Does Speed Kill? Maybe Not!

American Psychological Society, "Chess Masters are Quick on the Trigger," 2 June 2004.

Chess is typically envisioned as a game of concentration and deliberation, a game not to be taken lightly and a game definitely not to be rushed. But some recent research suggests that it's actually a player's split-second intuitions that make the master.

Bruce D. Burns of Michigan State University, in an article to be published in the July issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society, compared chess players' rankings at normal tournament chess to their rankings at fast-paced blitz chess. In blitz chess, players have 5 minutes to complete all of their moves, which gives them an average of 7.5 seconds for each move. Because of that limitation, they don't have the time to mull over their moves and are forced to rely on their immediate intuition.

What Burns found was that players' rankings at normal chess were remarkably accurate predictors of their rankings at blitz chess, especially among higher-ranked players. Among lower-ranked players, performance at normal chess didn't seem to relate quite as strongly to their performance at blitz chess. This suggests that the skills chess masters use in normal chess are the same as those they use in blitz chess: lightning-fast intuition. Less-skilled players' instincts, on the other hand, aren't as developed as those of the experts, and the time constraints of blitz chess demonstrate the differences between their intuitive and ruminated game play.

So if it's the quick thinkers that always win at chess, why do all the chess experts still spend hours on a game? Even though the pros can use their instincts to think of a good move in a matter of seconds, it takes a while to consider all the other possible moves and decide on the best one.

Posted by The Chess Drum:  4 June 2004