Chess Corner - Time Gain and Loss



We have studied the opening and the endgame. I do not have a column specifically dedicated towards the middlegame, because there are so many possibilities that no strategy can be laid out for it. However, in this column, I’ll discuss the definition of time in chess, and why it should be carefully conserved in any part of the game.

One definition of time involves using a chess clock, a device that gives both players limited time to move. The rules for using chess clocks in tournaments differ. In some tournaments, you will have to use a chess clock in every game, while in others, you only have to use a chess clock if either you or your opponent want to do so. If you run out of time, you lose unless your opponent cannot win no matter what mistakes you make. Then it’s a draw.

However, this is much different from the other definition of time, which is vital in every single game. In everyday life, time can be measured in minutes, or hours, or centuries. In chess, time is measured in moves. You might not have enough time to set a trap, or play a move, or defend against checkmate. I’ll start with a basic example: Scholar’s Mate.

In Scholar’s Mate, White checkmates Black in four moves: 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Bc5 3. Qh5 Nc6 4. Qxf7#. Let’s step back and look at the position shown in diagram 1 after 3. Qh5. What should Black have done? Nc6 defends e5 from capture, and that would be a good move if not for Qxf7. What 3… Nc6 does is lose time. Black has played a move that does nothing whatsoever and has allowed his opponent White to continue his plans freely. If Black had played 3… Qe7 instead, he would have defended against checkmate and defended e5. He could follow that with Nf6, attacking the queen and gaining time. White would have had to move his queen back, losing time and allowing Black to get the lead in development and be more prepared for the middlegame.

The consequences of losing time are not always that deadly, but they can still be very bad. Take diagram 2 above, the start of an example from Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess (Bruce Pandolfini, 2003). The position is somewhat even. However, White can ruin his game with 1. a3? This move may look okay – it attacks Black’s bishop in hope that the pin on White’s knight will be broken. But this is unnecessary and just wastes time. Black firsts exchanges his bishop for White’s knight with 1… Bxc3 2. bxc3. White’s pawns are weaker (this will be explained in a future column), but Black is not finished: After 2… Nxe4! White has lost a pawn. If White responds by taking Black’s knight with his bishop, 3. Bxe4, Black gets his piece back with 3… Re8, pinning the bishop to his king. (See the third diagram above.) After 4. f3 f5 5. 0-0 fxe4 6. fxe4 Rxe4, White is down a pawn and has to face Black’s centralized rook. He is in trouble.

For every move you make, your opponent gets to make a move as well. If you make a move that doesn’t change anything or won’t pay off in the future, you’re giving your opponent a chance to take the lead. One move can change everything, so make every one of yours count.

This week’s puzzle is from a game I once played. Neither my opponent nor I were well developed, but I had a slight advantage. What I didn’t know is that I, Black, could checkmate my opponent in two moves! Can you see how?

Answer to last week’s puzzle: White starts with 1. Kg1! and from there, there are three possibilities: 1… f3 2. Kf2 h3 3. Kg3 f2 4. Kxf2 h2 5. Kg2 and all three pawns will be captured. If Black plays 1… h3, White plays 2. Kh2 g3 3. Kxh2 f3 4. Kxg3 f2 5. Kxf2. If 1… g3, then 2. Kg2 f3 3. Kxf3 g2 4. Kxg2 h3 5. Kxh3. After all three pawns are taken, what then? Black has to move his king: 5… Kxc5. White is now free to promote his a-pawn: 6. a7 Kd5 7. a8/Q. White, assuming he knows what to do, will win the game from here.