Time, Material, and Quality in the Opening

Time, Material, and Quality in the Opening

There are many elements or imbalances in chess. Although many different masters over the years have used different terms to identify these such as pawn structure, king safety, development, material, and several others I like Garry Kasparov's system of the elements of chess: Time, Material, and Quality - I'm not sure if he originated this classification, but I first learned about it from reading one of his books.
I think beginners learn about material early on in their careers. It is easy - you can count to see who is winning. Much of our early chess development involves developing ways to win more material than your opponent. 
However, as we get better and study the masters and how they play, we see that material is only one facet. Sometimes it's the most important, such as when you're two pawns up in a pawn endgame. Sometimes, it's meaningless, when your opponent sacrificed his queen to force a checkmate. Many times, it's hard to decide...and the judgment of its current value to Time and Quality in the specific position on the board will determine who has an advantage.
In the opening, when not many moves have been played, your opening moves often revolve around being efficient with Time while trying to increase the Quality of your pieces. Material - save a blunder - is often equal for the first moves of many chess games. In some openings, we trade in a little Material - often a pawn - to gain Time or Quality. Openings like the Morra Gambit (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3) typify this type of exchange. 
Considering this discussion, take a look and decide what you would play in the following position. Black has just played ...Qb4, adding another attacker to the d4 pawn and threatening to win it.
In the example above, my opponent overestimated the value of the single pawn, allowing me to increase the Quality of my pieces through development and taking advantage of Time as my opponent wasted time moving his queen several times in the opening.
By the way, the concept of Time has been emphasized by GM Jesse Kraai in a several of his videos. I was reminded of this when writing this post. I highly recommend them.
To understand how to utilize both Quality and Time (in addition to Material) to learn to apply these in your games, here are a few activities that I've found helpful.
1. Study the games of Paul Morphy. This late 19th century chess legend was the exemplar of efficient and effective development among other things. He often sheds a pawn to increase the quality of his pieces and uses all of them in attack.
2. Analyze the opening phase of your games. When you or your opponent leave book theory, try to discover why your move is worse than the accepted theory. Often your move will not be as efficient in Time or your pieces won't have the Quality that the book move has. I'm using broad strokes, and you can drill down as to WHY the book move is better than what you played. If your opponent left theory earlier, is there a way you could have taken advantage considering Time or Quality - assuming you're not just winning Material for no compensation.
3. If you haven't done so in your chess development, pick up an opening variation where you gambit a pawn (Material) for advanced development (Quality and Time). There are many options with White and Black and many of them are dangerous for your opponent practically if somewhat not as sound as the main lines. I did this early in my career with the Morra Gambit with White and the Hennig-Schara Gambit (in the QGD Tarrasch) with Black. Although I don't play these openings anymore, I learned a lot about how to squeeze as much Time and Quality out of those positions since I invested a pawn to get them!
Of course, when you sacrifice a pawn or more in the opening to get compensation in increased Quality and Time, it can produce a short-term initiative that you can transform into an even bigger advantage if your opponent makes additional mistakes. 
In the following game, you see the results of my pawn sacrifice culminate in a big attack. If you want to see my live commentary to this game, you can check out the video I made on Youtube.

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