Chess Clock Information
Clocks are not universally used in scholastic tournaments, since the majority of games finish quickly. However, if a game continues long past the conclusion of other games in a given round, a tournament director may decide to set a chess clock in order to speed the game's conclusion. In such situations, the tournament director is to explain the use of the clock to the players.
Certain scholastic and all adult tournaments will employ chess clocks for the duration, to keep rounds within a particular time frame. Chess clocks were invented in the late 1800s to avoid excessively lengthy games. They have two independent clocks with a mechanism allowing only one clock to run at a time, so that neither player can overly delay the game, and to assure equal time opportunity. Each player may decide to take more or less time over an individual move--e.g., a player may choose to conserve time by starting the game with a relatively quick succession of moves, in order to save extra time for thinking over more critical moves later in the game. An important component of a player's overall chess skill is learning good time management to avoid making mistakes when short of time or, even worse, "losing on time."
For regular USCF-rated tournaments, the time control is at least 30 minutes for each player, though it may be as little as 25 minutes when using time delays. Each player is required to make a certain number of moves within that period. If a player runs out of time before making the required number of moves, he or she loses on time. Both players are required to keep score until there are less than five minutes left on the clock.
A "sudden death" time control is a fixed amount of time in which to finish the game regardless of the number of moves made. [If you are using a standard analog clock with a sudden death time control, be sure you are aware of the "insufficient losing chances" rule ahead of time (a type of a draw); this is not an issue when time-delay clocks are used.] Sudden death time controls are applied routinely in games under 30 minutes (referred to as "Quick Chess"), and scorekeeping is not required. Quick Chess games have an allotted time of 10-29 minutes and fall under a separate USCF rating category. Games with time controls of under 10 minutes (referred to as Blitz) are not rated by the USCF.
Two examples of possible time controls follow. Note that there may be two or more time controls per round in longer tournaments.
G/30 - each player has thirty minutes (a combined total of one hour) to complete the game
40/2, SD/1 - each player must complete 40 moves in two hours, followed by sudden death in one hour
For tournaments with specified time controls, you should bring your own clock if you have one, or else borrow one. Digital chess clocks with time-delay features are considered preferential equipment. All things being equal, the player with the black pieces is allowed to choose which equipment will be used and which side the clock will be placed on, unless the tournament director otherwise determines this.
It is essential that you be familiar with your clock prior to tournament day, including how to set it for various time controls. Standard analog, or mechanical, chess clocks are equipped with a "flag" that falls, indicating the exact instant the player's time expires. Unfortunately, additional time often cannot easily be added to these types of clocks in more complex time controls. Digital-delay chess clocks with incremental time controls (USCF sometimes refers to these as allegro clocks) have therefore become preferred. A good clock will be accurate, operate silently, and come equipped with a device that signals the end of a time control. A move-count feature is helpful, but cannot be used in lieu of a scoresheet to determine a claim of time forfeit.
At Chess Odyssey, we recommend Chronos digital clocks, which are very durable and reliable. The price is higher than some of the alternatives, but you do get what you pay for. Chronos clocks can be ordered here. As soon as you get your new clock, write your name and phone number on the bottom in order to be able to distinguish it from similar clocks, save the box to protect it when it's stored and during transport, and be sure to familiarize yourself with all of the manufacturer's instructions.
Ten Important Principles of Clock Usage
1. Mechanical clocks are to be set so that they will read six o'clock when the first time control expires--e.g., 5:30 in G/30. Subsequent time controls go beyond six o'clock. Digital clocks are set to the specified time control for each player (generally 30 minutes or more in standard chess).
2. Time unused by a player in a given time control will be accumulated (added to that player's available time for the next time control).
3. A standard delay of 5 seconds may be added for both players on clocks with this capability (except in Blitz). This "time delay" does not accumulate from move to move. Each player's main time control does not diminish until after the delay time is used up on a given move, taking some of the pressure off in "crunch" situations.
4. At the specified time for starting the round, the player with the black pieces presses the clock to begin the white player's time for making the first move. If one or both players arrive late, see a tournament official regarding how to set the clock to reflect elapsed time.
5. Make your move and then press the clock button briefly with the same hand you used to make your move. Clocks are not to be otherwise handled (except to straighten them, if necessary) or hovered over during the game. Penalties, including potential game forfeit, may be imposed if clocks are repeatedly misshandled.
6. Players may be allowed to leave the table during the game (for instance, to use the restroom), but should keep in mind that once their opponent has made a move and pressed the clock button, the player's own time will start running again.
7. If, after a game has started, it is determined that a clock is either defective or was set erroneously, notify the tournament director promptly, whose job it is to decide what times the clock will show, and/or to set a replacement clock, if necessary.
8. A player who desires the tournament director's presence for any legitimate reason may stop both sides of the clock in order to obtain assistance.
9. "Flag fall" refers to the instant a player's time runs out, whether or not the clock is equipped with a flag. Note that flag fall involving insufficient mating material on the part of the time winner is recorded as a draw, not a win.
10. The flag is considered to have fallen when it is pointed out by either player, and must not be pointed out by any third party, with the exception of the designated arbiter. If a standard outcome has already been determined for a game, it remains valid, even if it is found later that a flag had fallen.
Clock rules are different in Blitz chess--
for World Blitz Chess Association rules, click here.
It is important that observers, including officials, refrain from calling any player's attention to the fact that his/her opponent has made a move, or that he/she has forgotten to press the clock after making a move, or informing the player as to how many moves he/she has made, etc.
Click here for USCF information about clock usage and rules, and/or consult the
USCF bound 5th edition of the Official Rules of Chess.
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