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
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
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
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
- 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
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
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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