Just the Rules: Whose Clock Is It Anyway?

Tim Just is a National Tournament Director, FIDE National Arbiter, and editor of the 5th & 6th edition 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 and his new column exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations. The round is about to start. After a quickly noting your board assignment you rush over to your spot in the playing room. Your opponent, the captain of the white pieces, arrives only a few seconds before you. According to the pairing sheet you are the commander of the black pieces. Since the organizer is not providing any equipment that gives you the right to choose the game’s gear—if the organizer provides equipment you no longer get to choose what gear to use. With a bit of a flurry your standard equipment gets set up. You place your beloved Jerger analog clock on your right handed side of the board. Your opponent objects. Say what? Since the time control is Sudden Death with a 5 second delay (G/30, d5) your adversary wants to use his delay capable clock, not your analog clock. It’s time for the TD to use his problem solving skills. “White’s delay clock will be the game timer,” declares the TD. “I’m playing under protest,” is your reply to the ruling. An analog clock is standard equipment—right? As the player of the black pieces you were denied the right to use your analog clock. Why? Because chess law says that the preferred clock to use in any game is the one that can be set for the announced time controls. The rules say that a preferred clock trumps all other clocks; i.e., delay clocks reign supreme in games with any sudden death time control, while increment-capable timers are the clocks of choice in games with any increment time control. So, if you have a delay clock and your opponent has an analog clock in a sudden death contest, you can swap in your clock for theirs before the game starts. The proper clock for the proper time control trumps black’s right to select the chess equipment. Similarly, if you have an increment-capable timer—in a contest with an increment time control—while your adversary does not, then you can once again swap clocks before the start of the game.

If sudden death time controls are used to play, then set your clock with delay.

If both you and your opponent have delay clocks, the player of the black pieces gets to choose which timer to use in sudden death time control contests. Clocks provided by the organizer can’t be swapped for your own timer without TD permission. Unless it is announced (or advertised or posted) otherwise, the player of the black pieces may choose where to place the game timer—unless they are late to the start of the game and their opponent has a properly set delay clock already in use. Your game timer is down to the last few minutes of a G/30 d5 contest. Your opponent notices that the clock is not set right: the base time control was set properly (remember we don’t add or subtract time from the base time control for any kind of clock anymore), but the delay was not active (set) for the whole game! Pause the clocks and get a TD to help straighten out this mess. Typically the TD will see to it that the clocks are set properly and then possibly assign any appropriate penalties.

An increment time control would suggest that an increment clock is the best.

Use the increment setting for games requiring it (G/30 + 30 sec, for example—a base time control of 30 minutes of displayed thinking time per player with 30 seconds added permanently to the displayed time control for each player each time a move is completed by pressing the clock). If your opponent does not have an increment-capable clock and you do, see a TD about using your clock for the game. Remember, if you both have increment clocks, the player commanding the black army gets to choose which increment clock to use, unless they are late for the start of the game. And there is a procedure for using a delay clock for an increment time control. Delay clocks without the ability to set increment time controls should instead be set for a delay equal to the increment time (Example: G/45 + 30 seconds would result in a 30 second delay setting). For delay clocks that can’t be set to equal the announced increment time then the largest amount of delay that is smaller than the increment time may be used as the delay setting instead Analog clocks can only be set for the base time control with no extra adjustments, such as added time, to compensate for their inability to be set for the increment time; i.e., all clocks in all time controls must now start the game with the same base time. But what if you are late to the game and your opponent has already set up their own analog clock?

When your clock is more up to date, ask to swap it even if you’re late.

You are assigned the white pieces and are ten minutes tardy for the start of your game. When you arrive for your G/45 d5 match-up, black’s analog clock indicates you have lost ten minutes of playing time; however, your delay clock trumps any analog clock in a sudden death contest. You may be allowed to swap your clock for black’s (see the TD) as long as you have made no move—and yes, you should expect to still be down ten minutes of thinking time when your properly set delay clock gets swapped for the analog timer. Watch for more Clockamania next month.