Interesting facts about the chess clock

Posted on Mar 9, 2022      51

Until the middle of the 19th century, the duration of a chess game was not limited. This caused a lot of inconvenience. The opponents could think for hours about the next move, and the game itself sometimes went on for twenty-four hours. For example, in 1851, a duel in one of the international tournaments remained incomplete because both chess players simply fell asleep. Two years later, a limit of 10 minutes was introduced for thinking about a move. The time, most often, was measured with an hourglass.

This was not the best way out of the situation, as the hourglass was designed for only one move. In 1867, at a tournament in Paris, each player was allotted only one hour for 10 moves, and those who broke the rules had to pay a penalty. Ironically, the Hungarian Ignatz Kolisch, who won the tournament, paid the most fines. Kolisz was a successful business executive, so he did not skimp on thinking through his moves.

The real revolution in chess was made in 1883 by the Englishman Thomas Brighton Wilson, who designed a special clock with two dials. Participants and judges were tired of many hours of games, so that same year, the innovation was tested at an international tournament in London. But it was not without criticism: some chess players complained the clock made them nervous during the game, and they even called it “the fastest clock in the world”.

The system of penalties for “slow-witted chess players” was often maintained. For example, in 1906 in Nuremberg, each extra minute was estimated by the organizers at one mark. A rare participant could avoid such a punishment. After a few days, it turned out that such a measure for most participants was “draconian”. They simply could not pay the fines and announced that they withdraw from the tournament. The fines had to be cancelled.

In 1968, Grandmaster Friedrich Zemisch set an unbelievable record at a tournament in the German town of Büsum: he overstayed his time in all games in which he took part. However, it should be noted that the grandmaster himself was far from young. He was already 73 years old.

The clock, invented by Englishman Wilson at the end of XIX century, is used in chess games up to now, although it has undergone essential changes during this time. The classic mechanical chess clocks have two dials and they are turned on alternately, counting the time of each chess player separately. In recent years, mechanical chess clocks are increasingly superseded by electronic clocks.

World chess champion Robert Fischer has become famous not only as a grand master of the game but also designed a new version of the chess clock. It differs from the classic version because it adds a certain number of seconds for each timely move. In 1992, this clock was approved by the International Chess Federation - FIDE.

Experts have noted that during the best years of his career, Robert Fischer himself rarely went into time trouble. Fischer even noted in one interview that playing with a lack of time meant giving his opponent a significant advantage. It’s like giving your opponent a pawn or a bishop before the game even begins.

Chess clocks not only control the time spent by chess players on thinking out their moves, but also keep track of the player’s own arrival. The modern rules of chess state that if a participant is late for the game for over one hour, he loses, unless otherwise stipulated in the rules of the tournament.