The Chess Timer

Jump to Type of Timer:
Analogue | Digital | Computerized

Tournament Play & The Chess Timer:
Time Control | Time Pressure

Chess Timers, also known as a Chess Clocks, are used to regulate a timed game of Chess (slightly obvious, but there you have it).

On this page, we've an overview of the three different types you'll likely come across:

  1. Analogue
  2. Digital
  3. Computerized

When it comes to competitive and/or Tournament games, a couple of time-related factors come into play ...

Firstly, there's the issue of Time Control - basically, how much time players are given to complete a single game.

Secondly - and it's something of a by-product of playing games to a strict time deadline - is what's known as Time Pressure, which can build as a player reaches the endgame stage, due to the finite amount of time remaining on their Clock.

Analogue Timers

Just like an analogue watch, each clock on one of these devices has a face marked out with numbers 1-12 and hands which navigate the clock face to count through the time ...

Chess Glossary - Chess Timer - Analogue

Usually, there'll be some sort of flag or marker to help you keep track of when "time's up" - the most common method is for the flag to drop, which signifies that a player's time has run out.

You'll find both mechanical Wind-up and battery-powered versions available, which operate the turning of the clock hands, which regulate the time.

Above each clock - both left and right side - sits a button.

  • Left-side button starts and stops the timer for whoever's playing as White;

  • Right-side button controls time for the one playing as Black.

The timer begins, for you, when the button on your clock is raised. During the time it takes for you to think and make your move, the button must stay in its raised position.

As soon as you've made your move, press that button down! ... That'll stop your clock, trigger the release of your opponent's button, which will raise and then it'll be your opponent's time that begins to tick away.

Due to their relatively low cost, expect to find Analogue timers at community chess clubs and tournaments.

However, due to greater time control and verstatility, the preferred choiced is the Digital Chess Timer ...

Jump to Type of Timer:
Analogue | Digital | Computerized

Tournament Play & The Chess Timer:
Time Control | Time Pressure

Digital Timers

Apart from being easier to read, a Digital Timer allows for more complex time control during a game.

Chess Glossary - Chess Timer - Digital

Complex? "Isn't it just a case of counting down the time, during a game?"

I thought so ... Until Wikipedia threw up the word "Byo-yomi".

According to their article, Byo-yomi originates from Japan and is commonly used in their two player games, like Shogi and Go.

The way the Byo-yomi time control works is to begin with a nominal amount of time - say, 30 minutes - and then you add an amount of Byo-yomi time - call it 15 seconds ...

During the first 30 minutes, a player may make as many moves as possible and has the luxury of that half-an-hour to think through his options.

When those 30 minutes have past, the player would then have only 15 seconds in which to think and make their move.

Enforcing this Byo-yomi time control wasn't possible with Analogue timers, but a Digital Timer can handle it.

Apart from that, and other digitally-managed functions, the stop-go workings of the Digital Timer are the same as the more-mechanical Analogue varieties.

Jump to Type of Timer:
Analogue | Digital | Computerized

Tournament Play & The Chess Timer:
Time Control | Time Pressure

Computerized Timers

Chess Glossary - Chess Timer - ComputerizedOf course, if you play/study Chess using a good Computer Chess Program, you don't need to shell out for a separate Chess Timer, as there's usually one built into the program.

They work in much the same way as the Digital Timer, although, obviously, there's no buttons on the top to stop and start the time; it's all done automatically, once you've made your move.

You'll find most good Chess software programs include some form of Chess Timer.

With Fritz 12, you get the choice of both Analogue and Digital variations:

However, if you're not at the stage of buying a good quality chess simulator, like Fritz 12, then a very decent, Free Chess Program that I can recommend, is WinBoard (for Windows PCs ... If you've got a Linux system, it's called XBoard):

Jump to Type of Timer:
Analogue | Digital | Computerized

Tournament Play & The Chess Timer:
Time Control | Time Pressure

Tournament Play & The Chess Timer
- Time Control -

Blitz Chess - Chess Glossary Article GraphicThis section, about Time Control, aims to explain the uses for a Chess Timer in a Tournament setting.

When it comes to Tournaments, each player is given a set number of moves, which must be made within a specific Time limit.

If a player goes over his Time Control limit, the game will end and that player will lose the game.

The actual Moves/Time quota you get depends on the type of Tournament you'll be playing - whether it's a Long game, or a faster, Blitz game ...

Long Tournament games

The number of Moves is often set at 40 (aye, forty), while the Time, to complete those 40 Moves, is usually 2 hours.

However, in addition, the Time Control often takes into account the three "phases" of a game.

A common Time Control, for Long Tournament games is often:

  • Phase 1: 40 moves / 2 hours;
  • Phase 2: 20 moves / 1 hour;
  • Phase 3: 30 minutes for the third/endgame phase.

In the following video, you can see how to set this particular Time Control, in Fritz 12:

Blitz Tournament games

When it comes to Blitz games, the Time Control limits are set way, way lower than that of the Long games.

Blitz Chess Tournament games generally last between 6 to 10 minutes, with each player getting 3 to 5 minutes to try and win the game.

In addition to the standard units of Time and number of Moves allocated, Blitz games may also include a Bonus control, which is a time feature that prevents a player from winning a game purely on the basis of their opponent running out of time.

The usual Bonus is given as added "seconds per move" - that is, the Chess Timer will add a set number of seconds, as the Bonus, after each move is made.

So, you could have a Blitz game of:

  • 5 minutes per player;
  • With, say, 3 seconds added Bonus time (per move).

In the following video, you can see how to set this particular Time Control, once more, in Fritz 12:

When it comes to setting a Time Control, for YOUR games, one option is to set the limits to mimmic those of whatever Tournament you aim to - one day, maybe? - compete in.

However, before you rush to do so, you may want to learn about the mental-attack of Time Pressure, in the next section, (below) ...

Find out about its implications and determine whether you want to adjust your Time Control limits, for the benefit of your training games.

<<< Back to the Chess Glossary (Time Control)

Jump to Type of Timer:
Analogue | Digital | Computerized

Tournament Play & The Chess Timer:
Time Control | Time Pressure

Tournament Play & The Chess Timer
- Time Pressure -

Time Pressure is a psychological factor that lurks under the tables, at Tournament matches, ready to pounce on players who fail to wisely use their set Time Control limit ...

Whether you've played in Tournaments or not, Time Pressure isn't a difficult concept to grasp.

Chess Glossary - Chess Timer - Time Pressure GraphicBasically, in a Timed game, under Tournament conditions, if you spend lots of time fannying over which moves to make, you'll be wastefully eating into sizeable chunks of your time-quota ...

There's a cumulative effect to it all and, if you're not careful, you can find yourself with time fast running out, even though you may still have many moves to make.

Now, the danger is that you rush your remaining moves, in order to make up time ...

And that's when game-losing mistakes can happen.

Not all players suffer pressures brought about by a finite time quota and whether this is something you'll suffer with, depends largely on how intelligently you've managed your own, pre-tournament Chess training.

(A Most Excellent)
Time Pressure Article

I'm going to take an idle leaf out of the Chess Glossary Team's book, here, and cheat a bit - okay, a lot - with the rest of this article entry, simply because, when researching the matter of Time Pressure, I came across a cracker of an article at (makers of Fritz 12 and other versions), written by Steven A. Lopez ...

Lopez's article hits the proverbial nail-on-the-head; getting straight to the root cause of Time Pressure.

Chess Glossary - Chess Timer - ChessBase - Time Pressure
Click To Read: Time Pressure (and other maladies),
Steven A. Lopez,

... You read it, yeah? Good, wasn't it; real "top, top quality".

So, to summarize the article, in order to combat Time Pressure:

  • Play faster!
    Or, more precisely, Learn to play faster so that, when it comes to competitions and Tournaments, swift gameplay will seem to come naturally and mistakes should be fewer.

  • Train with Less Time.
    When training for competition, whether using an advanced simulator like Fritz 12; a free program that has Time Control functions, like WinBoard; or an electronic, programmable Chess Set (yeah, providing it has a Time Control element); practice with game times that are less than Tournament(s) you'll be entering.

<<< Back to the Chess Glossary (Time Pressure)

Jump to Type of Timer:
Analogue | Digital | Computerized

Tournament Play & The Chess Timer:
Time Control | Time Pressure

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