If you’ve ever seen people playing chess in a park somewhere (even if it’s just in a movie like “Searching for Bobby Fisher”… which I might do a movie review of for a blog one day), you’ll notice they are often moving quickly and hitting clocks.
When a player is brand new to chess, one of two things will happen: 1) they are totally scared of the clock and/or forget it’s even there and keep forgetting to hit it, or 2) they are so overzealous about the appeal of hitting a clock that they bang the buttons so hard it seems like they may cause collateral damage!
But what is the clock really for, and what do time controls mean? Let’s take a look.
Time control is how long each player has to complete their portion of a chess game. This can be anywhere from many hours to just a few minutes. Every tournament will have a time control written in specific ways. Every internet chess website will have various time controls to choose from as well.
If the game is not over but one player runs out of time on their clock, that player automatically loses the game. This is called “losing on time”
On tournament posters, you’ll see the time control written as (# of moves)/(length of time). This will often be followed by something like SD/(length of time) or (length of time)d or (length of time)inc. Here’s a few examples:
“G/60” would mean “game in 60″… in other words each opponent gets 1 hour on their side of the clock (making a potentially 2-hour game) and the game MUST be finished within that time limit. As stated before, if a player runs out of time before the game is over, they lose the game.
“40/90, SD/1” means 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by an hour of sudden death. In other words, each player gets 90 minutes on their clock. If the game is still going after both players have made 40 moves, and neither player has run out of time, an additional hour is added to both sides of the clock and the game MUST conclude by the end of the new time.
“G/45, 5d” Like before this would mean “game in 45 minutes”, but this has the addition of a 5-second time delay. Time Delay is when the time on the clock (always digital for delay) pauses for the first few seconds (in this case 5 seconds) of every turn before counting down. This extra time is to give the player adequate time to write the notation for the move that was just made by their opponent, without cutting into their time.
“40/90, 30inc” is 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by a time where 30 second increments are added to the clock. Incremental time control is a fairly new idea and only comes on the newest clocks. In the United States, it’s only used in the upper sections of big tournaments, although internationally FIDE uses it for all their events. What it means is that an increment of time is added to a players clock so that they will have at least a certain amount of time to make a move. In this example, after the first 40 moves (which each player has 90 minutes to make), sudden death comes into effect but instead of a set time control, 30 seconds is added to their clock after every move. This ensures that even if a player is basically out of time, they’ll have a minimum of 30 seconds to make a move. If incremental time controls aren’t utilized, a player could have to make a move with only a couple seconds to spare (as in literally 2 seconds).
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