Time Management

Time Management

| 41 | Scholastics

Alice sighed wearily. `I think you might do something better with the time,' she said, `than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.'

`If you knew Time as well as I do,' said the Hatter, `you wouldn't talk about wasting IT. It's HIM.'

`I don't know what you mean,' said Alice.

`Of course you don't!' the Hatter said, tossing his head contemptuously. `I dare say you never even spoke to Time!'

`Perhaps not,' Alice cautiously replied: `but I know I have to beat time when I learn music.'

`Ah! that accounts for it,' said the Hatter. `He won't stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he'd do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o'clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you'd only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!'

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Every year the time control in chess is diminishing, and one needs to get used to making decisions more quickly. Life in general is becoming more hectic, and so is chess. No more adjournments,  the 7-hour controls are also becoming extinct. Each player is facing a dilemma. He/she can either grasp the essence of the position thoroughly and lose time, thus risking blundering in time trouble. Or save oneself some time and make superficial moves from time to time. Proper time management is an essential skill for every serious chess player. To avoid time trouble and not hang anything – that is an art. Let’s take a closer look at these issues:

1. Time trouble
Aka the chess players’ menace. Lots of games end in an illogical way because:
1)    there is not enough time to make a good move
2)    a person is nervous, especially when playing in the 30 sec/move mode
3)    the player gets tired by the end of the game
4)    lack of time prevents the player from leaving the board

There are a few rules that will help you avoid time trouble:
1) don’t dwell too much on a move. Exceptions – complicated tactical positions or critical moments. Anyway, when a person spends over 20 minutes on a move, he usually gets dizzy and blunders.
2) try to spend time evenly. Some people waste too much time during the opening and middlegame and have to play “with their hands” in the endgame.
3) stay focused. Eat some chocolate, drink a cup of coffee, walk out and refresh yourself, etc.

2. “Slip” – a move that is done nearly instantly and leads to a worse position. This may refer to losing advantage, deteriorating one’s position, blundering, etc. Don’t hurry! Unless a move is totally forced, spend at least some time on it, check the tactics. Superficial play is the root of evil.

Playing according to a plan and knowing how to quickly evaluate the position will save you from blundering and getting into time trouble. A master knows when to think and when to make a move quickly. This is based on experience, so one has to study chess and practice a lot. Also, solving tactics in timed mode and playing blitz may help increase the speed of your decision making.

Some pros believe that knowing a lot about chess will not protect you from time trouble since the more you know, the more opportunities you see for each side. This opinion has a point, but the more skilled you are, the better your intuition becomes. Intuition is a great guide. Sometimes you can’t afford the luxury of spending lots of time on a move, but you simply feel that it should be played. Analyze the game in detail at home. During the round itself, it’s better to rely on your intuition and knowledge.

Now let’s get back to the 4th round of the Russian Club Cup at Dagomys (previous episode here):

The game has been pretty equal. By creating pressure in the centre, White forced Black to play carefully. My opponent, an experienced GM, kept spending one precious minute after the other, got into time trouble and eventually blundered. Quite a typical scenario, right?


The evaluation of the position in a game is based not only on the placement of pieces and personalities, but also on the time factor. By looking at the clocks you may understand whose chances are higher.

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