Being able to start playing chess online against another person after a couple of clicks has become a blessing that many of us take for granted nowadays.
Here I would like to discuss a few important aspects of playing chess online.
I will start with my own experience and the first thing I will say is that it is addictive.
In the early 00s, I was spending the springs on the Cote d’Azur in France. A friend of mine lived there and I was staying with him between tournaments or waiting to play for my club over the weekend.
I wasn’t interested in tourism as I have seen most of the coast before, so there wasn’t much for me to do during the days (and nights). I started to play online.
I played a lot, and I mean a lot. Most of the days I would spend double-digit hours playing.
After a while, it became a problem. I didn’t want to move from the computer, neither to sleep or eat. Just endlessly clicking on the mouse and eager to start the next game.
Playing chess online: the pitfalls
If I won, I wanted to win more; if I lost, I wanted to get revenge. And the rating, of course, I wanted to get it to infinity. There was no stopping.
While there may have been some positive effects at the beginning, like practicing some openings and increasing tactical alertness, after a while, this became overshadowed by the negative effects.
The playing turned into clicking. A robotic finger movement with only minimal brain activity. I was no longer calculating lines, I played “on intuition”.
That’s what I was telling myself in order to justify the wasted time. It wasn’t intuition, it was me playing the first move I saw.
Intuition means you feel something, here there was no feeling. Just numb clicking. (In some cases this numbness can transfer to over-the-board play. Then it’s even worse. Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me.)
I was lucky that after some time I had to leave for a tournament, or visit the Melody Amber, which I always did in those days. This forced me to stop the harmful activity.
The itch was still there, but other things took precedence (game preparation, the actual playing, real people). When looking at it from a distance I realized that I was, in fact, wasting my time and not improving at chess at all.
Eventually, I stopped and I was surprised to find how easily I did it. Not all is bad with online chess, of course. So I figured what should be done if one wants to take maximum advantage out of it.
Discipline is the key
You must control yourself. Before starting an online session you must set the exact amount of time you will play and when the last game finishes you stop. No excuses. I would recommend a session no longer than one hour (and probably less).
Determine for what exactly you will use the online session. It can be for practicing openings (you can choose to play only with White or Black and practice your lines), quick calculation (keeping maximum concentration throughout the session without interruptions – consider it a high-intense exercise), endgame play (try to exchange queens and pieces as early as possible, sometimes even at the cost of worsening your position), a match with a known opponent and so on. Stick to your plan!
These two instructions can easily be overlooked if you decide to play online “just for fun.” Then you can easily forget yourself and the session will expand to fill all your available time. “Just one game” is never “one.” And the fun will quickly be gone if you start losing. As Benjamin Franklin wrote in “The Way to Wealth,” “It’s easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow.”
Don’t do it every day
If you are serious about improving at chess, online chess should be used sparingly. Once a week should be enough. If you are to improve you must study much more than play. And the playing should be over the board, not online.
I hope this advice helps. That is, if you needed it in the first place.