Apr 21, 2001


In the late Spring of 1999, out of a desire to be able to enjoy "true" Lightning-Chess competition over the internet, the World Organization of Lightning-Chess (WOLC) was born. "Lightning-Chess" (or, "LC") is where each player has only one minute in which to contest the entire game. [This is distinguished from "Blitz" chess, where participants have from 3 to 7 minutes for their game, or "Bullet" chess where participants have a start time less then 3 minutes but the game can last beyond 1 minute for either]. LC is the most extreme form of the sport of chess, where top competitiors must be top athlete, truly understand all parts of the game of chess, and have top instincts and intellect to engage in such a rapid battle! In my opinion, it is the most exciting spectator sport on earth!

The main problem which set the stage for a need for WOLC was the current situation that internet chess servers did not provide for "true" LC competition - that is to say, due to the failure of these servers to provide for "lag-free" LC competition. Of course, with modern technology, there will always be some "lag" present in internet communications. ["Lag" refers to the time it takes the signal to get from your computer, to the server's computer, and then back to yours.] The problem giving rise to the need for the WOLC was that the LC competitions on chess servers routinely allowed participation by players whose lag clearly exceeded an amount allowing for completion of the contest within any time close to the 2-minute maximum-limit of over-the-board LC. You see, if one player's lag is beyond a certain amount, the integrity of a G/1minute contest - that players must rely on instinctual understanding of position and changing position, without being afforded the luxury of time for deep, thoughtful planning - is lost. In effect, if even one player's lag exceeds 2000ms, the contest becomes more akin to a G/2- or G/3-minute contest [given the actual amount of thinking-time available during the game for both players]. To be sure, if you've ever witnessed the last minute of an over-the-board standard game (where players hit clocks with units lying on the board instead of standing on a square), it seems a need also exists to provide a sane, standard set of rules to deal with such circumstances - and, personally, giving a player who is almost out of time more time via "increments" or "time delay" does not seem to be a fair solution.

3-time LC World Champ,
GM Roland "Hawkeye" Schmaltz, of Germany

Hence, with a need to be filled, along came the UPSCL (a California-based non-profit scholastic chess league) to the rescue, in establishing the WOLC. To remedy the aforementioned "problems" the WOLC has created a standardized set of rules for LC. For example, in internet competitions, a player with excessive lag will be immediately forfeitted. In fact, this penalty is not as harsh as it might seem, for a player can usually know what their lag will be before the event begins; and, thus, can withdraw from the event if their lag is too high and the player is not able to correct the excess (e.g., by rebooting their computer system and reconnecting to the internet). For over-the-board (OTB) competitions, similar lack of consideration for the opponent during play can bring about immediate forfeiture (e.g., the hitting of the clock with a unit lying on the board, instead of standing upon its legal square) - akin to critical gold-medal-losing deductions in gymnastics, diving, or figure skating, for imperfect execution. Moreover, for OTB competitions, all games are videotaped in case there is need to review a claim [and, to provide a record of game scores].

6-time US Champ, GM Walter Browne (l.),
battling IM Mladen Vucic (r.) on the way to
Browne winning his first "U.S. LC Champion" title.
In his first OTB LC experience the previous June,
GM Browne called playing LC "a rejuvenation!"

Is Lightning-Chess "real" chess?
Perhaps the biggest "controversy" surrounding the WOLC is the debate on the worthwhileness of chess where each participant has "only" 1 minute for the entire contest. While the WOLC has a special website fully addressing the issue, I can summarize the main reasons why LC practice is (or, should be) an important part of the overall practice scheme of any top chess-player:

  • If a player maximizes their optimal use of time on the clock at any time control, their game will reach its final minute; THUS, the player who has more practice at LC will be better able to deal with "time pressure" during that final minute!!
  • modern events with options for shortened-schedules offer increasingly-reduced times for beginning rounds, making it even more likely that the game will reach the final minute!
  • a player who has practiced much LC will use every minute of time - at any time control - more efficiently!!!
  • ... I could go on, but you get the idea, no?

In short, I've seen all too many games at "slower time controls" reach the final minute and watch a player completely destroy his/her winning position...

To me, this seems to be a complete waste; for, if that same player had much practice at LC, s/he would not have lost!

Thus, when used properly, practice at LC can only help one's chess performance for any time control!!!

Of course, chess is chess; LC uses same opening- middlegame- and endgame-strategies; and, for the most part, if you looked at a game-score of top-level LC compared to a game-score from a standard game (and, you had no other information other than game scores), you likely would not be able to tell which was the LC game. After all, all games of chess are decided by mistake; does it make the mistake any more meaningful if it comes after 4 hours of work or after 40 seconds of work?

What does the WOLC offer?
Presently the majority of WOLC competitions take place via the internet [usually, held at ChessClub.com, in channel 21]. Moreover, the WOLC has come to provide only the highest-quality of competition! Indeed, the average rating of participants in "open" (i.e., anyone may participate) WOLC competitions often exceeds 2400; and, has broken the 2500 mark! The usual format for WOLC events is that players play 3 games each round, with colors alternating each game. Most competitions follow a "swiss-pairing" scheme, unless numbers suggest a round-robin is more convenient. In addition to biweekly competitions, the WOLC offers such special annual events as the "LC World Championships" (which runs from January - mid-March), League Open in the Spring, and the "Tennis-LC 'Open' World Championships" (which runs from October - mid-November). Also, bi-annually, the WOLC holds a special invitational "TLC 'Closed' World Championships" (July-August). Tennis-lightning-chess (TLC) is where players contest LC games using tennis-like scoring, with the winner of the first set advancing to the next round. [In my opinion, if the recent Kramnik-Kasparov match had been TLC, best of 5 sets, one set every other day (i.e., rest day in between), their match would have been infinitely more exciting, there would have been no boring draws, Kasparov would have won at least one game, the GM commentators would have had to give their own opinions and not have time to rely on computer analysis, and the match would be over before the end of 10 days!!!]

While it's nice that internet events (which have free entry to WOLC members) allow players from all over the world to compete together (and more often), the real future (and most excitement) comes from OTB events. [After all, even at slow time-control events, the crowds are biggest around the boards when time is shortest!] So far, the WOLC has hosted 2 U.S. Championships (the last one of which was attended by a GM and two IMs) and a California State LC Championships. As soon as the "WOLC Pairings Program" (which is used on a computer to run WOLC events) is finished and ready for distribution, the WOLC will allow for chess clubs around the world to become WOLC affiliates and conduct officially-WOLC-rated events! I truly believe LC is at least one of the most exciting spectator sports on earth. Thus, it is ripe for getting media coverage, especially if we can obtain good sponsorship of a prestigious event!!!

In addition to official WOLC ratings (posted on the WOLC website within an hour of most internet events and within 24 hours of an OTB event) and competitions, the WOLC also provides its members 2 semi-annual issues of a league newsletter which was recenlty awarded by the Chess Journalists of America as the "Best New Chess Magazine of 2000!" The "Lightning Bulletin" is the only chess publication solely devoted to the world of LC, providing scores from exciting games, news about LC events, helpful tips, and members' current ratings [including lifetime records by color!] In addition, the WOLC has recently come out with its own chess-playing interface for use at ChessClub.com, with special features for the LC player (free for WOLC members)!!!

The cover from the innagural issue

Considering only the practice offered at WOLC events and the newsletter alone, I'm sure you'd agree that a mere $10USD annual fee for joining the WOLC is a very good deal! When you think, in addition, of the exciting LC competitions (and the prizes!!), the year-long Grand Prix Points contest, the benefits to your over-all chess-playing abilities that come from good LC practice, and the excitement that will naturally be a part of OTB LC competitions (when the WOLC gets affiliates)... and you must realize it is a great deal!

The future of WOLC
With a good, annual, structured list of competitions, and a sound player-base of top competitors, the future of the WOLC looks very bright. It is anticipated that the WOLC pairings program will be ready for distribution within the next several months, making a real possibility for WOLC affiliates to be able to conduct OTB events (which would be officially recognized (and rated) by the WOLC) no later than the start of the 2001-2002 season [the WOLC season runs from 1 Sep. - 31 Aug.]. Once affiliates have the events going, the next step will be to invite the participation of sports media to cover the more prestigious WOLC events, either preceeding or acompanying nice corporate sponsorship. Of course, sponsorship of WOLC events is a win-win situation for the coporation: as the UPSCL (which operates the WOLC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, sponsorship provides an opportunity for "free" advertising in addition to enormous goodwill that accompanies support of the positive activity that pursuit of improvement in chess-playing abilities reflects.

The WOLC has been in operation since July of 1999; and at present, we are about 40% of the way through our second official season! Within 3-5 years, we will know how receptive the corporate and media community will be to support and coverage of our exciting competitions. [Perhaps, even, other chess organizations will adopt WOLC rules for handling last-minute "time scrambles" for their standard-time-control events.] Regardless, the competitions will be there for those who truly love LC, and have access to participate... and for those who participate, they will be happy that the WOLC is here!

Dr-EL (Steve Cohen), WOLC President

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"Chess is so interesting in itself, as not to need the view of gain to induce engaging in it;and thence it is never played for money."

Benjamin Franklin, "Chess made easy", 1802

"It is one of the insights of modern players, and especially of the best ones, that one has toplay the position itself, not some abstract idea of the position."

John Watson, "Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy", 1998

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