Deep Thought

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Mar 6, 2012

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.   



  • 10 months ago


    I don't think you even have a plan...

  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Let’s stay in touch on social networks! Here are my official accounts:

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  • 5 years ago


    very helpful... thanks a lot!!!

  • 5 years ago


    very useful natalia...thanks a lot

  • 5 years ago



    Thanks for the advice. I first thought that I would have trouble with openings since here I usually play TB and consult the DB. But 4 my surprise I found that my 1500-2000 FIDE rated partners although much more experienced, didn't have a better opening knowledge. Lesson: don't waste your time digging into openings if you aren't applying for titles (CM, NM etc. that's +2100 rated players).

    It's a matter of rhythm and yes, phyisical fitness is very important. But then you are limited by age, health issues etc. I watched a video recently where they explained that Karpov fell in time trouble repeatedly in his last match v. Kasparov (1990) when he never suffered about it previously.

    Again, how to improve your time management? Avoiding complications could be a way. What really makes you waste your time is going over and over variations you have analyzed previously. So neater calculation is required. Go over the variation once and evaluate it. Do the same with a couple of alts. Discard immediately bad options. Then summarize and take a decision. But try not going 5 times over the same variation. Easy to say but not as much to execute.

    Using your partner time I found a good idea. But how? Calculating tactics when you don't know what he's going to play is exhausting. So perhaps use this time to evaluate the position strategically and your own time for calculating lines.

  • 5 years ago


    Great article and insight into the mind of a master!

    How to understand your position!

  • 5 years ago


    thanks Natalia for this wonderful article! Happy birthday, may you have many more birthdays to come!

  • 5 years ago


    is this position equal or not?

    and what white should play here?

    thankx Natalia

  • 5 years ago


    the petrov defense is the good play with white

  • 5 years ago


    how to play petrov it's a good question. here white should be more quite and tactical to go in position after 20 moves let's see here 1e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 N*e5 d6 4 Nf3 N*e4 5 Qe2 Qe7 see this position here white has tow options playing 7 Nc3 or 7 Bg5 me i love 7 Bg5 let's see because 7 Nc3 black has some counter play.

    7 Bg5 here the maine line of black is to exchange the qeen and here the game began 7 Bg5 Q*e2 8 B*e2 Be7 9 Nc3 c6 10 00 00

    lets see here

    so here it's first position
  • 5 years ago


    nicely explained. it would be nice if you could write something like this for blitz games. thanks and more power. Godbless!

  • 5 years ago


    One of your best articles! I really enjoyed it. My OTB rating is 2013 and I understood it with no problem.

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    Thanks Natalia, very instructive for demonstrating the decision points in the the course of the game. Some key points emerges - deciding whether to maintain the tactical advantage or trade it for material gain (22 ... Nxf2), going boldly for countrplay (31 ... h5) or  consolidate (31 ... h6), knowing when something isn't working and needing to change tactics, etc. Making the best  judgement at these points is a very difficult skill to master.

    Kaplan gave you a tremendous battle, I think well above her 1849 rating.

    Finally, that's a super dress. But surely it gives you an unfair advantage OTB ;)

  • 5 years ago


    Good game by black - somewhere down the line white lost his way. But well played black.

  • 5 years ago


    Nice game.

    Silly question about playing on. Who would not want to bask in your beauty while watching the pawns get wiped off the board. Plus, your opponent figured you would show the final moves on your blog.

  • 5 years ago


    You pulled it off!  Thanks for sharing :)

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for this article! I Really like it!

  • 5 years ago


    Great game, although there was a major Elo difference. Once again, I would look forward to a Pogonina chess book. Thanks for the article and good luck with this year's competition.

  • 5 years ago



    It is not very clear that you have a time trouble issue; if you play good for two hours and then crash in the last 20 minutes what you need is more physical training. At least that is what it looks like since you don't have a time management issue in the first two hours it appears to be the case that you manage your time pretty good. 

    It also could be that by that time you are aproaching and ending and maybe you are not as well trained for endings as you are for openings and middle game.

    Most likely if you only recently started playing OTB you need some more time getting used to play long games. Make sure you are well rested; proper rest is way more important than most people think.

    Hope that helps, good luck !

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