Home Learn Info Games More

Chess Clock FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

The use of chess clocks during tournament play is a source of many questions. This FAQ answers the most frequent clock questions based on USCF rules.

Every serious chess player must become accustomed to playing with a clock. Devote some time during practice learning how to play with a clock and understanding how the clock can impact the outcome of your game. The usual cadence in a chess game is (1) player moves (2) player presses the clock. Players may record moves either before or after the clock is pressed. (The player may not record their move before making it.) Naturally, the best time to record moves is on your opponent's time. Each player must operate the clock with the same hand that moves the pieces. It is not your turn to move until your opponent presses the clock. Do not rush to move on your opponent’s time.

If either player has fewer than five minutes remaining, both players are excused from the obligation to record moves.

The first number after “Game” is the number of minutes each side has to complete their moves. In this example, the player has 30 minutes. The “d/5” indicates the “delay” that is also applied for each move. So, in this case, each player has 30 minutes with a five-second delay before the clock starts after the active/raised button is pressed. This is the customary time control in most scholastic tournaments.

The player who runs out of time will lose the game if his or her opponent has sufficient mating material (i.e., has sufficient material on the board to checkmate if the player had not run out of time) and claims the win based on time. If there is a dispute between players about any clock issue, then pause both clocks and call a tournament director for a ruling.

No. It is your opponent’s job to notice your "flag has fallen" (some digital chess clocks display a flag when you run out of time). Until your opponent notices, you could checkmate your opponent winning the game immediately, or achieve a stalemate draw, or capture enough of your opponent’s pieces so they no longer have sufficient mating material and end the game with a draw instead of losing on time.

NO!! Stay focused on your own game, not everyone else’s game. The tournament director can discipline you by forfeiting your game, because assisting players with time management is strictly prohibited.

A player can pause the clock to summon and wait for a tournament director (TD) to make a ruling on a claim. A player cannot pause the clock to:

  • go to the bathroom, or
  • record moves, or
  • argue with their opponent.

Absolutely. The USCF rules prohibit disturbing noises and disruptive behavior in the playing hall. A tournament director may take 10 minutes or half the remaining time off the clock of the offending player for the first offense.

Generally, the player with the black pieces can place the clock on the side of the board he chooses. One exception to this general rule is when the tournament organizer places clocks at every board and wants all clocks facing in the same direction. Usually the tournament director will arrange the boards so that the clock is placed to the right hand of black when clocks are provided. When you arrive in the playing room and see that clocks are provided and facing in the same direction, do not move the clock.

You should inform your opponent that they have made an illegal move, and then restart their clock. It is not your job to explain the rules of chess to your opponent, so do not explain why you feel their move is illegal. If you do, then you may be penalized for making disruptive noise. Your opponent may pause your clocks to summon a tournament director, if they do not understand why their move was illegal. The TD will not penalize either player for making a rare illegal move. However, a TD may penalize a player for making many illegal moves in an apparent attempt to disrupt play.

If you feel it is disruptive, then stop your clock and summon a TD who may warn your opponent and possibly assess a time penalty.

A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.

Emo Philips