There are several types of clock in use for timing chess and a game of chess or such at any type of event or at any level is not tied to using any particular type of clock or actual time settings on such clocks – this can be decided by organisers, tournament committees etc. Also at points during a game there is sometimes a switch to another type of clock as is for example the case in the 2016 world Western chess championships final. The type of clock used may give rise to different approaches to managing clock times and so an element of additional skills can enter into games.
Most Chess clocks are currently of three basic types as follows:
Single countdown clocks
This is where a fixed amount for the whole game is entered onto both players’ clocks and where this amount simply counts down on each move and a player will lose the game on time when his amount counts down to zero. These are sometimes called blitz time control clocks, particularly for very short games; but I prefer the term Single countdown clocks and they are frequently used for games of up to about 30 minutes for each player.
There are also what could be called traditional, fixed control or classical clocks whereby a specified number of moves must be played within a certain period of time e.g. 40 moves within 100 minutes and this time control is then followed by another time control e.g. the next 20 moves within 50 minutes and then usually there is a third and final time control that may be e.g. 15 minutes plus an increment of 30 seconds a move for the rest of the game – note that unused time is carried forward to the next time control. The afore-going clocks and settings are those to be used for the 2016 world Western chess championships final and the third time control for the remainder of the game with an increment is in fact a different type of clock to the traditional one and is called the Fischer clock and this is described next.
These clocks were the idea of Robert (Bobby, as he is usually known) Fischer and consist of firstly entering a balance onto each player’s clock and then for each move a player makes his clock has an additional fixed increment added to it - for example: Initial balance 120 minutes with an Increment of 60 seconds. Bobby Fischer was a world Western chess champion.
Mention should also be made of these clocks, though rarely used in Chess for tournaments etc., whereby an initial amount is entered onto each player’s clock and whilst they are moving their clock counts down whilst their opponent’s clock increases by the same amount – if a player’s clock counts down to zero he loses the game on time.
There are a few other features with regard to clocks as follows:
To allow for the actual moving of pieces etc. there can be a delay in the operation of clocks and this is often called time lagging and also in long games players have a break and a rest and this is usually called an adjournment whereby the operation of clocks is halted but I prefer the following terms
A Clock pause is where there is time lagging of up to 20 seconds
A Clock hold is where there is time lagging of more than 20 seconds
An Interval is where there is an adjournment of up to 1 hour
An Intermission is where there is an adjournment of more than 1 hour
Two of the three Phased Clocks that follow are somewhat based on Fischer clocks and other clocks but whereas Fischer clocks were intended to mostly end time pressure and eliminate what are called time scrambles these two phased clocks do not aim to do so but rather to reduce them as sometimes time pressure is an interesting and valid feature of a game and time scrambles may on occasions bring a dull game to life.
Note that full clocks information including settings must be displayed to players, referees and spectators etc. throughout a game.
Phased clocks each have one variation [plus there are Independent single countdown clocks] and a description of these clocks follows in the order shown below:
Phased Countdown - standard
Phased Countdown - triple controls
[also Independent single countdown clocks]
Phased Increment - standard
Phased Increment - variable parameters
Phased Swing - standard
Phased Swing - open ended
Phased Countdown - standard
These clocks have one significant change to Fischer clocks and operate as follows:
Firstly, an amount called the Initial balance is entered onto each player’s Main clock.
Secondly, for each move a player makes a fixed amount called a Reserve increment is added onto a separate Reserve clock – this is different to Fischer clocks where the Increment is added to the same clock as the Initial balance is entered onto. The reserve clock is not used until the main clock has counted down to zero.
Thirdly, when his main clock has counted down to zero the player then uses his reserve clock where no more amounts of time are added to and so this clock acts as a single countdown clock and if this counts down to zero the player loses the game on time.
An example would be for an initial balance of 120 minutes and with a reserve increment of 60 seconds.
As can be seen the player has a degree of control of how much reserve time he builds up as by moving quickly he will have a larger reserve time when he switches to his reserve clock due to more increments in a given time.
Phased Countdown – triple controls
A variation of this type of clock is to include a further iteration when using the reserve clock and using a Secondary reserve clock and with the same or a different Secondary increment to the first iteration for example 30 seconds - iterations could continue but this would be most unusual.
Both Phased Countdown clocks are allowable for the highest level tournaments or matches and suchlike with the triple controls being preferable.
With all Phased countdown clocks and in any game of significance players would have an overall time limit (for example 200 minutes for each player and this amount would correspond to the above example times for triple controls with perhaps 180 minutes if not triple) and this would be entered onto Independent single countdown clocks and these clocks count down continuously but only take effect if a player’s phased clock is still running and so of course a player can lose on time before his Independent clock counts down to zero – the time entered onto these clocks allows for such as time lagging. The purpose of these clocks is to prevent an excess of time allowed to that intended.
Phased Increment – standard
These clocks have one or two significant changes to Fischer clocks and operate as follows:
Firstly, an amount called the Initial Balance is entered onto each player’s clock. Unlike phased countdown clocks there is only one clock for each player and so this is simply called the player’s clock.
Secondly, for each move a player makes a fixed Increment is added to his clock but in contrast to Fischer clocks this is only for a set number of moves called the Cut-off point. During this phase of the game (the pre cut-off phase) if a player’s clock counts down to zero he would of course lose the game on time.
Thirdly, at the cut-off point a Final increment is added to each player’s clock – this is different to Fischer clocks where the increment is of a fixed amount throughout the game.
Fourthly, (the post Cut-off phase) the clocks now act as single countdown clocks with no more time added to and if a player’s clock counts down to zero he loses the game on time.
An example would be for an initial balance of 60 minutes; an increment of 60 seconds with a final increment of 60 minutes at a cut-off point of 40 moves. These settings would give a maximum time allowed for the whole game for each player of 160 minutes.
As the example shows (assuming the game runs to more than the Cut-off point) up to the Cut-off point of 40 moves the maximum time allowed for each player is 100 minutes but a minimum of 60 seconds a move is allowed and so players have less flexibility than with phased countdown clocks but have more certainty of periodical times allowed.
Note that the Final increment is added immediately after the actual making (in the above example) of move 40.
Phased Increment – variable parameters
A variation of this type of clock is to include players each having their own choice (within set limits) of their own initial balances and increments and also final increments and cut-off points, provided the pre-set overall maximum time for the whole game for each player were not exceeded.
Both Phased Increment clocks are allowable for the highest level tournaments or matches and suchlike.
Note that where this clock variation is used players must simultaneously declare their settings to the referee immediately prior to the game commencing.
A spreadsheet template with example figures for this clock variation is shown below and example range limits are also shown.
Independent single countdown clocks as explained in Phased countdown clocks are set for all significant games using Phased increment clocks with 200 minutes entered being an example and this would correspond to the above template amounts as the time entered would not be less than the maximum allowed for the game in either variation.
Phased Swing - standard
Based mostly on Hourglass clocks these clocks may be considered something of novelty clocks with regard to their use for games however there are interesting possibilities with these clocks – but first their method of operation:
Firstly, an amount called the Initial Reserve balance is entered onto a clock for each player that is called their Reserve clock.
Secondly, an amount called the Initial Swing balance is entered onto a separate clock for each player that is called their Swing clock.
Thirdly, whilst a player is moving his swing clock counts down and his opponent’s swing clock goes up by the same amount.....if a player’s swing clock counts down to zero then his reserve clock is then used.....time used on the reserve clock does not increase the balance on either the opponent’s reserve clock or swing clock and after using his reserve clock the player’s swing clock will once again increase as his opponent then uses his swing clock.....if during this phase (the pre Cut-off phase) a player’s swing clock and then reserve clock count down to zero he would of course lose the game on time. It can be seen that the combined balance of the swing clocks is always the same during the pre cut-off phase.
Fourthly, after a set number of moves called the Cut-off point both players’ balances on their reserve clock and swing clock are combined onto their reserve clock and these act as single countdown clocks and if a player’s clock counts down to zero he loses the game on time of course.
An example would be for an initial reserve balance of 30 minutes and an initial swing balance of 30 seconds with a cut-off point of 40 moves.
Players have with these clocks opportunities to directly impose time pressure by moving quickly and/or by introducing complexities and highly tactical or double edged situations into a game.....unlike standard hourglass clocks however there are possibilities with the use of the reserve clock to defend against these measures and so a game can take on an exciting hunter and hunted character and could even have the hunter and hunted reversed....it is also possible if both players’ reserve clocks run low or very low before the cut-off point for the clocks to become virtually as standard hourglass clocks – at least up until the cut-off point when the remainder of the game (the post Cut-off phase) could take on the character of a blitz game or even a bullet game, particularly with small initial swing balances of less than 20 seconds.
Note that the combining of clock balances occurs immediately after the actual making (in the above example) of move 40.
Phased Swing – open ended
A variation of this type of clock is not having a cut-off point and so there is no combining of balances to be followed by single countdown clocks.
Both Phased Swing clocks are allowable up to high level tournaments or matches and suchlike and sometimes at the highest level with the standard clocks being generally preferable.
Independent single countdown clocks as explained in Phased countdown clocks are set for all significant games using Phased swing clocks with 60 minutes entered being an example and this amount would correspond to the above example amounts for both variations.
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By Glenn Nicholls.
Web page created: 2018-02-04. Web page last updated: 2018-02-04