Can You Win in Chess on Time?
Other Topics Training & Psychology

Can You Win in Chess on Time?

Can You Win in Chess on Time?

In chess, if you win on time or your opponent wins by checkmate, the result is the same. Both victories are equally valid. A chess player can win a game by different ways, and time is one of them.

How Does the Timer Work in Chess

In a serious chess game, there is a clock. This clock has two timers with two switches. Each player is assigned one of these timers.

Every time a chess player is thinking about how to play, the timer will be decreasing…

After a player makes his move and press his switch, his timer is paused. The turn passes and now his opponent’s timer starts running out.

Turn by turn, this procedure will repeat. While one player is thinking, his time is running out. The button is pressed. The other player thinks and his time runs out too. The player whose time runs out first loses.

It doesn’t matter who has a better position, who has the material advantage, who is closer to promote a pawn or checkmate. Nothing matters. If time runs out, the game is lost.

Winning a chess game on time is one special way you can win in chess with just a king.

Time Increment in Chess

There is another way to play chess in which there is always the opportunity not to lose on time. It consists of having a fixed time, but also an incremental time.

Each time you make your move on time, you are given the time dictated by the increment.

An example of this is a chess game of 3 minutes plus 2 seconds. Both players start with 3 minutes on their clock. If you make your move quickly, in maximum two seconds, two more seconds will be added in your favor.

Thus, if you are very fast at playing, you can easily double your time!

This allows you to save games when you are about to lose. If, for example, you have only a few seconds left, but you play fast, you start adding time.

Instead of that, in a game without increment, even if you play fast, you will run out of time after a while.

Learning by heart some useful patterns, like how to checkmate with a rook and the king, makes you able to leverage time increment to not lose a winning position, or letting your opponent to win the game on time.

Common Time Controls in Chess

  • 15′: Each player has a maximum of 15 minutes to make all the moves of the game. This is a well known time control for rapid chess online.
  • 1′: Each player has an astonishing maximum of just 1 minute on the clock. This is known as bullet chess.
  • 3′ + 2″: Each player has 3 minutes plus 2 seconds of increment per move. This was the time control used in the World Blitz Chess Championship 2023.
2023 World Blitz Chess Champions: Magnus Carlsen and Valentina Gunina
2023 World Blitz Chess Champions: Magnus Carlsen and Valentina Gunina

Time Pressure and Mistakes

The clock is a critical unbalancing factor in a chess game. The pressure of running out of time induces you to make mistakes, and serious mistakes!

That is why good time management is a fundamental skill in chess.

If you don’t learn this, you can find yourself in two bad scenarios:

  1. Playing impulsively, and committing all kind of simple mistakes, from the very start of your chess games.
  2. Playing too quietly, thinking very well about your first moves, but then running out of time at the end of your chess games.

The more balanced player, or the one whose decision making process is more optimized, will prevail!

Chess Beginners Don’t Know There Is a Clock

Chess beginners, even experienced ones, do not know that there is a chess clock.

It is very common to play chess games without a clock.

However, the clock ―the time control― is an essential part of the game of chess.

The beginners themselves know that time is part of the game. They know that you can’t think indefinitely, but time control is exercised by the players themselves, putting pressure on their opponents if they see that they are taking too long to move. There is simply a tacit agreement not to take “too long” to make the move.

Online Chess Players

Online chess players do know that the clock exists, and since they play blitz, the clock is their main weapon!

Rather than making good moves, the best online chess players specialize in not making bad moves, and in any case playing quickly.

The main goal is to spend the minimum amount of one’s own time and instead waste the opponent’s time.

Your opponent will make you think, so that your time is consumed.

Frequently, your opponent can create unsound attacks because attacking is easier than defending. When you have to look for very precise defensive moves, your time is running out.

Time for Club Chess Players

When you stop being a novice and start playing with others more dedicated to chess, you have to accept that all the games are played with a clock. This takes time and effort!

You can experiment two different transformations, depending on how the results with the clock go.

  1. You become a gambler who only wants to win on time your chess games, using tricks and quick moves and even resorting to trash talking.
  2. You become a renegade who blames time for all your defeats. You always claim to have won the game, to have beaten your opponent, who of course is inferior to you, but only to have lost because of lack of time.

The clock should not exist says the by-time loser in chess.

Time for Classic Chess Games

Although the clock is best known in rapid chess, in all chess modalities there is a clock. In thought chess or classical chess there are time controls as well.

Those are longer time controls, but of course they do exist.

Depending on who organizes the tournament, the time may vary. But the classic chess games can take several hours… We leave this for another article. Please, share this one, if you liked it.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you want GM Igor Smirnov to help you get better at chess, watch this Masterclass.

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