Playing in Time Trouble

Playing in Time Trouble

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
Sep 28, 2010, 12:00 AM |
21 | Scholastics

Time is an essential component of each serious (e.g. tournament) chess game. Just like the moves, it can affect the course of the match substantially. Being able to control your time, avoid time trouble, and take advantage of your opponent’s slow play is extremely valuable and guarantees a lot of extra points.

In one of my previous articles we have discussed time management in general. Today we will, in particular, talk about playing in time trouble or capitalizing on the opponent’s lack of time.

What to do against “slow” opponents

1) If you know in advance that your opponent likes to take his/her time, you can benefit from this due to proper preparation. You may want to choose a calm unforced variation aimed at complicated maneuvers and long-lasting struggle as opposed to simplifications or extensive theory.

2) Don’t follow his/her shortcoming – try to maintain a permanent 10 or 15 min distance between you (in your favor, of course).

3) When he/she gets into time trouble, try to keep the position tense, full of variations. Avoid simplifications and forced continuations (unless you absolutely have to, i.e. you see a forced win).

4) Complications are welcome, but don’t mix them up with playing for cheap traps. A lot of won positions have been lost due to a careless and hasty “he’s worse and has just a minute on his clock, so he’ll not see this” attitude.

5) Play the board, not the clock. Some people get so nervous that they start making random moves and paying more attention to the opponent’s clock than to the actual game. This also often leads to painful defeats.

6) If you have enough time, come up with a nice plan. This will allow you to make the next few moves quickly, while your opponent won’t have the luxury to get what you are trying to do due to being short on time.

7) Watch your opponent’s moves carefully. Each of them can be a decisive blunder.

8) Try to find the right balance between trying to win on time and on the board. It’s better to have a considerable time advantage AND a won position, but sometimes life’s not that easy.

Playing in your own time trouble

While some players (including very top guys like Grischuk or Ivanchuk) are used to playing in severe time trouble nearly each game, it’s very energy-consuming and risky. Therefore, it’s better to prevent such emergencies and make sure you always have enough time on your clock. But what should one do if time trouble is already there for some reason?

1)      Use your opponent’s time wisely. Try to scan the position, find his/her candidate moves and prepare your responses.

2)      Simplify the position. There is a good old saying “the more pieces you exchange, the less you will blunder”. If you are playing with increments, forced variations (unless they spoil your position) are welcome, so are repetitions. You might have seen a master repeat the position two times not because he/she wants a draw, but just to gain another minute on the clock before proceeding. This is a classical Soviet-school trick.

3)      Try to avoid complications and make solid moves that don’t hang anything.

4)      Find a plan in order to save time on making moves. Of course, in sharp positions that can be tough to do, but sometimes (e.g. in endgames) all you need is to find which piece to relocate, etc., and there are your next few moves.

5)      Stay extremely focused: don’t leave the board or stand up to see other games.

 Naturally, it’s preferable to be ahead on time, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Nonetheless, if you consistently start trying to avoid time trouble, your results will eventually improve.

Let's see how I used my time advantage to win one of the games in the Russia-China match in August:

After move 20-something my opponent got into time trouble. Taking that into account, I opted for an attack on her king on move 29. Being deprived of the opportunity to think carefully about the position, Huang Qian made a few mistakes and lost.

P.S. Have a great time following the Chess Olympiad! That is a magnificent event with nearly all the top players in the world playing - don't miss it! Wink

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