Chess Clocks: A Complete Beginner’s Guide!

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You might have seen chess clocks used in a chess game. So, what is a chess clock and how do chess clocks work?

A chess clock, whether digital or analog, is a pair of clocks. On top of each clock, there is a button. When a player makes a move and presses the button on his or her side, the timer of that player stops and the opponent’s timer starts.

Watch this video from the ChessBase India YouTube Channel about how do chess players play with a clock in a chess game.

Mechanism Of How Chess Clocks Work

Nowadays, you can purchase both digital and analog chess clocks. Due to their accuracy, digital clocks are the preferred option in major chess tournaments.

However, there are still some people that will prefer the allure of the more traditional analog chess clock.

At their heart, both analog and digital chess clocks are the same. They will both be a pair of clocks. The clocks cannot function simultaneously. So, if one clock is operating, the other is paused. As you can probably guess, the mechanism behind the two will be slightly different, though.

Highly Recommended Read: What Happens When Chess Clock Runs Out?

Digital Chess Clock Mechanism

Apart from their accuracy, many people like digital chess clocks as they are a bit easier to operate. They also tend to offer a few more functions that can really spice up the game of chess.

For example, they can add extra time to the timer for each move that you make.

Controlling these two clocks will be a single circuit. Before you start the game, you will need to set the timer rules and the circuit will control the clocks based on these rules.

While analog chess clocks tend to have independent buttons on top, most digital chess clocks will have a rocker switch.

As the switch rocks back and forth, the various timers will activate and pause. The rocker switch is really just sending an electrical signal to the controlling circuit. This will tell the controlling circuit which timer should be active.

Most digital chess clocks act as a countdown timer. When either timer hits 0, there will be an audible or visual alert. At this point, the game is over.

Analog Chess Clock Mechanism

The mechanism behind an analog chess clock is a little bit more complicated.

Analog chess clocks consist of two independently operating clocks. They have a 12-hour clock face, much like any clock that you have sitting around your home.

Most chess clocks will be wind-up clocks. This means that they do not need a battery to operate, but you will need to wind up each clock before you start your game.

Before you start playing, you will have to set the required amount of time on each clock. Traditionally, the time should expire when the clock hits 6:00.

So, if you want to play a game with a time limit of one hour, then the clocks will need to be set to 5:30. If you want a two-hour game, then the clocks will need to be set to 5:00.

On the top of each clock will be a button. When this button is engaged, a small brake is engaged. This stops the cogs of that clock moving.

This pauses the time on that clock. At the same time, it releases the brake on the opposing clock, causing the hands-on that one to start moving.

There won’t be an audible warning when the time limit of the analog chess clock has been reached, though. Instead, both players need to be looking out for something known as the ‘flag fall’.

If you look at the top of the clock’s face, you will notice that there is a ‘flag’. As the minute hand starts to approach the 12 on the clock face, this flag will rise. The second the minute hand hits the 12, the flag will fall. This will signal the expiration of time.

Here’s a video from Chess House YouTube Channel about how to use a classic analog chess clock which you can watch.

What Is The Point Of A Chess Clock?

The whole point of a chess clock is to have a fixed limit on the length of a game of chess. If there wasn’t a limit in place, chess games could take almost the entire day. By having a timer in place, players are encouraged to make quicker decisions and, ultimately, faster moves.

As you likely know, it is not uncommon for people to spend a long time pondering each and every move. So chess clocks help to keep the track of the time used by the players and also prevent them from over-delaying the game.

Chess clocks have been around for a surprisingly long time. The first time a chess clock was ever used was during the 1883 chess tournament in London. They have been used in pretty much every major chess tournament since then. 

Nowadays, you won’t find an analog chess clock being used in an official tournament, though.

In the early 1970s, most tournaments started to switch over to digital clocks. They work in much the same way, but they are going to be a lot more accurate. This really plays into the whole reason why people need a chess clock anyway; accurate timing for each player at the table.

What Clock Do They Use In Chess Tournaments?

In the United States, any chess clock used during official tournaments needs to be approved by the USCF. This means that the clocks have been vetted for their accuracy and quality.

There isn’t really a singular clock that you will find at chess tournaments. Although, nowadays, if it is a major tournament, you are likely to find only digital chess clocks. This really helps to play into the whole accuracy thing.

There are a few main brands that you will find at chess tournaments. These are:

  • DGT Projects
  • Chronos GX

Most chess players will have their own preference for which one they like the most.

However, to be honest with you, the features between the top tournament clocks are so similar that it is more a case of choosing which one you like the look of the most. Some may like DGT, and others may enjoy Chronos.

Check out the best chess clocks here (on Amazon)

How Do You Play Chess With A Clock?

Playing chess with a clock isn’t as difficult as you may think. Before the game starts, the players will agree on the amount of time each player has on the clock. They will also agree on whether there are any special rules in place.

So, for example, most chess games are going to have a flat amount of time each player has to make all their moves. However, with digital chess clocks, extra rules can be added, for example:

  • Add extra time for each move that is completed
  • Break the game down into sections, so that the player has less time during the start of the game and more near the end when things get complicated.

Once the timers have been set, the players can get into the game.

Here’s a video from Lindsay Clark YouTube Channel about how to use a chess clock which you may find helpful.

Also Read: Why Do Chess Players Hit The Clock?

Final Thoughts

So I hope now you know how chess clocks work. In case you don’t have a chess clock but want the feel of it, then don’t worry. Check out my article on the best chess clocks apps here.

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