The Time Factor

Two weeks ago I left you having just lost my worst ever game. Was I getting too old for chess? Would my season recover?

The following week I was back at Kingston, for a cup match. This time I was paired with black against one of my regular opponents, an experienced player of about my own strength who favours 1. d4 and 2. Bg5 with the white pieces. We traded a lot of pieces early on and reached what I thought was a slightly better ending, whereupon he offered me a draw, which, considering what had happened the week before, I was happy to accept just to regain my equilibrium. I spent most of the rest of the evening in the bar downstairs playing blitz against my opponent from the week before, and winning most of the games very easily.

In my next game I was black again, against Alfie Onslow, a very strong junior who had now outgrown Richmond Junior Club and was playing for Ealing Juniors. He had won a close game against me the previous season and chose the same opening this time round.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. d3 Bc5
5. c3

The current fashion, avoiding immediate confrontation and leading to a strategically rich middle game. It seems to be popular with a number of strong juniors at present.

5… a6
6. Nbd2 O-O
7. Qe2

Alfie played this against me in our previous game as well. It’s unusual but there’s nothing wrong with it.

7… d5
8. Bb3 Bg4

I don’t think this is a very sensible move. I tell my pupils not to play your bishop here in the Nc3 Giuoco Pianissimo if you’ve castled but your opponent hasn’t. It probably applies here as well. Having said that, though, a guy with a 2435 rating used it to beat a much lower rated opponent.

9. h3 Bh5
10. Nf1 dxe4

Making a decision as to what pawn formation I want to play. d4 was also possible here.

11. dxe4 Bg6
12. Ng3 Nh5

This is a serious mistake, although Alfie doesn’t take advantage of it.

13. Nxh5 Bxh5
14. O-O

Chickening out of the critical plan. White should go for the black king here: 14. g4 Bg6 15. h4 when Black has the unenviable choice between 15… h6 16. h5 Bh7 17. g5 and 15… h5 16. Ng5

14… Kh8
15. Be3 Qe7
16. Rad1 Rad8
17. Bd5 Bxe3
18. Qxe3 Qf6
19. g4 Bg6
20. Bxc6 bxc6

I’ve been outmanoeuvred over the past few moves and now have doubled isolated c-pawns. The white knight heads towards the key c5 square.

21. Nd2 Qe6
22. Nb3 Qc4
23. f3 f6
24. Qc5 Bf7
25. Qe7 Rc8
26. Nc1

Again opting out of the critical option, 26. Rd7, when Black might have chances of holding on after 26… Qb5.Now I can chase his queen back.

26… Rfe8
27. Qd7 Be6
28. Qd2 Qc5+
29. Qf2 Qe7
30. Rd2 Red8
31. Rfd1 h6
32. Nb3 Bxb3
33. axb3 Rd6

I’d been some way behind on the clock the whole game and by now I didn’t have time to think. Hence this move, which is in effect the fatal mistake. I just wanted to give him the opportunity of undoubling my pawns while contesting the d-file, but the undoubled pawns turn out to be much weaker than the doubled pawns. Instead I should have just waited to see how he was intending to make progress. The engines recommend a5, to prevent b4, either immediately or after trading on d2.

34. Rxd6 cxd6
35. Qb6

This is what I’d missed. There’s no way to defend the a-pawn. I think I’d have seen this and played something else on move 33 if I’d had more time on the clock. However, all is not necessarily lost. I could still have gained some counterplay if I’d have found the correct plan here. The white king is not altogether secure so I should have aimed to open some lines in the centre with 35… Qd7 36. Qxa5 d5 with some practical chances, but I didn’t have enough time left to do anything requiring any thought.

35… Kh7
36. Qxa6 Rc7
37. b4 Qe6
38. Qd3 Rd7
39. c4 h5

39… Rb7 still offered some chances but I only had time to look at one side of the board.

40. c5 hxg4
41. hxg4 g6
42. cxd6 Kg7
43. b3 Kf7
44. Qc4 f5
and White soon won.

Alfie played a good game and deserved to win, but perhaps I should have held the draw. My problem in this game, as with most of my recent games, was poor clock handling. When you’re playing to a finish in a 2½ hour session you really can’t afford to get too far behind your opponent on the clock, especially if you’re, like me, not confident when you have little time left. This is something I really need to work on in future.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities ( as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.