Quick on the Draw With Rapid Chess

Chess players at Panfilov Park.
Andrew Peacock / Getty Images

Rapid chess is the form of the game that lives somewhere between classical chess, games in which each side may have two hours or more in which to make their moves, and in which there are often multiple time controls, and speed chess, where playing quickly is sometimes even more important than making good moves. In rapid chess, games are meant to be finished quickly, but not so quickly that the moves of a game can't be easily recorded, or that players do not have time to play a reasonably solid game of chess.

In a rapid chess game, each side is usually given somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes in which to make all of their moves. Depending on the regulations of a given chess organization, "rapid" chess may even include games where each side has as much as 60 minutes or as few as 10 to make all of their moves. In modern rapid games, players usually also have a time delay or increment, meaning that "flagging" an opponent is a relatively uncommon occurrence (at least in comparison to blitz).

Perhaps not coincidentally, the time controls for rapid chess produce games that take a similar length of time as a typical casual chess game—usually around an hour or so. As such, rapid games are generally seen as a more casual form of the game than classical chess, with many federations offering separate rating systems for rapid play. For instance, in the United States Chess Federation, players can earn both Quick and Regular ratings. This allows rapid tournaments to have an official feel to them without forcing players to risk their more prestigious "normal" ratings.

Beginning in 2012, FIDE is also expected to begin tracking rapid ratings, as well as blitz ratings. The first official ratings lists in these formats will be released in July 2012, with new lists being produced monthly thereafter. Players who already have FIDE ratings will have those ratings serve as the starting ratings for blitz and rapid play as well.

Competitive Rapid Chess

In the 1990s, some chess organizers began to push for an increased emphasis on rapid chess in tournaments featuring world-class players. The idea was that casual fans might be more willing to watch chess if games were completed more quickly and there were no long waits for individual moves. The rapid chess format was also perfect for television coverage, as games might be able to be shown live if they were guaranteed to be completed in an hour or less.

In the 21st century, rapid chess did indeed become more important in elite chess, for several reasons. First, there were more rapid events held; even if they did not capture the attention of casual chess players in the way organizers hoped, they were at least a change of pace on the chess calendar, which was appreciated by many players and fans alike. In addition, rapid tiebreakers became a part of many events—most notably, being used to break ties in World Chess Championship matches, ending the practice of allowing the reigning champion to keep his title in the case of a drawn match.

Several players have become recognized as particularly strong rapid chess players. Perhaps the most dominant player in this form of chess has been World Champion Viswanathan Anand, who also won the World Rapid Chess Championship in 2003. Levon Aronian has also gained recognition as an extremely strong rapid player, having won both the World Rapid Chess Championship and the World Blitz Chess Championship during his career. The most recent World Rapid Chess Championship was held in 2010 ​and was won by Gata Kamsky, who scored 10/11 in a massive tournament that was held as a part of the Mainz Chess Classic.