GM Xiong Says: Let the Kids Play Blitz

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the June 2023 issue of Chess Life Kids Magazine. Consider becoming a US Chess member for more content like this — access to digital editions of both Chess Life and Chess Life Kids is a member benefit, and you can receive print editions of both magazines for a small add-on fee.

My first GM coach, Babakuli Annakov, and later, the coaches provided by Kasparov Chess Foundation such as GM Alex Chernin, provided rigorous chess training designed to grow world class players. Then and now, they tend to believe that serious chess players should not spend precious time on playful blitz games.

When I was young and just starting out in chess, my favorite things to do were playing blitz and bullet games online, along with watching GMs playing blitz on the Internet Chess Club. Now called, “ICC” was the place for online chess before became the dominant online chess platform. This certainly could have been perceived as naughty by my coaches and my dad, but since my chess rating kept progressing smoothly over those years, they were not too harsh on me.


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Xiong watching a casual game between two casual players at the closing ceremony of the 2022 U.S. Championship (courtesy Austin Fuller/SLCC)


My coaches had valid reasons for thinking blitz chess was not ideal for chess development. Perhaps you have heard similar ideas from your own coaches.

Chess is a strategy game that requires thoughtful planning and in-depth analysis.   In order to master chess, it is important to spend time studying and analyzing, as well as playing longer games that allow for more complex strategies and ideas to be explored.  When we are at the board playing classical time control games, we need to be willing to invest time in developing plans and double check our decisions to avoid blunders, especially at critical moments of the game. Only that way can we find the best move and maximize our results.

My coaches were all of the “Soviet School” of chess, which believes that training time should be invested in developing positional understanding, long-term planning, and analytical skills. I remember days when GM Chernin gave me positions that were so complicated that it took me as much as an hour to analyze and calculate to a result. That was very beneficial in building my chess understanding and analytical muscle.


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Blitz: it's fun! (courtesy Lennart Ootes/SLCC)


Blitz, in contrast, requires quick decisions, and relies heavily on intuition and instinct. If you spend too much time to find the best move or push an edge, you may not have enough time to convert the advantage to a win later in the game. There is incentive to avoid doing long calculation in blitz games.

The fast-paced nature of the blitz game can build bad habits in young players. The speed of the game forces us to make hasty decisions, instead of exploring different candidate moves, weighing them to identify optimal plans, and checking our ideas before touching the pieces.

Now we get to the question. Is blitz good or bad for your overall game?

I believe that young players should play blitz games as much as they want, as long as they don’t refuse their chess lessons or give up longer time control games and tournaments. My biggest reason for giving young players freedom to play blitz is this: many young players LOVE playing blitz! I know that for a fact because I am one of them. And many of my chess friends who I grew up with are the same. I have built a lot of friendships with them in the blitz games we played after national and world youth chess championships.


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Xiong at the blitz side event during the 2022 American Cup (courtesy Lennart Ootes/SLCC)


LOVE is the best coach of chess. Love of chess keeps us in the game. If young players lose their love for the game, they are not going to work to improve their understanding and skills, no matter how many brilliant coaches and training programs you provide them. Letting kids enjoy the game is the most important thing in chess growth.

But there are more reasons for my belief in the value of blitz. Playing blitz chess can help improve key chess skills, such as pattern recognition, tactical awareness, and speed of calculation. It can also give the player the chance to play many more games than one could get at long time controls, giving improving players exposure to more (and different) openings, while growing experience in handling all kinds of scenarios.

With today’s time controls growing faster and faster, and with rapid and blitz games increasingly used for tiebreakers, there are competitive reasons for growing skill in quick games. We have seen recent U.S. Championships go to Armageddon blitz games, and the FIDE World Cup features a knockout format where matches are often decided by rapid and blitz battles.



There was a boom in chess on the internet in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic started. Playing blitz on the internet became a popular activity for people staying at home, while classical time control tournaments were on hold due to the public health risk. Chess was speeding up anyway, but I think this growth of online blitz really blossomed during the pandemic. Now-former world champion Magnus Carlsen has even argued for it becoming the main form of chess. “I feel,” he said in December 2022, “that classical [chess] probably will be phased out a little bit, at least at the top level. At least that’s what I think should happen.”

There are clearly benefits to professional players with online rapid and blitz. It’s convenient (you can play from home!), there’s more prize money for less time playing, and the speed is exciting to online audiences. I have served as a commentator for many online events, and FIDE has even organized an Online Olympiad, where countries around the world compete in rapid and blitz battles.



I am certainly not discounting the importance of classical time control chess. But chess is a sport, and rapid and blitz can be a good way to determine a winner between two evenly matched players in classical time control matches. Having strong blitz skills can really come in handy in those situations, and of course, blitz is a lot of fun too!

So if your coaches or parents come over and scold you for playing blitz, you can tell them that I gave you permission (and a few good reasons) to play! LOL!