Chess and Time

Edward Winter

On page 151 of the 12 June 1885 issue of the Chess Player’s Chronicle Hugh Browne wrote:

‘Alderman Ward was a fine, dashing player, with an irritable temper which once bore my long delay over a move so well that I wilfully tried how much it would bear; and when I moved at last, he only looked at his watch beside him and said, “28 minutes”.’



Source of the above pictures: page 345 of the 31 October 1857 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (C.N. 7394).

A number of C.N. items have discussed instances of lengthy reflection (or, at least, lengthy consumption of time) before a move has been played. A famous case from the nineteenth century was examined in C.N. 4680, which reported that under the heading ‘Amazing facts’ the following had appeared on page 17 of Playing Chess Step-by-Step by Gary Lane (New York, 2004):

‘The slowest chessplayer ever was Louis Paulsen, who once thought for 11 hours over one move.’

This ‘fact’ of the ‘once’ variety would appear to be based on a misunderstanding. The figure of 11 hours was given, regarding the New York, 1857 tournament, on page 67 of Paul Morphy The Pride and Sorrow of Chess by David Lawson (New York, 1976) but in a different context:

‘Undoubtedly, slow playing on the part of Paulsen was the reason for time records being kept during his games with Morphy. Moves over five minutes during the second game and portions of others were recorded. During the entire second game, Morphy’s total time for moves over five minutes was only 25 minutes, while Paulsen consumed 11 hours for the same.’

The breakdown for that second Paulsen v Morphy game was given on page 246 of the tournament book:

morphy paulsen

As shown below, page 248 of the tournament book indicated that the total duration of the third game between Paulsen and Morphy was 11 hours, most of it consumed by the former:

morphy paulsen

There is also the well-known anecdote about Paulsen, in play against Morphy, sitting motionless at the board and suddenly asking whether it was his move. Steinitz related it on page 46 of the February 1885 International Chess Magazine, on the authority of Thomas Frère.

C.N. 4679 gave item 26 in Napier’s Amenities and Background of Chess-Play (New York, 1934):

‘I remember seeing Showalter in a match game with Pillsbury brood 45 minutes over a fourth move. It was a Ruy López. Afterwards there came the explanation. “The cigar was good; and I thought that long looking might uncover some better move and sequel than those used.”’


Jackson Whipps Showalter

C.N. 4679 also mentioned two instances of long thought by Wolfgang Uhlmann (1 hour 40 minutes and 1 hour 50 minutes), as related on page 351 of The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal (New York, 1976), or page 336 of the London, 1997 edition.

Page 32 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves referred to a short match in New York between Důras and Kupchik (which the former won with a score of +2 –1 =0). It began with a game which opened 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bb5 Bb4 5 O-O O-O 6 d3 d6 7 Bg5 Be6 8 Ne2 Ne7 9 c3 Ba5


Here Důras thought for 58 minutes before playing 10 Ng3, and went on to win.

Source: American Chess Bulletin, October 1913, page 233.


Oldřich Důras

C.N. 6119 gave this extract from pages xix-xx of the Preface by Benjamin M. Anderson Jr to Capablanca’s A Primer of Chess (New York, 1935):


The passage was discussed in C.N.s 706 and 1177 (see pages 117-118 and 263 of Chess Explorations), as well as C.N. 6118. For the game in question we can still offer only one candidate: Marshall v Maróczy, Lake Hopatcong, 1926. (As mentioned in C.N. 5991, Anderson was in Lake Hopatcong at the time.) The game began 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Qg4 c5.


Géza Maróczy

‘In the 11th game of their match in 1927 for the world’s championship, Capablanca took two hours on one move, and Alekhine took an hour and three-quarters for his reply.’

C.N. 2344 (see page 345 of A Chess Omnibus) noted that the above claim appeared, in more or less identical wording, on page 39 of Irving Chernev’s Curious Chess Facts (New York, 1937), page 101 of the same author’s Wonders and Curiosities of Chess (New York, 1974) and page 100 of Chess by Kenneth M. Grover and Thomas Wiswell (London, 1952).

In C.N. 6315 Alan O’Brien (Mitcham, England) noted that in another match-game, the 28th, this position arose:


Alekhine played 41 Nef4 and wrote:

‘The text move was sealed and it took me an hour and 50 minutes to consider it, the record length of time for this match.’

The above is the English translation on page 199 of On the Road to the World Championship 1923-1927 (Oxford, 1984). See too pages 205 and 469 respectively of the original German and French editions of Alekhine’s book (Auf dem Wege zur Weltmeisterschaft and volume two of Deux cents parties d’échecs).

After 41...Rb3 42 Ra7 Kd8 43 g3 Alekhine reported that Capablanca thought for 40 minutes before offering a draw, which was accepted.

According to page 2 of Crítica, 30 November 1927 Alekhine took four hours and two minutes for the entire game, Capablanca’s total being two hours 30 minutes. The London Rules, under which the match was played, specified that on each play-day the session would last five hours and that the time-limit was 40 moves per two and a half hours.

Making all these ‘facts’ compatible with each other is far from easy.


C.N. 4632 quoted from a column by G. Koltanowski on page 3 of Chess Digest Magazine, March 1969:

‘David Bronstein is known to take a long time before making his first move. In Berlin’s Lasker Memorial, he hadn’t yet made his first move when Vassikoukov [sic] mated Zaitzev at the 15th move.’

This refers to a tournament in 1968. Apart from the consideration that the mate in question would have come at move 16, not 15, we wondered what facts were available regarding the story. In C.N. 4639 Alan McGowan (Waterloo, Canada) responded:

‘The tournament book (Internationales Dr.-Emanuel-Lasker-Gedenkturnier 1968), published by the Deutscher Schachverband der DDR) shows that the game below (game 60, on page 61) was played in round eight:

Evgeny Vasiukov – Alexander Zaitsev
East Berlin, 25 November 1968
Caro-Kann Defence

1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Nf3 Bg4 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Qb3 Bxf3 9 gxf3 e6 10 Qxb7 Nxd4 11 Bb5+ Nxb5 12 Qc6+ Ke7 13 Nxb5 a6 14 Nd4 Nb4 15 Bg5+ Resigns.

The time used by each player is shown as 0.50 for White and 0.24 for Black.

The game Csom v Bronstein was played in the same round (game 61 in the book, also on page 61):

István Csom – David Bronstein
East Berlin, 25 November 1968
Caro-Kann Defence

1 e4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 g6 4 d4 Bg7 5 Be2 dxe4 6 Nxe4 Bf5 7 Ng3 Bg4 8 c3 Bxf3 9 Bxf3 Nf6 10 O-O O-O 11 Re1 e6 12 Bg5 Nbd7 13 Ne4 Drawn.

The time used by each player is shown as 0.50 and 1.00.

The introductory notes for the round give the following comments:

“K.o. im Caro-Kann

Mit Wasjukow – Saizew (Nr. 60) gab es die einzige Grossmeisterpaarung des Tages. Aber schon nach 74 Minuten gehörte diese Partie der Turniergeschichte an. Auf einer schachlichen Sprintdistanz über 15 Züge, die leider auch in diesem Wettstreit zur Remisspezialdisziplin erkoren wurde, kam Ewgeni Wasjukow als Sieger ins Ziel. Noch ehe die Kapitulation erfolgte, hatte es sich im Saal herumgesprochen: Saizew ist in zwei Zügen matt!! ‘Kaum zu glauben’, bemerkten Kiebitze. “Nicht solide”, meinte Grossmeister Flohr. Niemand hatte ein solches Ende ahnen können. Die Partie verlief bis zum 12. Zug in theoretischen Bahnen. Dann setzte Wasjukow ungewöhnlich fort (13 Sb5:). Auf unerschlossenen Pfaden galt es sich nun zurechtzufinden. Zwei Züge danach geschah bereits der tödliche Fehltritt (14...Sb4??), und Wasjukow fügte den Raritäten eine weitere Mattminiatur hinzu.

Allerdings fanden sie weit weniger Beachtung, weil die Würze hier nicht in der Kürze lag und manches überhaupt ohne Salz gekocht war. Csom – Bronstein (Nr. 61) zeigten die wenigsten Züge.”

We are still seeking corroboration, or otherwise, of the statement by Koltanowski quoted in C.N. 4632. Other little-known examples of ‘long ponderings’ will also be welcome.

The above article originally appeared at

Is it true that after Nimzowitsch played 1 b3 against Sämisch at Carlsbad, 1929, Black thought for 40 minutes? Such a suggestion was made on page 4 of the Sunday Times, 17 November 1929:

nimzowitsch sämisch


Pages 252-253 of Carl Schlechter! Life and Times of the Austrian Chess Wizard by Warren Goldman (Yorklyn, 1994) quote from Rudolf Spielmann’s book Ein Rundflug durch die Schachwelt:

‘The clock knows no favourites, for even Capablanca, a rapid player, occasionally lost on time. Conversely, the powerful Carl Schlechter always reached the time control with five minutes for his final move.’

Is it true that Schlechter never lost a game on time, and can the same be said of any other prominent master?


The passage in question was on page 16 of the Spielmann volume (Berlin and Leipzig, 1929):


Timothy J. Bogan (Chicago, IL, USA) asks which leading masters have sustained the fewest losses on time (in tournament and match games). Documentation from readers will be much appreciated.

To start with Capablanca, the paragraph below comes from page 55 of Wonders and Curiosities of Chess by Irving Chernev (New York, 1974):

‘Capablanca, who has been credited with the quickest sight of any master who ever lived (“His speed in play”, says Fine, “was incredible in the early years. What others could not discover in a month’s study he saw at a glance.”), once lost a tournament game on time limit.’

(The Fine quote comes from page 111 of his book The World’s Great Chess Games (New York, 1951); Fine wrote ‘earlier’, not ‘early’.)

Chernev’s paragraph concerned Riumin v Capablanca, Moscow, 1935. A second game which the Cuban lost by exceeding the time-limit was in Arnhem on his 50th birthday, against Alekhine in the AVRO, 1938 tournament.

A passage by Harry Golombek about Botvinnik also comes to mind, from page 143 of the June 1958 BCM. It described the conclusion of game 15 in that year’s Smyslov v Botvinnik world championship match:

‘... absorbed in calculations as to how to obtain the win, he [Botvinnik] quite forgot about his clock and forfeited the game on time, a result that was received in stunned silence by the audience. The saddest part of it all was that even when he exceeded the time-limit he had a won ending, since he possessed two very powerful bishops and could create a remote passed pawn. He told me immediately afterwards that this was the first occasion in his life on which he had lost a game on time.’

For the loser’s own comments, see, for instance, page 244 of Botvinnik-Smyslov Three World Chess Championship Matches: 1954, 1957, 1958 by M. Botvinnik (Alkmaar, 2009):

‘As I sat there, absorbed in these thoughts, great was my astonishment when the chief arbiter Ståhlberg came over to our table and announced that Black had lost on time. Having two-three minutes for a couple of moves, I had simply forgotten all about the clock and had exceeded the time limit ...’

smyslov botvinnik stahlberg

V. Smyslov, M. Botvinnik and G. Ståhlberg (Chess Review, July 1958, page 203)


An addition comes from page 11 of The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal by M. Tal (New York, 1976):


The passage is on pages 20-21 of the 1997 Cadogan edition of Tal’s book.

When the game between Mendeleevsky and Tal (Riga, June 1949) was given on pages 12-13 of Mikhail Tal Tvortshestvo 1949-1961 (Riga, 1996) Black’s loss on time was mentioned:




From page 288 of the Australasian Chess Review, 8 October 1936:

‘Among the masters, it seems that clock management is the hardest part of the game. Only Lasker and Capablanca have mastered it, the former by his super-normal endowment of common sense, the latter by heaven-born genius.’


Latest update: 20 March 2016.

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