Managing Time on the Clock with Forcing Moves

For today’s post, I want to talk about managing time on the clock. As many of you may know, there are two time controls in adult tournament play, one for the opening, and one for the middle game. Usually the second time control is not added until about move 30 or 40, so time trouble early in the game is not uncommon. In this game, I want to show how forcing moves can help you both manage your time and play strong chess.

Harvey – Steincamp (Virginia Closed, 2013)

1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. e3 d6 5. Be2 O-O 6. O-O Nbd7 7. h3 c5 8. c3 b6 9. Bh2

9…Bb7 I hadn’t prepared for a London System, but I still think this is the right idea. Because I wanted to play modern style chess, I knew I wanted to exchange one set of pieces on e4 so I wouldn’t feel cramped.

10. Nbd2 Re8 11. a4 Ne4 12. Nxe4 Bxe4

13. Ng5?! I didn’t consider this move in my calculations, so at this point in the game I began to use my time. I had 17 moves until the next time control. Since my opponent was playing a London System, I knew I would have to be creative to avoid a draw. 

13…Bb7  So far so good. I know I need to weaken the d4–b2 pawn chain to make my g7 bishop better, so my plan was to push the e–pawn and perhaps relocate my knight f8 then e6.  

14. Qb3 This took me by surprise, and for a second I thought I had missed some tactic. In these kinds of situations it is crucial to step back and look at the situation. To this point I have played very principled chess, and there have been no clear blunders. My opponent, on the other hand, played an unorthodox Ng5 move and there is no clear tactic. That being said, I knew that I still have to defend f7 in a manner that doesn’t give any weaknesses. In the game, I calculated 14… Rf8, 14… d5, and 14… e6. Moving the rook back is a concession of tempi, and gives white the initiative. I looked at 14… d5 for a while, but stopped when I found 15. e4! exploiting the weak diagonal. That left 14… e6 with the discovered attack on the knight from the queen.


15. f4? There is not enough time to try a f4-f5 sacrifice. This move blocks in the h2 bishop and weakens whites light squares.

15…cxd4 White’s play on the kingside isn’t convincing, and now I can play on the c-file. Also, I now have more space, so I can relocate both my d7 knight and b7 bishop.

16. cxd4 Bd5 17. Qb4 Nf6 18. Bb5

18…Rf8 I think this was a strategic slip-up. I didn’t consider 18… Re7 during the game. The f7 pawn doesn’t need protecting right now, and this rook lift to c7 could yield faster play.

19. Rae1 h6 20. Nf3 a6

21. Bd3 At this point with 9 moves left, both my opponent and I had less than 15 minutes each. So time management skills will play a large role in this middle game.

21…Be4! Stopping the e3–e4 push and creating an outpost. I thought 19. Rae1 was not a strong plan for white, so I thought this idea was a good way to punish my opponent.

22. Bxe4 Nxe4 23. Rc1

23…Qd7 This move should be an easy find. I need to play for the c-file. If white grabs the b6 pawn, I can snap a4 and get interesting compensation on the b-file.

24. Rc2

24…b5 I played this move to play …Rfc8 and have control of the a-file, but this isn’t necessary.

25. axb5 axb5 26. Rfc1

26…Rfc8 When I made this move, I calculated enough moves to get into the next time control. Both my opponent and I have fewer tun 2 minutes. My thought is that with this move, after I trade rooks, White must play Qe1 to protect the back rank, giving me a positional advantage.

27. Rxc8+ Rxc8 28. Rxc8+

28…Qxc8 Now that I’m threatening Qc1+ and other tactics, my opponent went below the 30 second mark. Because I have been making the forcing moves, I have used only seconds for each move since 24… b5. My opponent on the other hand, has done little to improve his position, and has reacted to each of my moves one by one. Generally, if you play reactionary chess, you won’t win many games.

29. Kh1 Qc1+ 30. Bg1

30…Ng3+ Making time control. I wasn’t in nearly as much pressure to make it to move 30 as my opponent, and the forcing moves have a lot to do with it. Since move 24, the only calculating I really had to do was decide between 30… Ng3+ and 30… Nf2+. I decided on the text move because I can relocate to f1 attacking e3 or to e2 attacking the bishop, whereas the followup to 30… Nf2+ wasn’t so clear.

31. Kh2 Nf1+ 32. Kh1

32…Nxe3 My opponent has also made time control, but for him it is an uphill battle down a pawn.

33. Nd2?? Nd5 34. Qa5 Bxd4 35. Qd8+ Kg7 36. Nf3 Bxg1 37. Nxg1 Qxf4 38. h4 Ne3 39. Nh3 Qg3 White cannot defend against the threat on g2, and with no more checks, chose to throw in the towel. 0-1

I won this game because when we were both in time trouble I found tactical resources to gain an advantage. It seems elementary, but you do really need to look for forcing moves when in time trouble: checks, captures, and threats. Odds are you might find something. I guess the other key note to take away from this game is that tactics are essential. While I got a positional advantage in this game, I won with tactics. Do tactics everyday, and it’ll help you when it counts!

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!

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