On Chess: Time stops for no man | St. Louis Public Radio

On Chess: Time stops for no man

Oct 11, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 11, 2011 - Almost everyone, chess player or not, is fascinated with the chess clock. Explaining how the device works to a new class is always a challenge.

The two main problems are:

  1. Most people think the chess clock times each move, when it actually times the whole game.
  2. Most people think the device is one clock, and I have to inform them that a chess clock actually contains two separate clocks.
  3. The way it works is quite simple. The player with the white pieces always moves first. When the game begins, white's time begins ticking down until he or she makes the first move and hits the button on their side of the clock. At this point, their clock stops and the opponent's time begins counting down. Your clock only runs on your move.

The chess clock is set at the beginning of the game for a specified amount of time. If you set it for five minutes (known as speed or blitz chess), which is common in casual play at chess clubs throughout the world, each player has five minutes to make all of the moves of the game. If one player uses all of his or her time, and the clock reads 0, that player loses the game.

However, in some slower events, especially strong international tournaments, each player gets a specific amount of time for a specific number of moves (typically 40 moves). Once each player gets to that move, they get additional time added to their clock.

This week, Hikaru Nakamura, America's best player, thought he had made move 40, when in fact he had only made 39 moves! He relaxed, thinking more time would be added, and he was shocked when the arbiter informed him he had run out of time. The result was a loss but also a valuable lesson learned. Top-level players, like the rest of us, have trouble understanding the clock, especially in the heat of battle.

Hikaru later said it was the most painful loss of his career.

Learning time discipline is an important part of tournament chess, and if you've never played on a clock before, you'll find that it adds a welcomed nuance to this time-honored game.{jcomments on}

Ben Finegold is the GM in residence at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.