In chess and similar games, a tempo refers to a single move or turn made by either the White or Black player. When a player accomplishes a desired outcome in one fewer move, they are said to “gain a tempo.” Conversely, if a player takes an extra move unnecessarily, they are said to “lose a tempo.” Likewise, when a player compels their opponent to make moves that deviate from their original plan, they are said to “gain tempo” since the opponent is wasting moves. A move that gains a tempo is often referred to as “a move with tempo.”
One way to gain tempo is by simultaneously developing a piece and delivering a check. However, if the opponent can counter the check by developing their own piece, the overall effect may be neutral. On the other hand, if the check can be blocked by a beneficial pawn move that also forces the checking piece to retreat, it is possible to even gain an advantage by losing a tempo.
Let’s take a look at two examples from my favorite King’s Gambit:
Gain a tempo
Lose a tempo
Typically, it is advantageous to make moves that result in gaining tempo. When a player possesses the initiative, they can continuously make moves that compel their opponent to respond in specific ways or restrict their options. The player with the initiative enjoys more flexibility in their moves and can influence the overall direction of the game to some degree. However, it’s important to note that this advantage is relative and may not hold significant value in certain situations. For instance, having a slight initiative while being a rook down in material would likely be inconsequential.
Later, we will explore additional strategies for leveraging tempo to one’s advantage. In certain endgame scenarios, it may be necessary to intentionally sacrifice a tempo to secure a victory. These unique cases will be discussed and analyzed in detail in upcoming articles.