Chess has some ridiculous rules. (Castling and en passant, anyone?) As a beginner, it may seem hard enough to get all the basics down. But before long – especially if you decide to play in tournaments – you’ll hear someone mention a chess clock. When you do, you’ll probably think to yourself, ‘Isn’t chess all about focus and deep thought? What does time have to do with it?’ And, ‘What is a chess clock, anyway?’

Chess Clocks – The Basics

Lots of sports and games have time components and chess is no exception. Although friendly chess matches don’t often use clocks, they are required at most chess tournaments.

Chess clocks serve two purposes. First, they limit the total amount of time a match can last. This is useful in tournament scenarios, of course. Second, they ensure that each player gets an equal amount of time to make their moves. In more casual settings, they can also be used to balance a game by giving a much better player a shorter amount of time in which to make their moves.

A chess clock could be more accurately described as two clocks that are designed to run as independent timers. They can be analog or digital – the image on the left below shows a classic analog design; the image on the right is representative of common digital clocks.

If you're asking yourself 'what is a chess clock?', here is an example of an analog one.
An example of a digital chess clock

All chess clocks include two buttons, usually along the top of the clock, that simultaneously stop the timer for one opponent and start it for the other. They also include some sort of indicator to let players know when a participant’s time has expired.

How are chess games timed?

There are many different approaches used for timing chess matches. In the US, one of the most common is to simply give each player a certain amount of time in which to make all of their moves. The time taken for each move is subtracted from the player’s total allotted time and if all of a player’s time expires before a checkmate occurs, they lose. Other methods involve delays or even additional time added for quick moves.

Tournaments generally require timed matches. The timing approach is outlined for each match using a standard code – the numbers of moves for a given time frame (or ‘G’ to indicate the time is the total allotment for the entire game per player) followed by any incrementing or delay information. For example, G/60, 5d means each player gets an hour total to complete all of their moves and there is a 5-second delay after each player’s turn starts, before time is removed.

What is the best chess clock?

There are almost as many answers to this question as there are chess clocks. In general, the best chess clock is the one with the features you need. Although cool looking and traditional, the classic analog clock is limited in its utility these days. For sheer usefulness, a basic digital clock is the way to go. One of our favorites is the DGT 1001 Digital Chess Clock. It is reasonably priced, durable, and suited to basic play requiring no delays or incrementing. Of course, if you need more customization than the DGT 1001 offers, there are more expensive and versatile options available. And although they aren’t suitable for tournaments, if you’re just looking for a way to time friendly games, there are many online chess clocks and smartphone apps.

A basic, reliable chess clock is something that all intermediate-level players should have. Even for new players, chess clocks can add variety to their games and make it more fun to play against better players, by allowing the better player’s skill to be balanced with shorter time.

Ready to purchase one for yourself or the chess lover in your life? Check out our full collection of chess clocks.

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