The Chess Clock

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If you are going to take part in competitive chess it is likely that you will use a chess clock to time your games. Mechanical chess clocks have been used during competitive play since the London International Tournament in April 1883. A chess clock consists of two clocks linked together so that when one of the clocks is stopped the other starts. The clocks in use today can be analogue or digital. The clock is placed at the side of the playing board. Black decides on which side to place the clock.

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An analogue clock

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A digital clock
(pictures copyright T.Gavriel)

When a person makes a move he stops his clock and thus starts his opponents clock. The clocks countdown how much time each player has left to make all their moves before reaching the time limit. At the beginning of the game the clock of the player who has the white pieces is started. When the minute hand is pointing towards the 12 a small flag falls. In the picture above of the analogue clock the minute hand on the left clock has reached 12 and the flag has fallen. On the clock on the left the minute hand is just beginning to push the flag up. If a player has not made the specified number of moves when the flag falls he has lost the game on time unless the opponent has insufficient material to checkmate with. Then the game is drawn.

Rates of Play

There are various rates of play in use. The following indicates the different options available:

Blitz has typical time limits of 5 minutes for each player for all of the moves.

Rapidplay is played with typical time limits of 30 minutes for each player for all the moves.

Local league chess has typical time controls of 35 moves in 75 minutes and then perhaps 15 or 20 minutes to finish the game.

International chess has a standard time control of 40 moves in 2 hours and then an extra hour to reach move 60. After this, if the game is still in progress a quickplay finish decides the game.

With the use of digital clocks it is common to play with an increment such as 2 12. This means that each person has 2 minutes to make their moves and on each move they make 12 seconds is added to the time they have remaining on the clock. Increments can also be used for longer games.

Clock Tips

There are some things to bear in mind when using a clock:

1. Always remember to press your clock after you have moved.

2. Don't forget to check whether your opponent has lost on time. It is the responsibility of the player to point out that his opponent has lost on time.

3. Press the clock with the same hand with which you have moved the piece. It is against the rules to keep a finger on the button or to hover over it.

4. You must not pick up the clock or punch it forcibly. This can lead to you forfeiting the game.

5. Keep score carefully so that you know when you have reached the time control.

6. Make sure you know what the time limit is before you start to play!




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