to it over time.
What is important is to avoid the time control that can form hurtful habits long-term, which I hope you have learned from this article.
It will make you less susceptible to the thing that most people don’t get at first so you can enjoy the benefits of the most efficient time control for you.
At this moment in time, I only ever play blitz (since I am busy running this blog) but will definitely switch in the future as I get more time.
Thank you everyone for trying to get my perspective on this, sleep well and play chess.