When the Clock is Ticking

When the Clock is Ticking‎

WIM energia
10 | Middlegame

The last article was about how to collect a library of positions and use it to improve your chess. This would improve your technique, increase the quantity of familiar positions, and make you overall a better player, but chess is a game too and one has to be practical in chess. How to make decisions in chess that are good and fast? There is a great book written by John Nunn called “Improve your chess,” that addresses many issues of practical chess. Getting into time trouble is not the best practical decision to make. Playing sharp chess, or sacrificing material with only two minutes on the clock is not great either. One can spend 20 minutes for a move only if the position is critical and one has to find a plan to implement over the next couple of moves. Otherwise, spending 20 minutes on a move that does not change the position much is a useless waste of time. When the position is sharp and there are many lines to calculate then every move would require tons of time and energy but it is the same for both opponents. 

I would like to show couple of examples where one side made a highly impractical decision.

In the following position white has hanging pawns, that might become passed pawns one day or not and remain as weaknesses. So far black has a pin of the knight on f3 with a threat of doubling the f-pawns. Then the knight would attack weaknesses around the white king that would give black great counterplay. Black wants to leave a knight vs. bishop, therefore Nh4 Be4 line does not satisfy them. Black did the right decision of taking on f3 right away because after Be4 and massive exchanges on f3 white cannot lose that position.

Some chess players are risk takers and the risk pays off most of the time. Why? Because they know when to take risks, in positions when the opponent will likely make mistake, rather than themselves. In positions when your opponent is in time-trouble it is worthwhile to complicate matters, because he will likely not find the right moves due to time shortage. On the other hand, to complicate matters when one has less time is risky and also not smart.

It is hard to know the balance when to jump out of the boat safely or when to stay inside when there is a storm around. The best recipe is not to get into time trouble at all, then one would not need to solve these questions. Here is another example, when what seemed the safe and right decision still haunts me. First of all, black played this game very solidly which I would never expect of such an active player as Battsetseg. Secondly, knowing the combinative sharpness of the opponent I backed up in a better position being afraid of getting into some trap, having less time. I would like to start 10 moves before time control and show how the two opponents played under shortage of time.


What is the difference between this game and the previous example? The similarity is that in both cases white took a wrong practical decision. The first one not based risk, the second was some timidity in a better position. Well, the difference was what did the clock show. In the first example there was less than a minute to decide what to do: to accept a draw, or to go for a continuation that I didn’t look at closely. It is a blind gamble: it can go either way. One has at least to calculate some lines before choosing a move. In the second example white had a little more than 5 minutes until the end of the game with 5 seconds increment. The plan is clear, one has to avoid blundering anything. The opponent had 15 minutes, 3 times as much time but taking into account the threats black had to find responses to it is not much time at all.

Overall, when chess as a game element comes into play I think one has to rely on experience, on instincts. Playing blitz, when one has to make decisions with limited time might help to develop these instincts. Also, solving simple tactics under limited time can be helpful too.


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