When playing official games, such as in a chess tournament, players will be required to use a chess clock.
A chess clock is actually a pair of timers linked by a switching mechanism to control the amount of time each player gets to make their moves. There are two kinds of chess clocks:
Analog clocks have a round clock face on them and operate mechanically.
Digital chess clocks have a digital display and a computer chip that controls the timing.
A chess clock has two buttons on the top which are used to start each player’s turn.
Analog clocks begin with both buttons in a neutral position; both buttons are level. When the game official signals the start of the game, the player playing black presses his or her button to start white’s turn. white’s clock will then begin to tick down.
For more modern digital clocks, there is usually a “start” button on the clock, and this is pressed to start the timer for white.
Before the game begins, the player playing black chooses which side of the chess board the chess clock will be located. However, some tournaments require all chess clocks to be in the same location.
During play, as a player ponders their move, time elapses from his or her clock. When the player makes a move, he or she presses their button, passing play to the opponent. This action stops the player’s clock and starts the opponent’s clock. It is general practice for regular games to press your clock button with the same hand that you use to move your pieces.
Before the game starts, the chess clocks are set according to a time control rule. Time controls indicate the time limit enforced upon game play. Time control rules are typically stated to indicate how much game progress is expected in how much time. Some common time controls used are:
60/90 — This time control states that each player must make sixty (60) moves in ninety (90) minutes.
G/60 – For this time control, each player must play his or her entire game in sixty (60) minutes.
60/60/15 – This time control is a little more complicated. It says that each player must make sixty (60) moves in sixty (60) minutes. After that time period elapses, then each player is given fifteen (15) minutes to finish their game.
G/60/d5 – In this time control, each player has sixty (60) minutes in which to play their game. Additionally, there is a delay of five (5) seconds on each turn before the timer starts counting down.
While many tournaments, especially at the scholastic level, supply chess boards and pieces, chess clocks are usually not supplied. For that reason, it is generally recommended that players (or teams) bring their own clock to tournaments.
Also, it is essential that players learn how to set their own clocks! As there are so many different brands of chess clocks, it is not always the case that the tournament director can set your clock for you.
Analog clocks are very simple to set. To set the chess clock, subtract the amount of time for the first time period from “6:00” and set the clock face for each side to this time. For example, using a “G/30” time control, both timers of the chess clock would be set to “5:30,” because “6:00” minus 30 minutes is “5:30.”
On an analog clock, when a player uses up all of his or her time, the minute hand on their clock will cause a flag to fall on their timer. If the flag falls while it is your move and you have not completed the required number of moves, you lose the game on time.
On a digital clock, there is general some sort of flashing indicator to indicate that time has run out.
If your clock runs out of time on your turn, you lose the game on time. It doesn’t matter what the situation is on the chess board; if you run out of time, you lose.
Serious chess players learn to use their opponent’s clock rather than their own. In other words, while your opponent is thinking about their move and their clock is ticking down, use that time to think about your next move or moves. That way, when your opponent moves and your clock begins to tick, you won’t need to use as much of your time to think about your move.