How to Manage Time in Chess

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

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Time management in chess is crucial. It doesn't matter how good of a game you played if you have no time in the end; the game will be spoiled and lost if you come under time pressure. Though, players seem to skip over this essential part of chess and just say to themselves, Well I'll just move faster next time.

This thought process is exactly why poor time management occurs in the first place. I think time management is not taken seriously and is a significant difference between masters and amateurs.


Poor time management can be just as devastating as missing a tactic, so you may as well begin studying now!

1. Learn openings

By learning openings, you won't use a lot of time deciding what moves to play as early as move 5. Study your openings pawn structure, typical ideas or strategies, and some theory. Take some time at home to gain some time on the board.

*Learn how to train openings here.*

It is not unusual for well-prepared players to begin the middlegame with an extra 30 minutes on their clock and an excellent position. Simply by being lazy and not studying openings, one could find themself in a difficult situation very quickly. 

Also, by learning openings you will save a lot of energy for later in the game. Or maybe you'll get lucky and win in the opening purely due to preparation!

2. Recognize critical moments

Recognizing critical moves in the game is critical to time management because this is where you want and need to spend time. The only thing left is to identify critical positions. Some tips to know if a position/move is critical:

  • If forcing moves exist (checks, captures, threats)

  • Whenever a move creates an imbalance

  • Deciding to create or release pawn tension

  • Creates a piece imbalance (i.e. trade bishop for knight)

  • Any committal move

These are moves you want to spend time on as they can immediately alter the game and the outcome of the game if not analyzed properly. And you need time to calculate and make evaluations.

*Know how to find and analyze critical moves with a correct thought process. Get one here, free.*

3. Use your opponents time

If you can master this one concept, you may never be in time trouble again! After making a move don't just say, I have everything planned out and have seen everything. This makes you a lazy player. 

Always be on the lookout for potential ideas. Create long-term plans or general goals for you or your opponent's position. Try to predict your opponents move and have a follow-up. This will time a lot of time on your clock. 

Ask yourself questions like what are the long-term plans/goals for each side?, what are potential tactical ideas?, where are my future pawn breaks?, how do I improve my pieces?, etc.

Some things in chess don't require concrete analysis or variations, so thinking on your opponent's time is just as valuable as thinking on your time.

4. Don't overthink

Overthinking tends to be a big problem with some players. Everyone is guilty of it. First of all, overthinking burns time. Also, it tells your opponent you don't know how to play the position. 

*Don't have a structured thought process? Get a complete checklist and guide here.*

Overthinking happens in not-critical moments of the game. Usually, it involves spending too much time on what idea/plan to go for. Don't do this! 9 times out of 10 the move you choose probably won't be good anyway. Instead, if you are stuck just make a move. Make a move that improves your position in some way; no matter how small. 

You must stop the bleeding somehow so just find a decent move even if you have no concrete idea. Those ideas will come to you later. Even better, find those ideas when your opponent is thinking!

5. Play forced moves immediately

It's obvious but common. Play forced moves immediately. And it doesn't just apply to captures. If the position calls for any sort of forced move, play it. No matter how bad the move may seem, if it is forced or you know that you will play it, move immediately. I cannot stress this enough.

Players will sometimes start analyzing lines of a move they know they will play. Just make the move!

6. Take your time

If your opponent is playing fast, slow down. There is no drawback to taking another look at the position to make sure you aren't blundering anything. 

Don't play against your opponent's time trouble. Don't play fast when your opponent is low on time; you will blunder and lose.  

If there is more than one reasonable move or candidate, there is no rush to play immediately. Take your time and correctly analyze each candidate. 

Learn how to manage time and I assure you many games will be saved! Don't underestimate the power of time management, so prepare yourself!

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