How to manage your time in chess? (secrets unlocked)

Managing time in chess is a notorious issue that a lot of people play face to face over and over again. It just seems to never go away, whatever we do it pops up in different forms.

I of course are susceptible to this as well, that is why I went on a little journey to dig up some things to maybe propose a solution. My findings are very interesting, ghere are actually many tricks that chess masters do to manage their time better.

Of course I don’t just keep these tips to myself, I’ve got an audience here on this website that share the same problem. I can definitely see someone managing their time better if they implement these tips properly.

If you think it is complicated, don’t worry, we’re going to piece everything one by one in order to sufficiently get you the “time control” title better than most of your chess peers (or friends).

It is quite simple actually you just have to learn from the best, see what they do and incorporate it in your own games.

Let’s do it.

What things can you do before the (chess) game that helps manage time?

Preparations are really the thing that will get us ahead in anything not just in chess, it’s just faster to execute when you already know what to do. This of course is very relevant in being able to play in a time-efficient manner, since you can decide faster without overthinking.

Some of the preparations you can do to efficiently manage time in chess are familiarizing with famous positions, mastering checkmating patterns, and playing a lot of games (to get experience).

Frankly, there are so many ways to prepare for a match that is hard to adequately pinpoint the things you can do. You can polish opening lines, do some twitching with the engine, or play some practice games.

The point is you should improve the overall chess game preparations and have a standard format that you could use again and again. This reduces an incredible amount of time overthinking what you need to do in a game causing you to play much faster.

Most likely though, positions that you will encounter over the board have already been witnessed somewhere else. That is a big missed opportunity that will give you knowledge before even the game itself.

What happens when you have knowledge? You play much faster and accurately while saving time. So I suggest you should really familiarize yourself with famous positions that have certain themes which would likely appear in a game.

You don’t want to memorize, just “familiarize” in order for you to understand things better.

A thought for your mind: “Don’t byheart your lesson, learn by heart”.

J. Tisa

And guess what you can familiarize and memorize at the same time? chess openings. Yes, by having a good opening repertoire it will significantly less demanding to think of early moves.

You are less likely to blunder and fall for traps this way, saving the time that would’ve been spent calculating for those. So study some openings, it’s one of the best preparations that could definitely make time management less daunting.

Things would be much faster to play too if you can easily win theoretically won positions. Spotting a checkmate for example when a combination is possible will save you time.

This is why I recommend mastering some checkmating patterns in order for you to finish things faster if available. It doesn’t have to be very complicated (although it helps), just enough to actually win games if possible.

What is another thing that you can do before a game that enables you to gain a grasp on handling time issues? Of course by playing more games. You will get access to a sort of chronological awareness that will let you get a sense of the time.

Just the fact of having some more experience already helps in conditioning you for time troubles (which is a common time issue).

When to think of moves to manage time efficiently?

Yes, there are ways to effectively think of our moves in a certain way that will make them efficient. But I certainly believe that it’s not only the what but also the “when” that we can take advantage of.

Thinking during your opponent’s turn in a chess game is a good strategy to minimize calculating time, therefore better time management for the player.

It is just very tempting to sit back and relax while the opponent torture themselves to think of the next plan to attempt.

This of course is a wasted time that could’ve been used to formulate your own ideas on the moment. By doing this you already have a series of moves to consider before your actual turn. 

This would greatly reduce the amount of time you need to think of the moves since you already have something beforehand. In fact this is the reason why instantaneous moves exist in the first place (since we can think even when it’s not our turn).

Reminder: Lost time is never found again.

– Benjamin Franklin.

What things can you do during the (chess) game that helps manage time?

During a chess game, you should notice the clock on every move, divide the total playing time before by 40, and spend a little time on simple moves to properly manage the time.

Noticing the clock is very important since that will give you information on how much margin you can spend throughout the game. Your game will adjust accordingly based on the severity of the time trouble you are currently experiencing.

If the time is ticking very fast at a very low margin, you better prepare something or just hope for the best. Most experienced players will look up to their clock occasionally at least in every two moves (in order for them to be aware).

I suggest you divide the total playing time by 40 (average amount of turns before a chess game ends) in order for you to calculate how much you can spare per move. This one will give a general feeling on how fast the pace should be applied depending on the format.

5 min. blitz (300 sec.) ÷ 40 = 7.5 seconds per move for example.

Of course this is not a hard-to-knock rule that should never be broken in any situation. There are crucial moves where you would need to calculate much more intensely than the others, this is just a general guideline.

Spending little time at moves that are simple will help in the general sight of things too (regulating time). I’m talking about castling, developments, getting away from attacks that are automatic and face little to no consequences.

There are just decisions that don’t need that much backing behind it, don’t waste time on those.

And when you are winning, slow your horses down (same when you are losing), avoid the temptation of trying to flag your opponent. Handling your time properly will be all for naught if you start playing inconsistently and lose all the way.

I just want to throw that one in there.

What chess skills are crucial to manage your time appropriately?

For better time management, you should develop your ability to recognize simple from complex moves, sharpen intuitional play, and diagnose critical moments.

Not all moves are the same, some moves only require a little bit of calculation to fully grasp, while others need you to tear some hair out. You should learn to recognize simple from complex decisions in order for you to respond in an appropriate way.

This naturally comes with experience but a targeted practice of a specific phase (opening, middlegame, endgame) is really helpful. Sometimes you would immediately be able to just “know” something as basic or complex only by glancing.

This could be accomplished further by sharpening your intuitional play (examination without analysis), which would incredibly increase your speed. Blitz games and tactics would help but be aware of its danger, this article (will open in a new tab) will tell you the bad of blitz.

Now the thing that I want to talk the most, critical moments.

Critical moments in chess are far different than something that are just “complex”, it is a specific moment that would frequently decide the game. Perceiving the criticality of the position can sometimes be easy sometimes not, but is a very important instant nonetheless.

There is no solid rule regarding the time that would have to be used during these encounters, but I have found that you mostly wouldn’t even spend 15 seconds to decide on this. But of course that would fluctuate depending on the time format (if it is played for hours I’m sure you can spare even more than 15 seconds).

What are the things to avoid when trying to manage time at the (chess) clock?

There are undeniably different practices that require a little bit more thinking to actually work. You should generally avoid these approaches since it really costs a lot of our time (there are rare exceptions).

To effectively manage your time in a chess game you should avoid playing sharp lines (unless prepared), taking a lot of time to find the “perfect move”, playing too fast or too slow.

I said that avoiding sharp lines (risky moves) as a consideration since the complexity that it brings will likely waste our time. I highly recommend to only attempt such ideas when you’re extremely prepared perhaps with an engine, to really get that accuracy.

It’s not only about the complexity, but the uncertainty that it brings where it is occasionally vague who is actually winning. You are more likely to burn time facing these situations over the positional ones.

Another thing that I’ve noticed about myself is trying to look for the perfect ultimate move that would give me tons of advantage most of the time, even when it’s not there. There are just cases where the best moves are not as flashy and interesting as most people would have hope.

You don’t want to waste a significant amount of time trying to look for invisible concepts, learn the balance between precision and time. Perfectionism can actually kill something, that is your clock, so you better be fast without compromising any weaknesses.

“Avoid perfectionism. It often leads to decision-paralysis and excessive procrastination”.

Izey Victoria Odiase

In the spirit of avoidance, I just want to remind you that the goal is managing time efficiently not rushing moves.  Some can even argue that playing too fast is worse than playing too slow.

I propose playing the clock in moderation, not too fast not too slow. Just enough to sufficiently carry out the moves without burning all the time for just one move.

How to manage your time in online chess?

Online chess offers a different playing environment than what you’ll encounter over the board.

To efficiently handle your time in online chess it’s good to avoid pre-moves, choose a good playing mouse, and play in a silent, calm environment where you can think.

Avoiding premoves is first on the bucket since it is the most common issue that is present online (regarding time). We want to get our moves out as fast as possible so we rely on this innate function.

This is overriding the fact that your opponent can actually respond differently from what you can expect. It is just a recipe for disaster waiting to occur, just wait for the opponent to actually play the moves, then react, so you can be assured.

Mouse-slips too is the spit of nightmares for a lot of chess streamers that just want to win their games. This is definitely a real issue that people face which you should handle with care.

Choosing a good mouse (smooth and fast) is not easy, there are definitely a lot of good ones out there. But the point is that you should consider it important in order for you to address it (the mouse problem).

But aside from that, there’s actually another dilemma that we need to solve, just playing in a good environment.

There is no question that the objects that surround us impact our experience of the world.

Katherine Center

It is inescapable, you will focus more if the environment suits what you are doing. It’s just hard to perform at our absolute best when there are a lot of distractions.

That means it’ll be significantly harder to handle our own time, you should choose the right environment. What I mean is a quiet place free of noise and whatnot, this maybe is the thing you need.

Final thoughts

Proper regulation of one’s time is a complicated issue to solve without corresponding guidance from our own consciousness. In other words, we need an intended effort to actually improve in this aspect.

These I think are what most people need and should avoid regarding usage of their own time. A lot of the tips here will apply to the general population of the chess community.

Just try it I dare you, it will work (hopefully). Sleep well and play chess.