Chess Clock

A chess clock is a timer which is used during a chess tournament with the purpose of recording and keeping track of the time used. The clock has two timers showing the time utilized by the players. The time reduces for the person who is to move. So, if it is black’s turn to play then the time on black’s side will continue to reduce, until he has no time left or he has made his move.

The clock was introduced to avoid any undue advantage taken by one player by using more time than the other. Clocks ensured that both players had to manage their time all throughout the game.

Before 1850, chess was not time bound and the games would go on for a long duration, sometimes even for days. In 1852, it was proposed that sand glasses should be used to create a time limit. Therefore a sand glass was used to understand the time utilized, put some pressure on the players as well as to make the game more spectator friendly.

Sand glass timer

Modified Sand glass timer

The first game played with a sand glass as a clock was Anderssen vs Von Kolisch, London 1861. The sand glass was not accurate as many players would fail to flip the correct side and so another proposition was made of using two different watches/clocks. That didn’t work either but it gave Thomas Wilson an idea of inventing the mechanical tumbling clock in 1883.

Mechanical Tumbling clock was manufactured by Fattorini & Sons

It consisted of two identical pendulum clocks set on opposite ends of a balance beam. When one player completed his move, he moved the clock into a position that stopped its pendulum and started his opponent’s timer. It was used during the Steinitz-Lasker, world championship match in New York, 1894.

Then came the analog clock at the dawn of the 20th century. It was accurate and easy to understand. It had a pushover feature, so every time a player played he would tap his side of clock.

The Jaques ‘Congress chess timer’, without the flag.

Analog clock without flag

The ‘flag’ was suspended above the 3rd minute before 12 o’clock, i.e. 11:57. It meant that the flag would rise when a player would reach the final three minutes. The flag would fall once it exceeds the time given and the game would be lost. So if you are playing a 20 minute game it would be set at 11:40 on both sides. If the game was set for 90 minutes each then it would be set to 10:30 on both sides. That’s how the term losing by flag fall (Losing on time) came into use.

Introduction of flag by H.D.B. Meijer, the Secretary of the Dutch Chess Federation.
The plastic analog clock
Electronic chess clock
Digital chess clock

However, in analog clocks extra time could not be easily added for more complex time controls, especially those that called for an increment or delay on every move. To overcome the issues with analog clock, Bruce Cheney, an Electrical Engineering student and chess player, created the first digital chess clock as a project Digital Chess clock in the second half of the 20th century.

Following are the different Digital chess clocks used in tournaments. making analog clocks a thing from the past.

There are different modes used for playing the game.

Delay/Bronstein: This mode adds time but unlike increment not always the maximum amount of time is added. For e.g if the delay is 5 seconds and a player uses 5 or more seconds for a move, maximum 5 seconds are only added not more. If the player uses 3 seconds for a move, 3 seconds are added after their move. Ensuring that the main time left on the clock can never increase even if a player plays quickly.

Bonus/Fischer Mode: In around 1980, Fischer patented a new digital chess clock that gave each player a fixed period of time at the start of the game and then added a small amount of time after each move. The typical and most used time control is 90 minutes as main time per player with a 30 second increment each move.

Sudden Death: A fixed time is given with no increment or delay. It is usually popular in short time controls. This is a very interesting time control to play as, even if you have a winning position but you have very less time, you might lose on time.

  • Other time controls in chess
    • Bullet: Games where each player gets less than three minutes.
    • Blitz: Games where each player gets minimum three or maximum ten minutes
    • Rapid: Each player gets more than 10 minutes up to 1 hour.
  • There are a few rules about the clock that one should remember.
    • You can not press the clock till you have made your move.
    • You can not stop the clock for going to the washroom or completing your score-sheet.
    • You can only stop the clock if you want to make a claim to the arbiter and are waiting for him to arrive at the board. An arbiter can be called if you want to claim a draw or your opponent has made an illegal move or such reasons

Chess is already compared to life in various ways, and the time factor makes it further more relatable. It tells you that time is very valuable and we have to manage it from the start. So make every moment counts!

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