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Marc Cressac; Chess Fact-Checked by Marc Cressac | Updated 2023-01-16
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How To Improve at Rapid Chess

Who doesn’t love a game of Rapid chess? It requires quick thinking abilities, laser-sharp reflexes and the ability to make decisions under increasing pressure. However, a lot of chess players struggle with getting their Rapid chess skills to the next level. That’s why I’ve prepared this article to help you get better at Rapid chess and in turn improve your Rapid rating on your favorite chess site. Let’s dive in!

What is Rapid Chess?

Let’s start with a small definition, so that we’re all on the same page (because the position and idea of Rapid chess has changed a lot in recent years). According to FIDE – the governing body of chess – players have between 10 and 60 minutes of thinking time on their clock in Rapid chess. Just 20 years ago, that would’ve been considered (very) fast play. Nowadays, with the increased popularity of online chess, Rapid chess is arguably the slowest time control that is actively played on chess sites like Chess.com or Lichess. The trend is definitely towards faster time controls like Bullet and Blitz.

Analysis of How To Get Better at Rapid Chess

Improving at a certain aspect of chess is always a hard endeavour. Most beginners make the mistake of blindly starting to solve puzzles and learning the occasional opening, hoping to see instant improvement in their overall chess ability. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t lead to great results, but rather frustration and lack of motivation. I want you to take a different approach – a more analytical and scientific one. Let’s look at this graph together:

Calculation and Theory Play a Big Role in Becoming a Better Rapid Player
Calculation and Theory Play a Big Role in Becoming a Better Rapid Player

Here you can see the importance of learning theory and deep calculation ability in relation to different time formats. As you can probably imagine, the shorter the time format, the less importance lays in both of those capabilities.

Although being able to play fast is a very helpful skill for your overall chess performance, it really doesn’t matter in Rapid chess (at least compared to Blitz and Bullet). So in order to improve our Rapid skills, we want to laser-focus on the exact capabilities that matter in Rapid chess.

Deep calculation and theory are only two of five aspects that I uncovered as important inputs to your success and improvement in rapid chess. Have a look at all five of them:

Inputs That Make You A Successful Rapid Player
Inputs That Make You A Successful Rapid Player

I’m sure this is no surprise to you: Inputs like speed of play and luck play less of a role in Rapid chess compared to Bullet chess. However, as we’ve uncovered above, we need to be good at calculating and have a solid grasp of opening and endgame theory.

So now that we’ve uncovered what we need to focus on exactly to improve our Rapid rating, let’s get to some tips that will actually help you achieve your goal.

Tips To Improve Your Rapid Play

When looking at a simplified view of what makes a good Rapid player, it is important to appreciate the natural hierachy that applies to most chess players:

The Ladder of Chess Improvement
The Ladder of Chess Improvement

We all start by learning the rules of chess, then develop an eye for tactical patterns, learn the occasional opening before we start to develop the ability to form a coherent strategy and game plan on the board.

We want to cover tips that help you all along that pyramid, so that you can use them whereever you are in your journey to becoming a Grandmaster (okay, maybe that’s not even your goal). So let’s dive right into the tips & tricks to help you get better at rapid chess.

Avoid Fast Play

Are you infected with the Bullet disease when playing Rapid chess? I think you know exactly what I mean. If it’s you 10th move and you have more time on your clock than you’ve started with, well, you’re infected.

Does your time management in Rapid games look something like this?:

Getting Better at Rapid Chess Requires Time Management
Getting Better at Rapid Chess Requires Time Management

Well, then you’ve found the first obstacle you need to overcome when improving your rapid chess rating…

I know it’s tempting to blitz out your moves in a Rapid game, but there is really no benefit in doing so. You’ll eventually blunder or miss a critical tactic – problems easily avoidable by taking your time.

I’m sure you absolutely know this, but why do you keep doing this? Unfortunately, I can’t tell you. I just now that you need to stop in order to become a better Rapid chess player. What helped me quite a bit is setting a minimum time I need to spend for each move for the first 10-20 moves. That way I avoided temptation to just blitz out all my moves.

If you have a good strategy to avoid Bullet disease, please let me know.

Learn How To Defend a Tough Position

Sometimes it’s not about gaining rapid rating points, it’s about not losing them. A really helpful skill I only recently learned is the ability to defend a lost or tough position.

Previously, I would often resign my games, without even trying to defend. You’d be surprised how many seemingly lost positions can be rescued to a draw or even turned around! Especially when your opponent becomes overconfident and starts blitzing out his moves – oh boy have I seen some emberassing queen blunders.

Jesse Cohen posted an excellent video on how to defend a lost position:

Learn Complicated Opening Variations to Surprise Your Opponent

I think we’ve all been there: An opponent outplays us in the opening because we aren’t well prepared in that opening or a specific variation. And just like that, we’ve basically lost lost our Rapid game. Not only is this frustrating, it also costs you valuable rating points.

Luckily, this is all avoidable with proper opening preperation. I know it’s hard work, but building a solid repetoire is the foundation of improving as a Rapid player. In addition to knowing the in’s and out’s basic openings like:

  • Queens Gambit,
  • Sicilian Defense, or
  • Ruy Lopez

you should have at least a few complicated and technical openings well-prepared that you can surprise your opponent with.

Chess youngstar Arjun Puri created an epic video together with the Sain-Louis-Chess Club on 12 difficult openings and how to play them. This video serves as an excellent foundation to creating a repetoire of complicated openings to surprise (and beat) your opponent in Rapid chess:

Know Basic Endgames By Heart

Similarly to having a good opening foundation, knowing endgames is just as important to enhance your Rapid skills. A good portion of chess games simplify down into the endgame at some point, so it is crucial to be confident in playing them.

I really like Aimchess for training my endgames, as they allow me to specifically target areas of weakness in my play. But you can use any other Engame Trainer available, like on Chess.com or Lichess.

Another nice bonus you get from practicing endgames is the fact that they are a great way to improve your calculation skills as well, since a lot of endgames simply break down to the precise calculation of variations. But we’ll focus on calculation and visualization skills next.

Work on Your Calculation and Visualization Skills

Your ability to calculate ahead is essential in both the middlegame as well as the endgame. Visualization, is the ability to imagine the board and the pieces in your mind, allowing you to analyze and plan positions without physically moving the pieces on the board. Essentially, visualization is the foundation for calculation.

How can you improve your calculation and visualization? Well, there’s a few ways.

How I Like To Train My Calculation Skills:

  • Solving Puzzles on Chess.com or Lichess
  • Playing long time formats and actually focussing on calculation

How I Like To Improve My Visualization Skills:

Chess Improvement Articles To Make You a Better Player

We have a ton of useful tips & tricks here on Chessily to make you a better chess player. You can browse through all of them here:

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