Tuesday, June 22, 2021 08:26

Tools of the Trade, Part 4 (Clocks)

These series of posts are geared at providing players (or parents) new to the game with some of the things a new player should consider having.

We’ve looked at sets, boards, and bags so far. This time, it’s a clock.

Chess clocks are one of the most under-rated elements of gear (especially by parents.) Our local scholastic association has a limited supply of clocks for tournaments – far more limited than the number of boards playing in a tournament.

A clock is a necessity – and one that all-too-many players decide they don’t “need.” “Hey – the other players will bring one, I’m sure!” Give your Tournament Director a break – buy and bring a clock with you! ;)

There are two basic kinds of clocks, analog and digital. Analog clocks are what old-timers like me think of when hearing the term, “Chess Clock.” It’s two separate analog clock faces, and a plunger or button starts one and stops the other.

There are many beautiful analog clocks. I’ve lusted after this one for some years.

But, today more and more tournaments are set up requesting players to play with a digital clock. The reason? Time delay – the ‘countdown’ for a move can begin after a delay period, or a certain amount of time can be added back to a player after making a move. The rulebook now permits (and somewhat encourages) time delay. In fact, if time delay is offered at a tournament and you have an analog clock and your opponent has digital with delay… the digital clock will be used. (If both players have equally ‘regulation’ equipment, the player with Black gets the decision whose to use.)

The other revolution that has come in the last few years is price. There are several that are in the price range of analog clocks. You can now pay anywhere in the range of about $30.00 to about $100.00. (Back when I bought my clock, any digital clock was going to cost around $100.00.)

The limitations… Some digitals are harder to use and program than others. (And, I will acknowledge, all are harder to set than any analog.) Some aren’t all that clear in how the display works – you’ve got to learn to use it and then learn how some indicate time is up. This is more than outweighed by their utility.

So… recommendations.

In the cheap digital category, I have used this Saitek Competition clock. It’s a robust clock, especially for the scholastic player, and at $27.95 it’s hard to beat. Fairly easy to program and use, once you get the hang of it.

The only trouble with it at all is that on a couple of occasions, using my palm to depress the plunger, I’ve caught a tiny amount of skin between the plunger and the plunger depression. As Mr. Spock said when he mind-melded with the Horta, “PAIN!!!!!!!!!!! PAAAAAIN!!!!” Ok, not that much pain. But still. It’s still a great clock for the price, and I’d buy it if I didn’t already own a top-quality digital.


My personal clock, the Chronos
. I was extremely surprised to see on the USCF Sales page for it that this clock is now discontinued, but a limited supply is still available. This, for some years, has been considered “the gold standard” of digital chess clocks. It does take careful reading of the manual to learn how to use it. It has almost *too* many setting modes – it’s easy to get lost in it.

But it’s still absolutely wonderful. 11 plus years of ownership and NEVER had one problem with it. It is a *large* clock as far as width, and I’ve heard that some chess bags have trouble containing it. And it is probably the priciest clock out there at $109.00. But if you want a recognizable piece of what will be chess history, there it is. But if you want the same great features but not quite that price….

The reason that model is discontinued is that it has a ‘baby brother’, the Chronos II. This one is cheaper ($89.95 at USCF.) My understanding is that some of the programming modes have changed – taking away some of the modes nobody ever uses.

The other factor is that this clock uses touch-sensitive pads instead of buttons. (The Chronos also has a touch-pad model, even though mine and the link above is the button model.) The limitation here is that you can’t use a piece to depress a button – it must be your hand that contacts the metal surface of the pad. But this also has a pro-side, in that there’s no button or plunger that can be broken.

Final recommendation… If you want old-school analog, the INSA that I lust after way up above. If you want a Cadillac digital – the Chronos. If you’re on a budget, go for the Saitek competition. One last addition: If you ever think you’re going to play in international (FIDE) tournaments, go for the as-yet-unmentioned $79.95 DGT 2010, but only in that event in my very humble opinion. I’d strongly recommend digital over analog. But whatever you ultimately choose, a good clock will help you….

Enjoy your chess!

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