Peter Zhdanov
11 May 2022

Recording Your Time Distribution

When playing classical tournaments, do you keep track of the amount of time you spend per move? Or, alternatively, do you analyze your online chess games, paying special attention to how long it took you to make a certain decision?

For a time-trouble addict who always ends up playing on increment, writing down the time spent on each of the moves is crucial for eliminating the shortcoming. Prestigious events have electronic boards which do it for you, while online sites are also quite convenient in this sense. However, most of us have to resort to the good old “pen and paper” method. The “chess poor” have no servants!

In one of the books, I encountered an amusing advice: if you notice that the opponent is keeping track of his time distribution, then he is probably prone to getting in time trouble, so it makes sense to try to exploit it. This statement is only partially true, because many great players keep track of the timing for different reasons. For example, when going through Garry Kasparov’s junior games and Judit Polgar’s books, one may notice that they often refer to the time spent on a move by them or their opponents, viewing it as an important factor. Even as an outsider, I found these notes quite illuminating since they give you a sneak peak into the thought processes of top players, allowing you to understand better how they manage their time during the game.

Recently, someone contacted our support department and inquired if we have a database of Carlsen’s games with timestamps for every move. I believe such a database doesn’t exist, unfortunately, but it would be instructive to have access to such information for every player.

Anyway, how can you use this data to your advantage? After the game, you can analyze not only the quality of the moves, but also how long it took you to make them.

Feel free to come up with a list of typical time-wasters for yourself and classify the situations that occurred during the game into the appropriate categories:

·       Not deciding in advance what opening to play.

·       Thinking whether to deviate from a well-known opening line.

·       Forgetting your home preparation.

·       Not being familiar with the opening or the corresponding middlegame plans.

·       Failing to make the only move right away.

·       Being afraid to intuitively sacrifice a piece, but still doing it after burning a lot of time on the decision.

·       Losing focus due to thinking about other matters, such as your personal relationship, work problems, etc.

·       Going to the WC at the wrong moment and returning 10 minutes after the opponent has pressed the clock.

·       Being a perfectionist and choosing for a long time between two continuations of roughly the same strength.

·       Calculating for the sake of doing so even though it was not necessary. For instance, some people have a soft spot for imagining outrageous attacks for themselves and spending a lion’s share of their time bank on their fantasies which never materialize on the board since the position doesn’t justify such play.

Obviously, the list is by no means exhaustive. When analyzing the game, think carefully what exactly was the cause for spending too much time on a move.

Alexander Grischuk is notorious for being a time-trouble addict despite having three World Blitz Chess Champion titles to his name!

Another curious situation is when you believe you have spared a reasonable amount of time on your move, yet you made a mistake. The basic questions you should ask yourself in such cases are the following:

·       Am I lacking some theoretical knowledge? For instance, there is a sophisticated opening setup that is well-known to experts which you failed to find over the board. Or maybe you should have found a combination, but never seen the pattern before? Or you may have not known the theory of the endgame you ended up in. If so, try to learn from your mistakes and cover the gap.

·       Did my skills let me down? Maybe your tactical vision was not good enough, or you miscalculated something. Obviously, you can focus on eliminating these weaknesses once you discover them.

·       Was it what they call an “inexplicable blunder”? For example, you are far more proficient and knowledgeable than what it takes not to make a mistake. Still, even super GMs sometimes hang pieces or blunder a mate in one. Make sure you understand what happened. Were you stressed out? Did you get distracted? Were you having some health issues? Did you feel tired? How good was your sleep before the round? Were you on some sort of meds or under the weather? For professionals who are merciless in their self-analysis, there is no such thing as “I was unlucky today and made a bad move.” Each mistake has its own prerequisite.

Finally, playing too fast and superficially is a common shortcoming among chess players of any level. Let’s review some of the typical reasons why this happens:

·       Blitzing out moves in the opening on autopilot and recalling something wrong. In classical tournaments, make sure to spend a few seconds to check what you are doing even if you believe you remember the line well.

·       «Racing» your opponent, such as trying to intimidate him by playing quickly or keep up with him if he makes his moves swiftly. For some players, it seems to be a matter of prestige to prove they can play as quickly as their opponents. This is a bad idea since what you should be doing instead is taking your time properly and punishing them for their hastiness.

·       Losing your head over an alluring combination and playing it out right away, only to discover that it was flawed!

·       Failing to realize that the position is critical and requires a careful assessment.

·       General nervousness and inability to concentrate when you feel pressured by the necessity to take your time for each move.

·       Dopamine addiction. Some people get hooked up on the thrill of having to play fast. They start off by spamming 5m games, then move on to 3m per game, 1m per game, 30s per game. Back in the day, one of the playing zones had a 1m/game and 1s/move DECREMENT, and I knew a guy who enjoyed playing with this time control!

·       Neglecting the “do not rush” endgame principle and forcing the issue too early instead of preparing carefully and giving the opponent a chance to err.

·       Rushing to close out the game as soon as possible when you have a large lead and not paying attention to your opponent’s resources. This is how you occasionally blunder pieces or end up stalemating the opponent!

·       Trying to wrap up the game since you have other plans for the evening, such as a date, following an important match live, etc. This sounds rather amateurish, but sometimes even super GMs become anxious in such situations.

I realize that some of the readers may be bored by the recommendations presented above. It’s OK; not everyone is so serious about chess! Some of us lose or win a game and press “rematch” or “new game” right away, not bothering to analyze much what happened. In such cases and in general, it is useful to have an outsider’s perspective. You could ask your coach or training partner look at some of your games and come up with a list of problems that seem to be haunting you game after game.

For example, I have a training partner rated about 2200 FIDE and roughly 2450 in blitz on Lichess. He is more of a practical player who prefers action to burning the midnight oil. By following his games, I made these observations and shared them with him:

·       He had poor time management overall, trailing pretty much every opponent on the clock and playing on increment from the middlegame in most games. That being said, he was reasonably strong in time trouble and often managed to outplay opponents despite them having a considerable time advantage.

·       His knowledge of openings was rather limited. In some cases, he was out of book by move 5 or 6, and by move 10 it was more of the norm for him. For a person of his rating, this is unacceptable. The conclusion was that he was to give his opening repertoire an overhaul and focus on creating the necessary opening trees and checking out model games to become familiar with the associated plans and not waste time on reinventing the wheel.

·       He was scared to sacrifice material for initiative or unclear complications. Trying to always calculate the line to a clear win, sometimes he wasted lots of time and didn’t dare to make the move. Or he went for it but was so down on the clock that he couldn’t handle the tension later on. In his case, it is important to learn to trust your gut instincts in blitz and to go over annotations of games played by GMs who are good at gambling and sacrificing material for initiative.

·       Sometimes he would think too deeply. Knowing that the position is probably not critical at all, he would spend a couple of minutes on a small nuance, such as whether to insert the move h6 or not. In such cases, I advised him to ask himself how critical the decision is. If the difference in the evaluation is expected to be small (e.g., 0.2 pawns), then you just make the move suggested by your instincts. This is unlikely to break your game, while wasting two minutes like that may lead to blundering away the entire house in time trouble.

·       He often missed tactical opportunities or spent too much time calculating them. The obvious cure is to solve puzzles daily and to study more tactical games, as well as adding some sharper openings to the arsenal in order to feel more comfortable navigating complications.

Of course, he didn’t fix everything at a time, but he has made quite some progress since I had first pointed these issues out to him. Also, the result greatly depends on the person’s willingness to improve, which requires regular study and practice.

Overall, I hope that from now on you will be paying more attention to your time management in chess! Improving in this area that is often ignored by people can make you a much better player.

Wondering where to find a one-stop solution for your chess routine? Check out Magnus Trainer, an app created by World Champion Magnus Carlsen and his team of world-class experts in education, IT, and chess!

Don’t Miss Out!

Get monthly product updates, exclusive content, and special offers!