We can imagine that most of us have played a game under time limits. When there is no time limit, we can spend as long as we want to think about what we are going to do in the game. When we introduce a clock this can no longer be the case. Sometimes the time limit can be so severe as to dramatically alter the nature of the game, sometimes it may seem so long as to be unimportant. There is also the question of different timing systems to consider, unfamiliarity with one can lead to confusion, or even panic. It should however be obvious that, in order to maximise our chances of victory, we should consider in advance of the game how to manage our time correctly.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of activities we can try to allocate a certain portion of our time to. Of course, they can overlap sometimes.
- Counting: Being able to make a count of the territory controlled by each side is very useful in determining the strategy we should follow. However, to make a count will take a finite amount of time. Therefore it is important to make a decision about how often you will count during the game, and whether, or when, to choose between a rough count and a full count.
- Evaluation of Strategies: It is necessary to have a flexible whole board strategy during play. Sometimes we will only need to evaluate locally, but otherwise, we can take time to evaluate the best whole board strategy to embark on. Often a count can be used to aid this. For example: if ahead on territory, do not invade.
- Reading during Fighting: Sometimes a fight an be very complex. It can be difficult to read out correctly every critical path on the board.
It is important to note that after a certain amount of time spent in intense concentration reading out variations, you will forget those variations which you first analysed. Therefore, you must set a finite limit to the amount of time you will read any 1 fight.
- Assessing status of groups: Deciding whether or not a group can be considered strong or weak; light or heavy.
- Reading Life and Death situations: Of course, this is a subset of the above action. For basic shapes, you may already know the life and death situation. For irregular shapes, you will have to spend time judging their status.
- Re-reading: If you find that you are re-reading a life and death status, or a fight, then you can be certain that you are wasting time.
It is a popular concept that we should split our time over the 3 main phases of the game. That is, the Opening, the Middlegame, and the Ending. So to give an example, we could aim to split our time as follows: 25% in the opening, 50% in the middlegame, 25% in the endgame. One approach to this, is to set a objective to play the first 30 moves in 20 minutes, the next 100 in 40 minutes hour, etc.
Whenever the amount of time available for a number of moves becomes very small, we can consider ourselves under time pressure. The exact value will vary for each player. Some find less than 30 seconds for one move intolerable, others are happy beneath the limit of 10 seconds per move. Under time pressure, there are several themes to consider:
- Especially during time pressure, there is a tendency for players to focus not on whole board strategy, but on local situations.
- Keeping the situation fluid: A settled position is uncomplicated, so to begin a local sequence that simply erases complications, rescues the opponent from time pressure. Where appropriate, it can be better to augment the pressure by increasing complexity on the board.
- Ko fighting: Players susceptible to spending too long on counting and status evaluation will often make bad choices during a ko fight, as the are unable to carry out their usual analysis. So time trouble can therefore be a good moment to start a ko.
- Forcing moves: Unless you can sure that a ko will not arise in future, using a forcing move to gain time will always have a hidden cost. At a minimum, you lose a ko threat.
- Rhythm: Of course, in time pressure you must play faster, but what about when your opponent is in time pressure? It is a natural human instinct to play at the same rhythm as the opponent, when they play slowly, you will play slowly, when they play fast, you will play fast. Sometimes players can make a conscious decision to change their rate of play, borne out of a desire to hasten the opponent further, but this risks making blunders of your own. In general, it is better to keep to your correct rhythm, rather than compromising your own play.
- Physical Endurance: Playing under the stress of time pressure is naturally more mentally exhausting. If, over the course of a long tournament, we spend a lot of our game under time pressure, we can expect our performance to deteriorate.
- In post game analysis, it is illogical to dismiss the mistakes you made under time pressure. Unless you will avoid time trouble in every subsequent game, you should understand why you made an error, and how to avoid it in the future. The player who dismisses his loss of a won game as a simple clock blunder is certain to lose in the same fashion again and again.
See also DieterVerhofstadt/TimeManagement