“What is Tempo?”- An Explanation of the Chess Term

I never knew what ‘tempo’ was in chess until I returned to the sport of chess and started this website. At first glance and to the uninitiated you may think it has something to so with the speed of play, it might be in a loose fashion, but there is a bit more to the explanation of this particular chess term – So let’s take a good look at what ‘tempo’ means in chess and how to use it to your advantage.

A ‘Tempo’ in Chess is the efficacy of a players move. Tempo can be gained or lost by force or error. Forcing an opponent to make a move in defense would have you gaining a tempo, whilst they lost it taking evasive action and vice versa. Chess with perfect accuracy does not lose tempo.

That may still seem a little confusing, so let’s explain it some more, and provide some examples, so you fully understand what tempo is.

The benefit of understanding tempo should not be underestimated, You’ll soon see why.

Gaining a Tempo

A player is deemed to have gained a tempo when making a move that forces an opponent to make a move they might not have otherwise made.

Consider a fork situation as an extreme example. Player 1 white moves a rook forking two black pieces. Black has no option but to move one of the pieces under threat, which in most cases would not have been the next move on thier mind.

Even if we drop the fork idea an imagine that a white pawn can move into an advanced position and threaten the black queen whilst in a defended position. The opponent will have no option but to move the queen, providing white with the potential of gaining more tempo by attacking once again.

The ebb and flow of tempo is flip flop of attacking and defending in chess and the success thereof

Losing a Tempo

As you would imagine, losing tempo is the polar opposite of gaining one.

If you are taken off your intended strategy or are forced to make a move, defensive or otherwise because of a move your opponent has made that you may not have anticipated then unless you can make an equally attacking move you will lose a tempo.

This is because your strategy is disturbed and it has taken you two moves to continue your plan, even if that is now possible, as opposed to smoothly progressing with just the one.

Use Winning Tempo to Get Better.

To understand what tempo is and the importance is plays to your advantage in the game is fundamental to developing your chess skills and becoming a better chess player.

When you make a move to a good square and force your opponent into making an unscheduled move that is not a part of thier plan you are most likely to gain tempo.

Tempo, the multiple of which is known as ‘tempi’ plays a critical role in the ebb and flow of game advantage and final outcome, and learning to utilize the opportunity to gain at the right time, will help you get better at chess.

Gaining Check Doesn’t Always Gain Tempo.

Absolutely. If you can even surprise your opponent with a check at an opportune time, without doubt, they may have to make an unscheduled move and lose tempo in the process.

Be aware that they have not left you a trap though. They could have set up an opportunity for you to move to a check position, but in doing so not noting a threat that you put yourself in by doing so, not seeing the threat, and being blinded by the checking possibility you’ve spotted.

If this happens, the chances are you are going to lose material, and along with it, tempo in the game too.

Tempo can Be Gained and Lost at Any Point in a Game

Tempo can be exchanged right from the outset depending on the openings and defences played by either player.

Attacks, defense systems, and gambits are all designed to gain early advantages for either side, and there can be many advantages won or lost in the first half dozen moves or so.

This is why it a good idea to ‘lightly’ study chess openings as part and parcel of your chess strategy, so as to understand the various threats and opportunities that could win or lose you tempi early in the game.

Now go Practice Gaining Tempo

Now you are aware of what tempo in chess is, you can go play some games online, don’t worry about the outcome of the game itself, just practice trying to gain tempo at various points.

You’ll be making many moves that you would ordinarily have made anyway, but you will think in terms of time, and those tempo gains and losses.

You’ll also be more acutely awar of when you are lsoing tempo and the imapct of that one you, with a growing attack from your opponent.

being more aware of tempo, its importance to your game, and its effects will help you enormously in improving your chess game

Happy Chessing!

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