Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Tyranny of Time!

The following is a private opinion (but, I believe, amply backed up by the Rules) from a USCF Tournament Director who happens to direct tournaments at the Boylston Chess Club. It is not necessarily the opinion of the Boylston Board of Directors, nor the Boylston CC Tournament Committee. This post is all me!
-Doc Kinne

The Digital Chess Clock - Embrace the Lack of Tick & Tock!
The use of a chess clock in modern tournament play is as much a part of the game as Staunton chess pieces, how a Bishop moves, or "touch-move." You would not expect to play a tournament game with a set other than a Staunton design no matter how pretty it was. Bishops don't move along ranks & files. When you touch a piece, you have to move it. This is how you play a tournament game. You're expected to know how the pieces move and you would really look strangely at anyone, of any age, really, who was participating in a tournament who didn't know these things.

The same thing has to be true of clocks and the rules involving their use. In the defense of some players, perhaps, the way a Bishop moves hasn't changed in the last 400 years or so, but rules involving clocks and time limits are much more fluid.

Let's take a look at some of the more important rules involving clocks, especially digital clocks, in this day and age.

US Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess, 5th Edition, as amended 5 May 2011: Rule 16Bb - Players are responsible for knowing how to set their own clocks.

First of all - and this I consider the most important rule - it is the responsibility of the players to know how their clock works. It is not the responsibility of the Tournament Director to know how your clock works. It is critical that you know how to set your clock for various time controls.

For most of our tournaments that's simple. We have Game/60d5 - one Sudden Death time control, 60 minutes per person for the whole game, each move delayed by 5 seconds. However for a slower tournament you may have multiple time controls like, 40/90, Game/20d10. Here the first 40 moves are made in 90 minutes, then you have 20 more minutes to complete the game. All moves give you a delay of 10 seconds. In this case, assuming the 40 moves are made on time, at the completion of the 40th move, you get 20 additional minutes on your clock in order to finish the game. The more expensive, newer clocks such as the Chronos and the DGT XL do this automatically. The older or inexpensive clocks, such as the DGT 2000 or the Saiteks, require you to do it manually. It is critical that you know how to do this before your game so you can do it quickly and efficiently when your 41st move comes up!

Another Clock That Has Shown Up at the Club Recently
Now, say your opponent makes an illegal move and you call him on it. The most common penalty an Arbiter can assess is to add two minutes on your clock - giving you two extra minutes - as compensation. (USCF Rules of Chess: 11D) (While a lot of us would like to just have the person who made the illegal move forfit the game, that's not how it works usually. :-) ) You will then need to know how to manipulate your clock so that you can add or subtract time from either clock face on the fly. Remember, if its your clock its your responsibility to know this, it is not the Arbiter's responsibility. If you cannot manipulate your clock the Arbiter may be forced to replace it with a clock that quickly can be properly manipulated in order to efficiently move the game forward.

US Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess, 5th Edition, as amended 5 May 2011: 42D - A properly set clock with time delay capability is preferable to any other clock in a game with any sudden death time control.

Finally, it needs to be recognized that digital delay clocks are now the preferred default equipment for a tournament game. This means that if there is a choice of clock during a game, the digital clock gets the nod. This means that if Black, who gets choice of equipment, has an analog clock and White has a digital clock, White uses their clock, even though Black normally gets choice of equipment.

The digital delay clock for tournament competition is here to stay and I think there are good reasons for them. It is now as standard as algebraic notation or even the Staunton Chess Set. Indeed, there has been serious discussion within the USCF of banning analog clocks from tournament play, something that I am against because I feel it would put an undo burden on clubs, such as ours, that still have an inventory of analog clocks. That being said, no tournament competitor should even consider for a nanosecond buying an analog clock these days, and clubs should replace their analog clocks, as they become worn out, with digital models.

All Analog Clocks May Look This Antique Soon
As a craftsman it behooves you to know how to use your tools. We all know how to use Bishops and Knights. We all know a few openings in order to start our games. Now, in this new digital age, we all need to review and know how to use one of our most basic tools - the clock. Before your next tournament, swap out that review session you planned on the Modern variation of the French Defense and go through your clock's manual (you do have your clock's manual, don't you?!) and review it. Parents! If your little warriors are at less than reading age (but still flattening middle-agers like me over the board!) it is your responsibility to either teach your child how to use their clock, or to know this yourself, and be on hand to assist your child if the Arbiter requests you do so.

Time marches on, even for our venerable game of Chess. Your clock is as much a part of the game as your pieces. Take "time" to learn how to use it effectively!


Rihel said...

I don't know how to do all the fancy things with my Chronos, which I've had for about 10 years now.

But.... I have preset all the major time controls, I know how to change the times as needed, and I know how to add or subtract two minutes.

Hopefully, that is good enough. One nice thing about most of these clocks is the ability to preset about 5-6 different configurations, accounting for most of your tournament controls. Do it once and then never touch it again!

Ken said...

I had never thought about this possibility of adding minutes to someone's time during the game as the result of a penalty. Of course, having recently played an illegal move myself, I should be more aware of such. At least in that game, added time wouldn't have changed the drawn result (unless my opponent wanted to resign, rather unlikely), due to my snap (and totally blunderous) decision in time pressure to offer a draw after discovering I'd made an illegal move.

I have the Chronos GX clock. Adding 2 minutes would be a matter of reprogramming the clock from scratch, which would not be overly burdensome. I made a note to remind myself to use the "TN" (no move counter) mode, so after making clear both players' respective remaining times I could easily program the revision in.

There is an indicator which shows whether a person has already passed the first time control or not, since one player may have done so but the other not. In such a mixed case where first time control is followed by a second, sudden death time control, I would set the time allotment for the first time control to be 0 for the person who was already in the second time control (I just successfully tested this). My opponent would have some additional time to think as I reprogrammed the clock, but hopefully it will not be me making illegal moves again (and giving the opponent extra time) in the future....