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  1. Forum
  2. General Chess Discussion
  3. Sudden Grandmaster Syndrome

Perhaps it is just a perception error, but does anybody else get the impression that many blitz players suddenly become chess virtuosos with 10 seconds on their clock? Staying alive by increments only, and playing excellent moves in the process? Or, after having blundered a piece in the opening, proceeding to put on the most immaculate and intricate defense ever seen, only to grind out a draw some 30 moves later?

Do people start "playing better" when they know they are down, or are we seeing something more sinister at play?


Yes, this is true and I have experienced it.

Yes, sometimes it increases concentration. Some players also play incredibly strong in time trouble. It is like in cycling, where some sprinters are much faster than everybody else, but only in the last part of the race.

If you think about it -- this is what you're supposed to be doing throughout a chess game -- the players have been "thinking" about it for a while (whatever time control) -- setting themselves up to be able to put-up a fight, possibly game (or, gain) some time (on increment).

As @tpr mentioned -- some people play well under time trouble.

In addition, the faster the pace ... someone not under time trouble might move faster trying to force the person in time-trouble to time-out ... and mistakes are made, which can be quickly capitalized upon, while gaining that increment. It's like an opening-trap, but for end-games.

Just to be clear, there are other measures, such as, it's commonly taught that you shouldn't study openings, and concentrate on mid-game tactics, strategy and "shots." Where a person may have a poor opening, someone who follows traditional studying suggestions may have a strong mid-game, or end-game (again, study mating patterns, end-game tactics and strategy, etc). Also consider that as time runs-out, in the end-game, there are fewer pieces to manipulate, and calculations can get easier (or, the converse: more tedious).

As a general rule, I don't play anything greater than 1-second increment. Two or Three second increments allow players to do this (flag on practically zero time) -- especially because I mostly play ZH.

If you're sitting on time, and your opponent is not, you could use that time to plan strategy or tactics. Your opponent (lacking time) is also using the time to think and plan, knowing he or she is down. Your opponent is preparing (possibly a pre-move), while you're sitting on time thinking (your opponent is using your time).

Even on a 1-second increment, if we had an enforced 1/10'th penalty on each move (instead of zero penalty since lag is compensated, and a good connection means 0-time spent on a pre-move) ... someone with zero time could easily flag someone of approximately equal rating with a full clock minute (or more). Strange things like this have been seen and complained about.

I'm not quite sure I can agree with the notion that endgame calculations are "easier" because there are less pieces on the board. In fact, endgames present some of the most complex calculation problems in chess, especially under time pressure.

However, my point is that, as a general rule, people should not be making *better and more accurate* moves under time pressure. If a player cannot calculate at leisure (for example, dropping a piece a few moves into the opening), it does not appear consistent for that player to then construct elaborate endgame fortresses as precious seconds tick away. This is also true of complex positions with many pieces, but where the player is low on time due to a critical decision that they had to make earlier.

My suspicion is that many players in blitz (standard 5+3) keep an engine on hand for those situations in which they feel that their position is slipping away. They play the opening and some of the middle-game naturally (with inaccuracies and mistakes) and then, as their time begins to dwindle, revive their lost position (since on an engine one can see various trees of potential moves).

I wonder if Lichess is capable of detecting something like this? It would seem to be an easy way to cheat while throwing off the detection techniques.

I hate repeating myself ...

<< "calculations can get easier (OR, THE CONVERSE: more tedious)."

>> "people should not be making *better and more accurate* moves under time pressure. If a player cannot calculate at leisure (for example, dropping a piece a few moves into the opening)"

<< That's just the nature of online play. I had a game the other day, where a low-rated player was constantly disconnecting between moves. I asked in chat: "server issues getting to you?" -- And then the player stopped disconnecting between moves and moved faster with much higher accuracy.


The detection methods are solid (statistically speaking). There are some issues. (And, yes, it's a psychological thing with people, even low-rated players, to feel the need to cheat or dominate other players.) -- I suspect your suspicisions are not wrong. (We share some of the same suspicions.) But the bottom line, outside of statistical correlation, and detection methods is: "Prove it."

When a player with a low-rating, who starts poorly suddenly whips-out some high-level play, I play the game out, and then block the player. I only report in instances like the one above: If the person is disconnecting between moves, then it's obvious the person is, at the least, not attentive to the game (bad sportsmanship), and at the worst, possibly flipping back and forth between windows to consult whatever. Sometimes I review a game and realize I made a really bad move, and, a lower-rated opponent capitalized on it with a standard pattern. And that's what you have to be careful about. Go to the Analysis Board, review the game. Flip the board, and look at it from the other player's perspective. If you can see it ... so can they. (One of the detection measures in statistics is frequency of pattern recognition for an individual player, and that of players of approximately the same rating -- this is still hard to correlate without a large sample size for the individual, but if the individual suddenly starts playing at a 5+ depth, where most moves are only intuitive at a 3+ depth, there's a strong chance there's a problem. BUT, again, you need access to the specifics of the analysis on this front. And, when it comes to human review, you need an educated eye to spot these things and say there's a strong correlation.)

Yes, LiChess is capable of detecting these things, and, if you think you have a valid concern, report the player and the game; adding your observations helps. (But, doing this too much, too often, without a critical eye that it takes time to review a report, earns you a demerit, so, only report in the most glaring cases.)

Sorry, that's a bit more than I wanted to say, but, I'm going to leave it for now.

Quite often times one's own time pressure makes your opponent try to start playing more rapidly to take advantage of it, which makes them play weaker and in the process making it much easier for you to play strongly with minimal time.

If you're one to do this, consciously or not, it could very well explain your issue. It's not your opponent playing stronger in time trouble, but you playing weaker.

I get that, but even if one is playing relatively weaker, the responses still need to be accurate - the moves can't be obvious blunders or other mistakes.

I find it hard to believe (which doesn't mean it isn't true) that the more common scenario is one where the player up on time simply starts playing poorly, whereas the player with all of the pressure on them is able to sustain the same, or better type of play.


Well, you are a 1900+ rated player, asking me to re-address posts I make after you ignore what I've said per what you said ... makes me wonder how you're rated the way you are. You seem to lack attention to detail, or to clearly articulate something, or work it through to understand why things are the way they are.

Now, I understand Chess is a little bit different than conversation, but, considering your lack of comprehension, and needing to be right ... seems like the problem is yours.

It has happened to me dozens of times that I don't really pay attention to the game, then make a blunder losing eg. a minor piece, get interested and do everything to complicate the situation, and eventually win the game.

Also, it happens that you might find better moves with intuition, that is when you have to play fast, and long but not cautious enough thinking gets you confused and you make worse moves.

Not saying that your speculation can't be right.

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