Improve Your Play in Blitz and Rapid
Preview by the Author
What qualities are required to become a renowned blitz expert? Are there any special techniques for increasing your performance in rapid and blitz events? Do you need to develop particular skills or it is sufficient to just play fast? Those questions became more topical these days due to the lockdown when all live events were cancelled and the only way to compete in tournaments was to play online. Usually, the time control of such online tournaments are 3' +2" or 5'+ 3", and only in some very rare cases 10' + 2'' or 15 + 5", which almost feels like classical time control.
My database is about improving one's blitz skills, and what I have in mind is mainly the first two, which are widely accepted as the regular blitz time controls. In my survey, I will show you a couple of advanced blitz techniques, used by the greatest players of our time - Carlsen, Nakamura, Nepo, MVL, Mamedyarov, and also by many other blitz experts. My goal is to teach you how to make use of these techniques in your own games, which will certainly help you improve your blitz performance. I would also like to share with you some of the blitz techniques I learned in my 30 years of competitive practice. I am sure that you will have a lot of fun solving the large puzzle section and studying the special part about the fight for domination and bluff in the games of the Top 10 blitz players.
The current database is divided into the following sections: Evaluation in Blitz & Rapid, Attacking in Blitz & Rapid, Bluff Technique, Camouflage Technique, Counterattack in Blitz & Rapid, and Opening Strategies in Blitz & Rapid.
Each one of these sections consists of model games and test positions. All the test positions are backed up with extensively annotated solutions. The PGN version of the database includes 185 files!
Evaluation in Blitz & Rapid
I started to play chess in the 1980s, long before computers took authority in chess. The only way to quickly improve our chess was to play countless friendly blitz games. There were no rapid or blitz events at that time, and our coaches often criticized us, arguing that this type of chess was useless and could only harm our serious chess development. Since then I participated in very few rapid and blitz events, mostly during the open tournament chains I played in Spain, France or Italy. I had never prepared especially for those blitz events and I played the same way as I play classical chess. Without using any special techniques, naturally, my results were quite unstable. Often I lost in the last rounds against the tournament leaders who were confidently outplaying me, even sometimes from completely lost positions. I never accepted those defeats seriously, as I have always been a classical player, with the classical view that the main purpose of playing blitz is to have fun.
But in 2018 I decided to take part in my first serious blitz (and rapid) event - the European Championship in Skopie. I arrived the day before and decided to take a look at the top streamers, Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura. Within about three hours I was able to learn a lot, for instance how to save time by quickly passing the ball to the opponent without making changes. While looking at the games of Carlsen and Nakamura I came to the (wrong) conclusion that to be successful at blitz, you just need to make fast and flexible decisions, aiming to keep the game on the rational track and generally avoiding lines with unclear consequences. I finished in the top 25 in both blitz and rapid events and I was happy, taking into account that I had never taken that format very seriously before. But this was only my first step towards revealing the secrets of blitz mastery. In the first half of 2020, I made thorough research, deeply analysing more than 2000 blitz games between players from the Top 10. The first basic difference I found between their blitz and classical chess was that the top players evaluate the positions somewhat differently. I realized that in blitz, some factors have a much higher priority.
To illustrate my point, I will start with the following example.
The position is from the blitz game Karjakin - Carlsen 2019, Cote De Ivoire, chess24 blitz event.
Let us first evaluate the position the classical way: White has a safer king but the worse pawn structure - he has two weak pawns on a2 and d4. Black has the better minor piece, as the pawns are on both wings, and he has chances to create a distant passed pawn on the queenside. In classical chess, the position should be about equal, but it is only black who can fight for a win. So what is the blitz evaluation? Is it any different? The amazing thing is that the evaluation of the position in blitz will show White as the clear favourite. He has better chances, as he can freely organize pressure against the opponent's king, using the open e-file or advancing his h-pawn to h6. Another very important advantage is the combination of queen and knight, which is generally strong, and especially in blitz. Even Carlsen, who is arguably the best blitz player of our time and a very strong defender, finally had to succumb to the pressure.
This section consists of 3 model games and 10 test positions.
Attacking in Blitz & Rapid
After analysing many of Carlsen's blitz games, I realized how he imposes his will on his opponents. In this section, I will present 4 of his games and explain how he employs the domination technique to exert psychological pressure and provoke mistakes.
Magnus Carlsen, who is the world #1 in both classical and blitz, is famous for his excellent endgame technique. He often outplays his opponents in equal endgames and generally plays rather quiet chess more often than not. So I was amazed to find how aggressive his approach is in blitz. I discovered that he doesn't care much about creating pawn weaknesses in his own camp or sacrificing material. In these four games I will focus on revealing how and at what point of the game he starts to dominate - very often to such a degree that his opponent is distracted from his strategic goals.
Below you can find one of the model games.
It is time to reveal two more advanced blitz techniques - bluff and camouflage. Nowadays Nepo is one of the top classical players, but he is also a world-class blitz expert, who uses many advanced blitz techniques. I can explain the bluff technique in the following way:
You create a tense situation in which you have hidden potential threats. They can be real or not (just looking dangerous), the opponent will inevitably need to invest time in order to find out. He may decide to parry them, threat or no threat, but this not only keeps him from making the best of his position, but it also means that you have successfully forced your will on him (domination). While it is true that a bluff is often not the objectively best move, even if the opponent looks through it and finds the best answer, the advantage in time on the clock often more than compensates for any deficiencies that your bluff may have. A bluff is a kind of gamble: In a good position, it's more advisable to just win by making good, forceful moves. Therefore it is mostly employed in difficult or even desperate situations.
You can try to apply this technique in the following exercise:
You are playing Black here and your army is ready for the assault. But you can't find a clear shot and you start suspecting that the normal continuations lead nowhere. Therefore the time has come to apply a bluff, to mislead the opponent. What do you play?
To master the camouflage, you should learn to apply the following simple idea. Imagine a situation in which you have a couple of good-looking and practically equivalent alternatives. If possible, quickly choose the move which looks like you are doing nothing special, but sets some kind of hidden trap.
The camouflage technique is very difficult to acquire, but also very useful, as it pays off well in blitz.
Below, I provide a training position.
Black's last move was Rb4, attacking the pawn on a4. It is a very important pawn, as after taking it, Black would threaten Ra1 with simplifications. Try to guess the camouflage move made by Carlsen.
Counterattack in Blitz & Rapid
The feeling for the precise moment to start a counterattack is one of the most important skills in blitz.
In my annotations to the 4 model games in this section, I prove that in blitz the only defence that works is the counterattack.
Below, you shall take a look at one of the model game.
Opening Strategies in Blitz & Rapid
At the end of my article, I would like to turn your attention to the opening preparation, which is an important element for success in blitz. You need to prepare a couple of early alternatives aiming to put your opponents at bay at the start of the game. This will help you a lot to gain confidence and at the same time will cut off the opponent's opening preparation. I prepared some ideas that you can use in your games, followed by a test section.
Here is an example of a good blitz weapon against the Scandinavian Defence.