chess clock, History and its variants


Today I will be presenting you with one of the most essential factor of chess game – The Chess Clock. Generally, the newcomers to the chess world are attracted to the machine which the players keep on banging once they play their move.

That is nothing but a chess clock. You must be wondering the reason behind the invention of something like the chess clock. As chess is a game of numerous possibilities, people generally took lots of time to play their moves,  so just to make a specific duration for the game, this invention was needed.

The chess clock was first invented by Thomas Wilson in 1863 where he used the sand hourglass to decide time limits for specific moves. This was not the most accurate way to reduce the span of the game.

Hourglass clock

Then came the analog clock. This clock was first used in 1883 in a top-level tournament in London. This was a big development of the chess community back then. The duration of the game started to come under the limit.

An analog clock was built with two clocks in one machine, the player who plays his move used to press the button above his clock which enabled his time to stop and his opponent’s time to start. In this way, the countdown used to continue until the game ends over the board or someone runs out of time.

Then came the digital clocks. Long back, in 1973. Brunce Cheney who was an electrical engineering student.



DGT 3000 limited edition
DGT easy Kramnik
DGT North American

Once the digital clocks were invented, then came the variants in the chess clock. Early on the time set in the clock was used for sudden death time control. In this, both players were given equal time say 2 hours each. If the game doesn’t end then whomsoever’s time runs out loses was the rule.  Former World champion Robert James Fischer was of the opinion that this was an incorrect time control and presented his own format where a player gets specific time added to his clock, say 30 seconds after each move he makes. This way the quality of the game was to be maintained. This increment is followed almost exclusively in every Rating tournament.

There are a lot of other variants in the chess clock. I will present a few of them-

1-Sudden death mode

The sudden death mode gives a player specific amount of time to complete the whole game. This means that if a player is given 1 hour then there will be no extra time at any interval of the game. The drawback of this mode is that the quality of play decreases when a player is in time pressure, so generally, this is not applied in tournament practice. In 2019 Norway chess elite-level tournament applied a sudden death time control.

2-Fischer bonus mode

Fischer bonus mode gives a player increment of specific seconds per move. This increment differs according to the format of the tournament. Ths additional time helps to maintain the quality of the game. This mode is used in almost all rating tournaments

3-The Delay mode

this mode is seen in a lot of tournaments of the Grand Chess tour league. It is also an interesting variant as the time doesn’t increase But the clock is on hold for the decided delay time. For eg. If the time control is 5mins +3sec (delay). In this case the clock will stay on hold for a maximum of 3 seconds and then the time will start running. This time control brings a lot of decisive games.

4-The hourglass mode

This time control is the same as sand hourglass but in just the digital way. Suppose the time is set 1 minute each. Then the total time on the clock will stay for 2 minutes. When a player loses on time the time will be 0.00-2.00.

Various time controls in chess

The invention of the clock brought new formats to the game. The classical format back in the 20th century used to be 2 hours per side for 40 moves then 1 hour for the next 20 moves followed by 30 minutes for the remaining game. So all in all it would be a 7-hour game if the players reached the required number of moves within time. We can call it the pure classical format.

Then comes the recent time control 90 minutes for the whole game with 30 seconds added after every move. This was the recommendation of Bobby Fischer.

Then there is a semi-classical format with 45 minutes for the whole game with a 10/15 seconds increment per move.

The Rapid time control which is used for one or two-day tournaments is between 10-30 minutes for each side with 5-10 seconds increment

Then comes the blitz format it is 3 minutes for each side and 2 seconds increment per move.

And lastly, the Bullet is 1 minute each side without increment ( I suggest playing this online as damaging the clocks in a manual game is highly possible ).

The need for a chess clock is such that there are a lot of mobile applications on the chess clock This comes handy as it is not possible to carry our chess clock everywhere. You can download it from here –

Chess clock can be used in other games also such as checkers, backgammon, go, carrom