15 January 2009

Blitz Addiction

My resolution to limit blitz in 2009 does not apply to OTB (over the board) games, or does it? I expressed it as "reduce online blitz," so the "letter of the law" permits endless play in schools, cafes, and clubs. These opportunities do not exist in my city. Nonetheless, tonight's chess club meeting features a G/10 tournament—it is blitz, but slow compared to the 3 0 stuff I play online, or the 5 0 events we sometimes do. The organizer of tonight's quick rated event told me it would be a round robin for up to twelve players. If more than twelve register, the event will be broken into smaller sections. I could have as many as eleven games.

While taking a break from work, I went online to play a couple of blitz games in preparation for tonight's event. I lost the first, badly. The second was worse. After three losses in a row, I knew I was in trouble.

That's how the addiction works: losses mean more play. The game plays second fiddle to the struggle for rating, for pride, for something. Whatever it is, I tried to capture it a few years ago in a paragraph intended to be the start of a piece of short fiction.
His heart dropped after the screen displayed the words “white checkmated”. After all, he was up a rook, had better position, and was rated much higher than his opponent. Nevertheless, his king was hemmed in by his own rooks in such a way that his opponent’s only remaining pieces—a bishop and a queen—were able to deliver checkmate. In his desperation, following this heartbreaking loss, he continued playing game after game, seeking redemption.
I never wrote more of this story—too revealing.

In the fourth game, I tried to run my opponent out of time in a dead drawn rook and pawn endgame. I lost on time in a dead lost position instead. I won game five and was challenged to a rematch. Easy rating points I thought, and accepted. The game was tougher, but I won it too. Thankfully, I was able to stop there.

The New Year's Resolution lasted two weeks.

Joseph Henry Blackburne on Addiction and Chess

Edward Winter's exceptional Chess Notes column on 7 January, "Chess and Alcohol," carried an image of an 1895 republication of an interview with Joseph Henry Blackburne. The article was published first in the Daily Chronicle and then in Chess Player's Chronicle; Winter reproduces it.

The reporter asked Blackburne whether chess is "the intellectual pastime that some people declare," whether it has a place in schools, and whether perhaps it might even serve as a substitute for geometry. Although the question seems a bit over the top, Blackburne's answer serves a cautionary footnote to the efforts of many (including me) who push chess into the school curriculum. The reporter might have asked whether it could supplement or precede the study of Euclid (original works in geometry), rather than replace such study. Would Blackburne's answer have differed? We cannot know. But the truth of his remarks ring true in any case, at least they do when we consider the widespread ailment known as an online blitz addiction.

Blackburne said, in part:
Decidedly not. I know a lot of people who hold the view that Chess is an excellent means of training the mind in logic and shrewd calculation, prevision, and caution. But I don't find these qualities reflected in the lives of Chess Players. They are just as fallible, and as foolish if you like, as other folk who don't know a Rook from a Pawn. But even if it were a form of mental discipline—which I take leave to doubt—I should still object to it on the ground of its fatal fascination. Chess is a kind of mental alcohol. It inebriates the man who plays it constantly. He lives in a chess atmosphere, and his dreams are of gambits and end games. I have known many an able man ruined by Chess. The game has charmed him, and as a consequence he has given up everything to the charmer. No; unless a man has supreme self-control it is better that he should not learn to play Chess.
It has been years since I've read Alexander Cockburn, Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death (1974), a book written in the wake of the Fischer boom in the United States. As I recall, however, Cockburn's argument against chess seems almost a book length meditation on this brief statement by Blackburne.

Chess is intoxicating, blitz especially so.


  1. * slaps on wrist *

    Now go stand in the corner with your face turned to the wall and think about what you did! :-p

  2. Ouch! That's hard punishment because I spent so very many hours in the corner up to age 12. The smell of dried paint always renders me remorseful and compliant.

    I failed to win the event, too. I was third highest rated and achieved a plus score against the two above me--drawing #1 and beating #2. But, I also drew #4 and lost to #5. The loss was a theoretically drawn rook and pawn endgame. But I was one pawn ahead; in the desperate struggle to force a win, I blundered, giving my opponent a passed pawn that I could not stop.

  3. I see some progress with your blitz - you were able to stop after a few games, probably you couldn't do it before. You resolution was, by the way, to reduce online blitz, not to quit it. I am exactly in the same position - I play much less, it's more controlled, but "losses mean more play", you are right.
    There is some truth in what Blackburne said, chess is addictive and very time consuming. At the university at some period of time (2 years), I spent more time on chess, than on studying. I don't regret it, I graduated from the university anyway, and lots of the stuff that I learned then I still remember and use now. Chess is a bit like wine - you know your limit, you drink up to it - it's great, you go over - ...

  4. Hi
    Playing blitz killed off my slow play chess for about a year.
    I would see a move and play it,in blitz you can get away with thatmost times.But not in slow play.
    I had to ween myself from blitz,it was hard but i dont blitz any more.
    And no my slow play has not got better!!!

  5. CX,

    Have you replaced the blitz with book study?

  6. I think addiction to playing chess brings no harm. It would be great if you'd also spend some time teaching a kid on how to play chess as it would for sure be a fulfillment on the part of the trainer. Sometimes the more you are addicted the more you become better and the more you beat your opponents. It's really best to teach children on how to play the game for their own intellectual benefit.

    http://smartdolphins.net/ backs the objective to enhance the thinking skills of pupils by learning chess. You might want to check out the site.