There are a number of ways to lose a game of chess. There is checkmate, there is resignation, and there is running out of time.
Losing on time is perhaps the most embarrassing as it feels your opponent has not beaten you. Instead you beat yourself; you didn’t make your all moves in time, even when you only had to make legal moves.
Now this is forgiven if you are playing a blitz game, as even the best can lose on time. Maybe you can blame you didn’t have enough time to begin with or you have arthritis.
But we are talking about a tournament game where the time limit is typically two hours.
GM Bent Larsen-A.J. Mestel
England, Jan. 10 1973
[Notes based on Mestel, The Chess Player 4 / # 332]
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 d5 4.e3 Nbd7 5.d4 e6 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 a6 (8…Bb7!? Larsen) 9.e4 c5 10.e5 cxd4 11.Nxb5 axb5 12.exf6 Qb6 13.fxg7 Bxg7 14.O-O O-O 15.Re1 e5!? TN (15…Nc5 16.Bf4 +=) 16.Bf5 Qd6 [This is not a bad system for Black. Jo1 Horvath (2536)-M. Ragger (2670), Vienna Open A, Aug. 17 2012 continued with 17.Bd2 Nb6 18.Be4 Rb8 19.a3 f5 20.Bb4 Qf6 21.Bxf8 Kxf8 22.Bd3 e4 23.Bxb5 Nd5 24.a4 Bb7 25.Nd2 Nf4 26.Bf1 Qh6 27.Nc4 Ba6 28.Ra3 Bxc4 29.Bxc4 d3 30.g3 Nh3+ 31.Kg2 Nxf2 32.Rb3 Rc8 33.Qa1 Qh3+ 34.Kg1 Bd4 35.Qa3+ Rc5 36.Rb8+ Kg7 37.Re3 Ng4 0-1.] 17.Qc2 h6 18.Bd2 Bb7 19.a3 (19.Bxd7? Qxd7 20.Nxe5 Qd5 21.Nf3 d3 =+) 19…Rfc8 20.Qd1 (20.Bb4? Rxc2! 21.Bxd6 Rxb2! =+) 20… Rc7 21.Rc1 Rxc1 22.Qxc1 Nb6 23.Qc2 Re8 24.Bb4 Qf6? 25.Nxd4 e4 (25…Qg5 26.Nc6!) 26.Bc3 Qg5 27.Bh3 (27.h4! Qxh4 28.Nxb5 +/-) 27…Nd5 28.Bd2 e3! 29.Nf3
29…Bd4!! (29…exf2+? 30.Kxf2 Bd4+ 31.Nxd4 Qh4+ 32.Kf1 Rxe1+ 33.Bxe1 Ne3+ 34.Ke2 +/-) 30.Kf1! (30.Nxg5?? exf2+ 31.Kf1 fxe1=Q+ 32.Bxe1 Ne3+ -+) 30…Qf6! 31.Qd3 e2+!? 32.Rxe2 Rxe2 33.Qxe2 Bxb2 34.Bxh6 (34.Qxb5?? Ba6 -+) 34…Bxa3? 35.Qe8+ Kh7 36.Bg5 Qa1+ 37.Ne1 Kg7 38.Bg4 Bb4 39.Bf3?? (It appears both players are short of time here. 39.Bh5! Qxe1+ 40.Qxe1 leads to +/- or +- for White. The problem for Black is that White makes his 39th move, even if it is a blunder, and Black doesn’t. He loses on time here.) 1-0 Time/Zeit (Mestel also noted that 39…Ne7! 40.Bd2 Bxd2 41.Qxe7 Ba6 -+ wins for Black, if he had the time.)
GM Donald Byrne-GM Pal Benko
New York, 1966
[IM Hans Kmoch, “Catastrophic U-Turns”, Chess Review, June 1967]
1.c4 g6 2.g3 Bg7 3.Bg2 e5 4.Nc3 Ne7 5.e4 d6 6.d3 Nbc6 7.Nge2 f5 8.Nd5 O-O 9.Be3 h6 10.Qd2 g5 11.Nxe7+ Nxe7 12.f4 gxf4 13.gxf4 Ng6 14.O-O-O Qh4 15.Rdf1 fxe4 16.Bxe4 Nxf4 17.Bxf4 exf4 18.Nxf4 Bf5 19.Ng2 Qh5 20.Bf3 Qg5 21.Nf4 Bd4 22.h4 Qg7 23.Ne2 Kh7 24.Bxb7 (White takes the Pawn with no loss of tempo: his advantage is decisive.) 24…Rae8 25.Nxd4 Qxd4 26.Rf3 Bg4 27.Rg3 h5 28.Be4+ Rxe4 (… 28…Kg7 fails against 29. Qg5+ and 30.Bd5+.) 29.dxe4 Qe5 30.Rhg1 Rf4 31.Qd5 Qe7 (31…Qxd5 32.exd5 Rxc4+ 33.Rc3) 32.Rxg4! hxg4 33.Qh5+ Kg7 34.Rxg4+ Rxg4 35.Qxg4+ Kh6 0-1
(But there is hope beyond hope. White exceeds the time limit. A must peculiar U-Turn. After 36.b4, White can victoriously trade Queens by force: 37.Qg5+ or 36…Qe8 37.h5.)
Just like any other field of competition, there are bad sports. Some players, who in finding out that they are losing, walk out of the game. Then the game is recorded as a time loss.
[Tartakower, 500 Master Games, #7]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 d5 8.exd5 Nxd5 9.O-O Be6 9.O-O Be6 (After this move which, to all appearances, is perfectly sound, Black loses his chance of castling. He should, at all costs, have played 9…Bxc3, and then completed his development.) 10.Bg5 Be7 11.Bxd5 Bxd5 12.Nxd5 Qxd5 13.Bxe7 Nxe7 14.Re1 f6 15.Qe2 Qd7 16.Rac1 c6 17.d5 (A fine vacating sacrifice. The square d4 is made available to the Knight, thus greatly intensifying the attack.) 17…cxd5 18.Nd4 Kf7 (Black has almost castled, but not quite.) 19.Ne6 (Threatening 20.Rf7) 19…Rhc8 20.Qg4 g6 21.Ng5+ Ke8 22.Rxe7+ [An amazing continuation! All of White’s pieces are en prise and Black threatens Rxc1#. Yet he cannot take the checking Rook, 22…Qxe7 23.Rxc8+, Rxc8 24.Qxc8+, and White remains a piece ahead. The variations resulting from 22…Kxe7 show an astounding degree of precision, which was required of White, before he could venture on the move in the text, e.g. 22…Kxe7 23.Re1+ Kd6 24.Qb4+ Rc5 (24…Kc6 25.Rc1# ; 24…Kc7 25.Ne7+ Kb8 26.Qf4+) 25.Re6+, and wins. In this beautiful combination the Rook remains en prise for several moves until Black, compelled to capture it, succumbs to a mating attack.] 22…Kf8 23.Rf7+ Kg8 24.Rg7+ (Tartakower doesn’t mention this, but at this point von Bardeleben walked out of the hall and did not return. His game was forfeited after his clock ran out of time fifty minutes later. Steinitz demonstrated immediately afterward following forced moves which Tartakower now refers. “Mate in eleven moves can be prevented only at ruinous cost in materials. 24…Kh8 25.Rxh7+ Kg8 26.Rg7+ Kh8 27.Qh4+ Kxg7 28.Qh7+ Kf8 29.Qh8+ Ke7 30.Qg7+ Ke8 31.Qg8+ Ke7 32.Qf7+ Kd8 33.Qf8+ Qe8 34.Nf7+ Kd7 35.Qd6#”.) 1-0
But is it important to note if a game has been decided by a time loss? Let’s take a look at the following game.
IM Richard Leyva Proenza-Mario Merrit
General Ezequiel Zamora Memorial
Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 9 2013
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Bg7 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 Qa5 8.O-O O-O 9.h3 d6 10.f4 Bd7 11.Bb3 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 Bc6 13.Qd3 Rad8 14.Rad1 Nd7 15.Kh1 e5 16.fxe5 dxe5 17.Rxf7 Rxf7 18.Bxf7+ Kxf7 19.Qc4+ Ke7 20.Be3 Qa6!?
21.Qb4+ Kf7 [21…Ke8 22.Qb3 (with the idea of Qg8+) Ke7 23.Qb4+ starts another perpetual checking sequence, while 21…Kf6!? 22.Rd6+ Kf7 23.Qb3+ Kf8 24.Kg1 (not 24.Qb4? Kg8!) is probably another draw.] 22.Qb3 Ke7 23.Qb4+ 22.Qb3+ Ke7 23.Qb4+ Kf7 24.Qb3+ Ke7 25.Qb4+ 1-0 (This position is drawn and the game should be declared a draw. So, why is the result given as White win? Did Black actually resign? It is difficult to believe Black lost on time. What happened?)
So, what to do? At least for games where the result is based on time, and not necessarily position? Do we continue to present games that are time losses without indicating that this is exactly what happened? It seems a giant waste of time to analyze a position when there is no clue why a player lost. A little symbol indicating a time loss would be welcomed.
Using Time/Zeit is a good start, as Mestel did. But even better is just using a capital T (as Z is the symbol for Zugzwang).