Is Classical Chess Dead? GM Danny Gormally

23 June 2016

Tagged: Gorm, Opinion

Recently we’ve seen a glut of blitz tournaments dominating the headlines. The World Blitz Championship in Germany. The Paris and Belgium blitzes run by the World Chess Tour.

Then you have these online blitz marathons which pop up every now and again. The monthly tournaments run by chess.com. I could go on and on, the list is endless.

In fact this is such a growing trend that I wonder if it’s premature to say that classical chess is dying now and Blitz chess is slowly (or quickly) replacing it. One of the problems that Classical chess has is appealing to the casual viewer. I well recall the Kasparov-Short matches which were transmitted on channel four back in 1993. Of course I loved them. At the time I would have been 17 and I used to just spend all day watching these games. I’m however a chess fanatic.

What about your more casual fan? One afternoon you could see the commentary team of Carol Vordeman, Jon Speelman and Daniel King were almost embarrased. They’d chat about something, go for an advertising break, come back and Garry would still be thinking about the same move. They’d run out of things to talk about and you could just imagine the viewers turning off in their droves. No wonder you never see chess on the tv these days. It’s less popular than Top Gear with Chris Evans.

Blitz chess by contrast retains the potential to appeal to a wider audience. There’s no grand strategy here. Just high-tempo adrenalin and crash bang wallop. This sort of chess also works well with a live video feed where you can watch the player sweating and see the contrasts of emotion as the games inevitably go through incredible ups and downs. Certainly one of the greatest exponents of speed chess is Hikaru Nakamura and he dominated the first leg of the grand chess tour which began with a rapidplay, and then finished with a blitz.

The end of the game resembled a wipeout. I think what this game illustrates and his performance in the tournament in general that to be good at any kind of game or sports you have to have the “annoyance factor”. In other words you have to show resistance in situations where others would crumble. You have to hang around, putting as many obstacles in your opponents path as possible.

Hikaru does this very well and this is a large part of his success at blitz. He hangs around, he doesn’t blunder, he plays quickly and he shows huge tactical opportunitism when it’s required and oburate resistance when on the back foot. All this combined makes him a formidable opponent at blitz indeed.

LOSING THAT SOMETHING

I for one will be sad if classical chess fades into obscurity. You’ll lose something. Those classic games, those epic struggles that we saw in world championship matches in the past, will cease to be. Blitz chess is more “throwaway” and more for entertainment sakes. One player who has had a lot of success at classical time controls but who isn’t anything like as dominant at blitz is Kramnik.

Of course compared to most Kramnik is a very strong blitz and rapid player indeed, but he doesn’t seem to shine in these events. Perhaps that’s because unlike the younger brigade, he has better things to do than spend hours everyday playing blitz chess online. Or maybe the passing of time has waned that tactical sharpness. He did though play a very nice game to defeat Fressinet in the rapid section.

WHY ANAND IS FEDERER TO CARLSEN’S NADAL

I read an interview recently with Roger Federer where he said Rafael Nadal was his toughest opponent. This was a guy who had dominated before but really had to change a lot of things when Rafa came along, because it wasn’t the sort of opponent he was used to and he gave Roger so many problems. I wonder if similarities exist with Anand and his ongoing rivalry with Carlsen.

Certainly both situations have a lot in common. Anand is a free flowing, instinctive genius just like Federer, trying to come to terms with a much more grinding, but consistently powerful opponent, who has a way of negating Anand’s brilliance. I think this whole scenario of dealing with Carlsen has bothered Anand to the extent that it’s possible he’s developed a complex against him. That’s what I felt when I watched their blitz game in Belgium as it was incredible that Magnus escaped.

IS VISHY TOO CASUAL?

I wonder sometimes if Vishy is too casual. In some ways he reminds me of an even stronger version of Julian Hodgson. “Jules”used to be incredibly laid back and nothing would trouble him. Others would tire themselves out with their intensity, trying to seek perfection, while at the same time Julian would just play a move with languid ease, not troubling him if it was the best move or not.

It’s striking a balance though. Magnus has that laid back appearance but he can also knuckle down when needed. That draw against Magnus was an example of where I’d maybe like to see some more intensity from Anand. Another example was at towards the end of the event, where he effectively threw away second place.

In some ways it’s a strange thing to say about someone on top of the rankings but I think Carlsen is an underestimated Blitz player. He demonstrated that really in Belgium when in the middle part of the tournament he just stepped up a level and blew everyone else away scoring win after win.

Aronian also did very well in the blitz and rapid. This kind of chess suits his enterprising style.

Carlsen also got lucky in some games which you need to win a tournament.

The scary thing for me about this game is that Topalov, even when he was winning looked extremely nervous, by contrast Carlsen’s expression never changed at any point. It must be like facing a chess terminator.


About the Author

GM Danny Gormally

Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.

Danny’s first DVD for Ginger GM, Improve Your Practical Play was released in September 2013. His new book “A Year Inside the Chess World” is available now.