Time may refer to time on the chess clock, which is actual time, or to the abstract idea of “time” in terms of moves on the chess board itself.

Tournament games often use “check clocks” to time the game. Each player has an allotted time for a certain number of moves, or for all the moves of the game. Some time settings add a few seconds to the clock for each move. Running out of time is called a “time forfeit” or in common usage it is “losing on time” and is usually a loss. Sometimes a time forfeit may be draw according to tournament rules such in a “double time forfeit” (both players clocks have no time) or a time forfeit where the other payer has “inadequate mating material” (usually just a King).

Abstract Time on the Chess Board: Time is also an important strategic concept in chess on the chess board. It is one of the three main factors in chess positions: material, space, and time.

Time refers to how many moves (how much time) it would take to achieve something. Some of the situations where time is important include:

  • Development and Castling: do you have enough time to develop your pieces so that you can castle your King to safety, or does your opponent have a time advantage to start an attack while your King is still “stuck in the center”?
  • Defending vs Attacking: do you have enough time to bring back your pieces to defend, or does your opponent need less time to bring up their pieces to attack?
  • Pawn Promotion: will your pawn race to the Queening square, or does the enemy King have enough time to reach the pawn and stop it queening?
  • Pawn Races: how much time will each player take to queen their pawn? Who queens first? How many moves (how much time) is the first pawn ahead in the race to queen?
  • Positional Advantage: will you get your Rooks on the open file first? Will you have enough time to double rooks on a file before your opponent’s rooks reach the open file?

Time is important in chess. Sometimes it can be more important than material advantage. For example, some gambit openings intentionally aim to trade material for time: a gambit may offer a free pawn (material) in return for some rapid development (time).

The simplest way to assess time is to count. How many moves will something take? Count the moves needed by both players. How many pieces will each player need to get off the back rank before they can castle? How many squares does the pawn have to run in order to queen?

Time is not always important. In slow positions, such as closed positions, time is less important than static factors like weaknesses and pawn structure. Time tends to be more important in open positions than closed positions.

Related Chess Tactics

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