Just the Rules: The Amazing Journey of 14H

Tim Just, CLO columnist


Sudden death time controls, which force an entire game in a specified amount of time – such as G/30 or G/60 — began to appear regularly in the early 1990s. And when the 4th edition of the US Chess rulebook rolled around, the “chess law-givers” penned the first rules addressing sudden death.  

Rule 14H took aim at a frequent concern: flags falling in sudden death for players in overwhelmingly won positions. And much time was spent in the process of applying this one single rule.  

When those flags fall, technically a player could claim a draw despite the position offering nothing but losing chances. The phrase “with both having ample time” observed that a Class C player would have little chance in the position against, say, a Master, and the concept became the rule of thumb for those claims.   

Analogue clocks were the standard timing devices in those bygone days, as digital clocks with their delays and increments had only just begun to worm into the chess universe. As those digital clock enhancements began to become the norm, giving the advantaged player enough time to crank out the clear result, Rule 14H was relegated to application only for games with analog clocks.  

Side Effects

The “Insufficiently Losing Chances” rule had some interesting side effects, the least of which was allowing TDs at a class-level to enforce the rule when a claim was made in a GM vs GM contest.  

One legendary story tells of a GM convinced that his game was not the draw that the TD had declared. The lower-rated TD had granted a half-point when the GM’s opponent made the 14H claim, so the GM threw down a wad of cash and offered it to any “Class C” player who could draw the position against him! The TD’s ruling was appealed and overturned.  

The enforcement of 14H enforcement also allowed the swap of an analogue clock for a properly set delay clock, an option for TDs who were not sure about that “Class C player…” rule of thumb. Soon players began to make the 14H claim early just so they could have a delay clock placed on the game. Wood pushers then started to believe they could ask for a clock swap at any time, without even making the claim! In reality, only the TD could perform that switch—and only when a 14H claim was made.  

Missing in Action   

The 5th and 6th editions of the rulebook continued to tweak the 14H rule, putting ink to paper outlining its specifics. Becoming clear was more digital clocks being used at tournaments, with analog clocks surrounded and outnumbered. And analog devices were no longer the gold standard by the time the 7th edition went to press, with digital clocks becoming the rulebook choice for their delay and increment abilities. 14H was headed down the road to obscurity.  

While it did still hold some die-hard supporters, the anti-party believed both the timer and the rule was becoming archaic, arguing that 14H had become clunky and filled with too many procedures. By the 7th edition of the rulebook, 14H still existed but came complete with new wording: “No claim of insufficient losing chances in sudden death will be allowed.”  

The old rule was now officially MIA—or was it?  

It's Alive! 

Hold up. While the original rule and all its tweaks had disappeared, a new variation to 14H was born. But this newly minted variation is simply a duplicate of the original 14H rule, and one that does not even need to be announced in the pre-event publicity. So why bother with this apparent magic trick? The answer is probably simple: Tournaments were getting bogged down by 14H as it had become. Smaller events are likely to still see a mix of analog and digital clocks, keeping Rule 14H -- now a variation -- as a useful tool at those tournaments.  

The bottom line for wood pushers with analog clocks is to learn if their next tournament will enforce the new 14H or its reincarnated variation. Realistically, if your opponent has a properly set delay or increment, the rules say their digital device gets the nod over your analogue ticker anyhow.  



Can you believe it? This is my 50th “Just the Rules” column, and yes! It is still fun. I am still trying to digest my good fortune – a big THANK YOU to my readership. -- TJ  



The free, updated US Chess Rules (Chapters 1+2 + 10 +11 from the 7th edition rulebook) are now downloadable and available online. Past “Just the Rules” columns can be viewed here. Plus listen to Tim when he was a guest on the US Chess podcast “One Move at a Time.”

Tim Just is a National Tournament Director, FIDE National Arbiter, and editor of the 5th, 6th, and 7th editions of the US Chess Rulebook. He is also the author of My Opponent is Eating a Doughnut & Just Law, which are both available from US Chess Sales and Amazon/Kindle. Additionally, Tim recently revised The Guide To Scholastic Chess, a guide created to help teachers and scholastic organizers who wish to begin, improve, or strengthen their school chess program. Tim is also a member of the US Chess Rules Committee. His new column, exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations.