Just the Rules: Fiddling With Clock Settings 

Fiddling With Analog Clock Settings

Ever since chess clocks were imposed on the royal game, so was the inevitability of fiddling with their settings. Analog (mechanical) clocks work using a spring mechanism. That spring gets wound up. As it unwinds, it provides the power that moves the gears that move the hands on the clock. Springs do not all unwind at the same rate.

You could adjust analog chess clocks with little levers on their backside in order to fine-tune the rate at which the spring unwinds. Still, things don’t always mesh enough to make each and every mechanical clock perfectly accurate. To compensate for any slight mechanical imperfections, those chess timers required some fiddling when being set. In particular, you had to add an extra minute to the game’s base time. So, 40 moves in 60 minutes (40/60) becomes 40 moves in 61 minutes at the start of the game.

Eventually analog clocks became more and more reliable. Some battery powered analog clocks even appeared on the scene, meaning that those iffy springs got swapped out for batteries. Digital chess clocks were starting to make headway onto the tournament circuit, too. The need for that extra added minute became extinct. The rulebook as far back as the 4th edition (1993) eliminated the need for that extra time (rule 16X).


Fiddling with Delay Time Control Settings

The era of delay time controls presented new clock setting challenges, and new fiddles were needed to make things right between delay and analog clocks.

Delay time controls gave the user extra seconds before their timer began its count down. Delay time does not accumulate, and unused delay time disappears.

Analog clock users had no such option. Their devices started ticking away as soon as it was their turn to move: no extra think time for them! Is that really such a big difference?

Try this experiment: Set an analog clock and a digital delay clock for the same exact base time. Set the delay for 5 seconds. Now press the plungers back and forth several times on the analog clock. Do the same for the digital delay clock. Wait at least one minute between presses. Compare the time left on the analog timer vs the time left on the digital delay device. Which style of clock has the most time left to play your game?

To equalize this time difference between the two timers, digital delay clock users had to fiddle with their base time settings. They had to subtract one minute of time from the base time for every second of delay, starting with move one. So, the base setting for a digital timer in a Sudden Death game 60 contest with a delay of five seconds, would be G/55;d5. The analog timer would be set for G/60, typically starting at five o’clock on the timer’s face. Fiddling with those digital delay base time settings proved to be a headache for players and TDs alike. There were simply way too many perceived different hoops to jump through for every separate unique clock manufacturer.


Fiddling With Increment Time Control Setting

Increment time controls add time to each move. That time accumulates. The analog clock owner realized that they were missing out on a lot of thinking time when increment time was automatically added to each move on digital timers.

Try that same experiment we used earlier for comparing delay and analog time settings again, only this time set the digital clock with an increment time of 10 seconds. The increment clock wins the extra thinking time race.

The solution this time was to do some fiddling when setting the base time control, but this time the analog clock got the nod for that job. For every second of base time increment on the digital clocks, the analog clock users were allowed to add one minute of thinking time to their base time control.

Example: If the increment time control setting on a digital clock was 30 seconds for a 60-minute game (G/60 + 30), then analog users were allowed to set their timers for G/90 (with the clock face set to 4:30 instead of the typical 5:00) at the start of the game.

The perception among wood-pushers was that the analog clock gave them more time, no matter how many moves were made. Analog clocks were on the fast track to becoming the player’s choice for increment time control. Those old-time devices were also on the fast track to extinction. Digital timers were becoming the player’s choice at tournaments, replacing analog clocks.


Fiddling With Clock Settings Today

With all the hassles, hoop-jumping and drama-fiddling caused with setting base time controls, the powers that be instituted a no-fiddling with the base time control clock setting policy (rule 5F). No matter which kind of clock was set on the game, the base time control no longer needs fixing.

Rule 5F does provide for some adjustments when an increment capable clock is not available for a contest with an increment time control. If a digital delay clock is available — because there is no increment clock around — the non-cumulative delay is set to match the increment exactly, or, at least, as close as possible. But those adjustments don’t involve fiddling with the base time control, just the delay setting.

Want more? Past columns can be found here or by searching the Chess Life Online archives.

Plus, listen to Tim when he was a guest on the podcasts “One Move at a Time” and “The Chess Angle.”

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 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. US Chess awarded the 2022 Tournament Director Lifetime Achievement Award to Tim. He is also a member of the US Chess Rules Committee plus the Tournament Director Certification Committee (TDCC). His new column, exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations.