Introduction to Time Management in Chess

I wanted to take some time to talk about time management in chess. Before I began writing this post, I took a look at what others had to say. Coach NM Dan Heisman gives a long history on chesscafe where he outlined how we got here. I implore you to read this because the history of how we arrived at where we are is fascinating.

“Therefore, depending upon the rules, at some point the clock becomes more important than the position!”

NM Dan Heisman, chesscafe

GM Dhopade gives practical advice in a column he wrote for chessbase on time management. GM Naroditsky also wrote a nice article for on how to play faster in blitz. While this is all good information, there is still room for exploration. I’m going to try and distill the wisdom they shared, with what I’ve found works for me.

It’s important to get some definitions out of the way before we get started. When I talk about time management in chess, I’m referring to how much time you spend on each move.

While the time control is important (as we’ll discuss later) that’s not what I mean by “time management”.

With that in mind, I wanted to share this video from the 1972 Munich Olympics. This is from the 800m men’s final. In this final, David Wottle got off to a “slow” start and after about 8 seconds was dead last. I’m not going to give a full recap but you can watch the video:

Wottle’s comeback is nothing short of incredible. What we rarely discuss when we talk about this race is that Wottle didn’t change his pace at all. He ran 200m in 26 seconds, the entire race. Despite this fact that he was dead last after the first 200m, he stuck to his game plan. It’s impractical to try to spend the exact same amount of time on each move.

Before you play in a tournament, you will need to know how much time you have for each move. This will help you to pace yourself during the game (more on this later). If you take nothing else from this post, understand this:

“In blitz, anything can happen. Blitz is like roulette!”

GM Aleksandr Lenderman

We’ve all seen games won and lost in the remaining seconds of the game. Your play quality and accuracy decreases as you run out of time.

Practical Advice

Now let’s move on to some practical advice. The very first thing YOU should do, is determine the average number of moves you play in each of your games. You can do this in a variety of ways, for example Lichess has an “insights” feature:

I calculated this number for my over the board tournament games, and got the following results:


A histogram to help visualize the data:

I took it one step further, and imported this information into R where I was able to create a box and whisker plot to help further visualize this information. I chose the box and whisker plot because it helps me more easily see outliers:

Here you can see that I average 40 moves per game, across most variants on Lichess and over the board. As an aside, 40 is perfect for doing this kind of math. Many events have a time control of 40 moves in x minutes, and then you get more time. Please let me know in the comments below if your numbers are different from mine. I’m interested to hear if this is a universal number. My intuition tells me it is, but I could be wrong.

But so What?! Who cares?

My coach, GM Aleksandr Lenderman has his own thoughts on time management and created this guide:

Win (On Time)> 50% of time remaining on move 40
Draw25%-50% of time remaining on move 40
Loss< 25% of time remaining on move 40

My Results

I have kept the time information on my scoresheets for as long as I can remember. Up until recently, I didn’t use this information for much of anything. I would tell my coach, “well I thought for 15 minutes here and still chose the wrong move”. Using these rules, I figured out my results from my OTB games in each category:

Time MgmtGame Result
WinDrawLossWin %TotalFreq

You can see from the table above that I rarely lose classical games where I win on time. Those occasions where I did lose the game, while winning on time, I was playing too fast. It’s a delicate balance between confidence, and overconfidence.

Pace Description

How SHOULD you manage your time? Excellent question, I created this table to help me out:

Time Control“Bonus” Time ExpectedMin/MoveTime/Move (<=40)Total Time First 40 movesActual Min/MoveActual Time/Move (>40)Time/10moves (40 moves)Time for 20moves (40 moves)
G/15 (10i)6.670.54:32/move21.670.27:16/move2:43/10moves5:26/20moves
G/30 (15i)101.001:00/move40.000.50:30/move5:00/10moves10:00/20moves
G/30 (20i)13.3343.330.54:32/move5:24/10moves10:48/20 moves
G/60 (5d)3.331.581:35/move63.330.79:47/move7:55/10moves15:50/20moves
G/60 (10d)6.671.671:40/move66.670.83:50/move8:20/10moves16:40/20moves
G/75 (10i)6.6781.671.021:01/move10:12/10moves20:24/20moves
40/80 SD 30 (10d)6.672.172:10/move86.671.081:05/move10:50/10moves21:40/20moves
G/90 (5d)3.332.332:20/move93.331.171:10/move11:40/10moves23:20/20moves
G/90 (10i)6.6796.671.211:13/move12:06/10moves24:12/20moves
G/90 (30i)202.752:45/move110.001.381:23/move13:45/10moves27:30/20moves
40/90 SD 30 (30i)20110.001.381:23/move13:45/10moves27:30/20moves
G/110 (30i)203.253:15/move130.001.631:38/move16:15/10moves32:30/20moves

If you are playing with a 30-second increment and you expect that your game will take 40 moves, you can expect to get 20 minutes of “bonus” time. With increment, you add “bonus” time to your clock every move you make. So if you are playing G/90+30sec you would expect that your total time is closer to 110 minutes for the whole game.

Using The Pace Table

The next step is to figure out how much time we have for the first 40 moves. We divide 110 by 2 (so that we can try and “win” on time by having >50% of our time remaining). We then divide that number (55) by 40 (the number of moves we calculated from above) to get 1.375 (or 1.38 for simplicity). So we have a little more than a minute and a half per move. I state this in the table above in the column called “Actual time/Move (>40)”. When you sit down and think about it, a minute and a half is not that much time for each move. There will be a few times each game where you will need to think an extended period of time. The key here is to ensure that you aren’t doing that for every move. Sitting and thinking for 10 minutes on two moves could be disastrous for you later on in the game.

The next two columns give a road map for the first 10 to 20 moves of the game, a “pace” if you will. For the first 10 moves of a G/90(+30) I would like to have the first 10 moves played in 13 minutes and 45 seconds. In general, I play faster than this in the opening. This is good because it means I’ll have more time to spend in the middlegame/endgame. It’s like investing, I spend less time in the opening, so I’ll have more time later on in the game. The second column tells me how much time I want to play the first 20 moves (27:30). This is information I try to keep in the back of my mind as I’m playing. I want to have more time at the end of the game than my opponent. With more time I can work out those complicated endgames or messy late middlegames.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you manage your time. Please let me know in the comments if you have questions or suggestions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *