Any strong chess player must know when to take a deep think, and when to make a move quickly. Time management is critical: you can’t be too fast, you can’t be too slow.
Here are the three typical situations when you might want to take your time:
1. Choosing a plan.
2. When you can significantly improve your position, e.g., gain advantage or equality.
3. Critical moments when the result of the game is at stake.
Choosing a plan is typical of the opening-middlegame transition and for the later stages of the game. Mindless shuffling of pieces won’t lead to any good. You should have clear goals in mind and know what to aim for in the current position. Evaluating the position, choosing where to place pieces, preventing your opponent’s counter-play – all this requires time. If you are playing without a plan, you had better stop and reconsider what you are doing.
However, even if you have a good plan, things are still not easy. How does one notice opportunities for improving the position? The better your intuition is and the more experience you have, the easier it is to feel such moments. But there are also some signs that should serve as an alarm to you:
1. A promising sacrifice is available, but you can’t evaluate the consequences.
2. You see that the opponent has probably made a wrong move, one that doesn’t follow his correct plan.
3. Your pieces are optimally placed, and you feel there’s got to be a way of capitalizing on their potential.
4. Your opponent’s pieces are misplaced.
The strength of a player is largely dependent on whether he can feel when a critical moment occurs, and act accordingly. Here are a few signs of that:
1. Many candidate moves lose on the spot, or lead to a bad position. Maybe there is only one playable move available, and you should find it.
2. Tactical fight. E.g., when both sides are attacking each other's kings, at some point a critical moment will happen.
3. Transitions, e.g. when one side can simplify into a winning endgame.
During critical moments there is usually only one really good move, while others are significantly inferior.
In the game against Kaplan from the Women’s World Team Chess Championship’11 there were a few points when I had to take a deep think:
1. On move 9 I had to choose between the calm continuation Rb8 and a pawn sacrifice Nd5. In the latter case I also had to decide where to retreat with the knight. This belongs to the first category – choosing a plan.
2. On move 16 I had to determine the future course of events: leave the knight on a3, or allow it to enter the game.
3. The first critical moment in the game happened on move 22. Instead of Ng5 with a strong attack I decided to win an exchange. The signs were: misplaced White pieces (queen, rook on f3 and king) and a significant change in the course of the game after winning the exchange.
4. On move 25 I had to choose a new plan, and didn’t quite succeed.
5. On move 29 I had to make the right move to equalize. The main idea was to stop the White pawns, so it wasn’t hard to find the move. However, I somehow overlooked it, and my position became rather gloomy. Things went downhill after I played h6 instead of creating counter-play with h5.
6. Move 35 was the second critical moment of the game. I had to settle for a draw, but instead started pressing for a win at all costs.
7. The third critical moment – move 39. Only one continuation led to a win, while other moves gave White at least equality. The prerequisites of the sacrifice were a strong bishop on a7 and the fact that if Black lingers, White can start pushing the pawns on the queenside.