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In almost any chessgame played at a master level under standard time control, after making a few opening moves fast, players spend most of their time on moves 10-30, leaving very little for the last 10 moves before they receive more time.

What are the reasons for managing time that way?

Of course, I can understand that after you ruin your position, no amount of time can save you from losing, but you can also blunder on moves 30-40, especially if the game is still complicated. Yet I've never heard of a game where players would have spent 15 mins on, say, move 40.

Update. Since the answers this question has received so far are highly speculative, let me ask an objective question.

Have there been tournaments where the additional time the players receive was not after move 40, but after move 30, or move 50? How did they manage their time?

I am aware that long ago there was no time control and that there are events with no additional time, but the whole time is received at the beginning. I am specifically asking for an example when the first additional time is received not at move 40, but another time.

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  • 3
    Why is so little time left for QA at the end of every software project?! Mar 15 at 17:35
  • Might it be, that there are more pieces on the board in the beginning, so more options to consider?
    – Felix B.
    Mar 16 at 8:58
  • 3
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica because you haven't found the right workplace yet ;-) (I thought the same until I found my current project)
    – Aaron F
    Mar 16 at 17:29
  • I have played tournaments before where you received time after move 30. Unsurprisingly, if the game went long you'd end up in time trouble after the time control. EDIT: Also afaik in older times getting the time after move 50 instead, was somewhat common though I never played that myself.
    – koedem
    Mar 16 at 19:08

6 Answers 6

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What strong players hope to achieve, in general, is to acquire control of the position during moves 10-30, or if not control, at least clarification of the objectives. Then those last few moves become easier to play. The hope, of course, may not be realized, and so time-trouble ensues.

So why bother? Well, if you don't bother, your opponent may achieve that control, which means that you must constantly make decisions about how to manage your clock. These decisions will depend on how the game seems to be turning out, and how comfortable you feel about being short of time, so, as usual, no easy answers.

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    So do you think that if the extra time would be added after move 30 instead of move 40, the time spent on each of the first 30 moves would not change signifigantly?
    – domotorp
    Mar 13 at 16:57
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    @domotorp. Interesting thought! But the numbers 30 and 40 are a bit arbitrary and not very accurate, so its hard to say what would happen if they were changed. I imagine that a period of experimentation would occur.
    – Philip Roe
    Mar 13 at 23:29
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Of the three phases of the game, opening, middlegame and endgame, the middle game is the most difficult to play while the opening and the endgame have the most theory.

Even relatively weak players often know the first 10 or 12 moves of their favourite openings. At master level it can be even more than 20 in some lines. In some of the rapid games played at the top level some players have more time on the clock after 20 moves than they did at the start of the game thanks to the increment. This is one benefit of learning opening theory.

At the other end of the game there is endgame theory. Strong masters will have mastered a large range of types of positions where they know what they have to do to win or draw. If they reach one of these positions then the increment is likely to be ample time to win or draw the position.

Even at lower levels players can garner extra points by studying endgames. A few years ago one of my club mates, rated about 1800 at the time, playing in the national university student blitz championships reached a K+N+B vs K endgame with 30 seconds left on the clock. His coach had made him study this endgame and he duly rattled off the win in the remaining time with no problems.

For master level players, therefore, it makes a lot of sense to allocate the majority of their time to the middlegame where the struggle to reach the best endgame makes the most difference.

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    Yes, of course I'm aware of these, but moves 30-40 are not really endgames with a handful pieces left. Just consider the Rapport-Andreikin game played today; they both had less than 10 minutes left for moves 30-40, and Andreikin did make a mistake.
    – domotorp
    Mar 13 at 20:35
  • Also, at endgame, there are far fewer pieces on the board, so there's less possible moves to consider. Conversely, in openings, there are more pieces, but many of them can't move yet, so again - fewer moves to consider. It's the middle where the possibilities are wide open so require more consideration. Mar 14 at 16:47
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I agree with answers provided by Philip Roe and Brian Towers. Wanted to add that I believe you have an incorrect assumption in your question.

In almost any chessgame played at a master level under standard time control, after making a few opening moves fast, players spend most of their time on moves 10-30, leaving very little for the last 10 moves before they receive more time.

I assert that

It almost any chessgame played at a master level under standard time control the game is clarified by move 30 which leaves plenty of time for the moves before time control.

There is selection bias at work. Games that become simplified do not make the news. This is a key piece to understanding why they play that way, it is not usually an issue.

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One takes the time one must in order to survive, with chances at least, till the next move. What profit it a player to be lost by move 18 and still have 67 minutes on the clock?

"Clock management" is not about spreading one's time out so much as not wasting it by dithering (as opposed to investigating promising/interesting lines) or trying to force a good outcome to a line that catches one's eye but seems to have no good outcome.

If, however, one saves a minute on move 15 and makes the second, third, etc. best move, there's no tomorrow as the best players usually see and do the line that breaks one. But do not later get careless and blunder queens giving one a miracle chance to get back into the game.

I hate hearing people whine about losing on time. As if they'd've won if only they had twice the time their opponent did. If instead they'd've moved sooner so as to not lose on time with the same time their opponents had, they'd've lost "on the board." Either way, they lost because they weren't as good as their opponent was that day. Hanging on by your fingernails only to fall in the end anyway might make for a better adventure story, but the other guy hung on and you didn't so... you're not the better chess player just somehow done dirty by fate.

An interesting related fact is that by consuming all your time, you often force the opponent to not use his time fully as, of course, you're allowed to think while he thinks. Even at, say, move 35 with you having 28 seconds, he still can't simply do something very complicating so that your hurried moves include a blunder as he must do the same and risk doing the same. So by consuming your own time fully while he holds back you achieve the taking of time from him perhaps to your advantage. Naturally, he CAN stop and take the half hour to think giving up his "advantage" on time, if he must to avoid catastrophe, but players don't seem to do so.

Since the literal hallmark of "the best" players is that their moves build situations in which, say, ten things are going on as each player tries to finally overtax his opponent's ability to respond... literally building to be the one who moves the "straw that broke the camel's back"... it is not surprising they must spend excess time earlier when there would seem to be more chances for such. But it's not the complexity itself that requires it. It is the fact that stinting on thinking then means no game later. One must reach his 22nd birthday to reach is 73rd birthday.

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    I think the first three paragraphs are a very good point/answer. The rest maybe a bit less helpful, though.
    – usul
    Mar 16 at 11:31
  • Some players are insufficiently skilled to reliably make good moves even given all the time in the world. Some are skilled at slower time controls, but cannot think particularly quickly. Some can make good moves quickly. In the era where most opportunities for practice came from over-the-board events, the "whining" you complain about would strike me as a reasonable complaint by people who were unable to find matches with time controls that were a good fit for their abilities, and would thus offer them a good chance to get better.
    – supercat
    Mar 16 at 15:55
  • Further, in games without increment I think it would be fair to say that one "lost on time" if one had an objectively-winning position but the opponent was able to interject enough moves that one didn't have enough time on the clock to respond to them all. FIDE rules would allow for an arbiter to award a draw in cases where someone's opponent wasn't trying to win by "ordinary means", but I don't know how such claims were handled in practice in the era before time-increment clocks became commonplace.
    – supercat
    Mar 16 at 15:59
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This has to do with the additional time after a period or specific move number and the evaluation of the position.

In the current grand prix tournament it has a TC of 90 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an addition of 30 seconds per move starting from move one.

First if position is better then there is no need to spend too much time compared to when the position is not good. If position is bad a player will use almost all its time for the given period (up to move 40) to try to equalize or make it difficult for the opponent to increase its advantage. The player will not worry about lower time left in the period because there is additional time of 30m after move 40. The same is true when position is drawish, a player will use most of its time in the period to try to get an advantage. The more time you spent analyzing the position the probability of making optimal moves will be higher.

I took the games in the FIDE Grand Chess Prix 2 All Pools 2022 from chess.com, the games have clock info which can be converted to time left in seconds. Below are scatter plots for for win, loss and draw results.

Plot 1, win
Every dot is a position, here we can see that the max time left is at move 17 and is bigger than the initial time left. This is because of opening preparation (moving fast) and for a fact that the increment per move is 30s. Notice the time left from moves 25 to 40, generally when a player has the advantage, time left is higher compared to plots 2 and 3. enter image description here

Plot 2, loss
A losing position demands a lot of time. Time pressure is felt as early as move 20. enter image description here

Plot 3, draw enter image description here

Time per move against move number
The shaded area is the confidence interval at 95% level. High time per move is around move 10 to 22. The losing side starts to spent more time early. Drawn games generally spent lesser time, presumably because players are familiar of the position or they see how to draw the game.

enter image description here

All 3 legs

enter image description here

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  • This is a very useful contribution that invites much speculation, but I am curious about how representative it may be. I would like to see it run with a larger data set. For example, the sudden peak in losers thinking time precisely at move 10. It is hard to think of this as something that happenned in several games, but also hard to think of as contributed by a single game where the loser felt sudden despair. Also interesting is the extra time taken by winners betwen moves 25-30 that the losers do not have time to respond to.
    – Philip Roe
    Mar 17 at 15:46
  • This is only based on 48 games. I will add grand prix 1 and 3 later.
    – ferdy
    Mar 18 at 4:13
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you can also blunder on moves 30-40

You can, you can blunder on any move. The thing is, outside of blunders, if you can get your opponent on the proverbial ropes by the end of the midgame then your endgame can be relatively routine and just following the motions.

The allocation of time isn't to account for blunders so much as to allocate "thinking time" to the parts of the game where it can make the most difference.

In the early game, you're mostly just setting your formation up for the midgame; maybe taking a couple of pieces here and there, depending on what your opponent does.

The midgame is where you fight for control of the board, once you have control it's a case of capitalising on it.

In the endgame you're either fighting to survive after a lousy midgame or finishing your opponent off. Fighting to survive does require more thought, but with a successful midgame you won't be fighting to survive.

So, whether it's as clear cut as moves 10-30 or not, concentrating your "thinking time" on the midgame makes sense.

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