Chess clock rules (and how to avoid time trouble)

Avoid time trouble!

No, I don’t mean that the chess clock rules (albeit, it is pretty cool…), but here we will have a look at the actual rules of a chess clock!

Also, we will have a look at time management in chess, as this is an important factor in competitive games.

Let’s dive!


What’s a chess clock?

DGT chess clock

A chess clock is simply put a clock that makes sure the chess game doesn’t go on forever. Both players start the game off with a certain amount of time, and the clock will make sure both contestants consecutively have less and less time to finish the game.

It should be quite easy to work out how to use the clock (I mean, one player presses one side, then the other player on the opposite side…I think most people will get the gist of that part), but the exact rules of a couple of things might be a tad more difficult.

It really is just a tad, though, and no rocket scientist has ever been needed to figure out the chess clock…


Time controls

There are different time controls in chess. If you play a classical game, the most common time control would be “90+30 (30)”, which means you start the game with 90 minutes each, you will have an extra 30 minutes when you reach move 40, and the entire game you get 30 seconds extra per move.

A rapid game will most often be played as a 15+10 game. You both start off with 15 minutes, and you get 10 seconds added to your clock every move.

In a blitz game we’re really getting into the fast territory, as you will often play 3+2. One of these games typically will last 6-10 minutes.

Finally, you have the bullet game, which is typically a 1+0 time control. This is for the action junkie and not the fainted hearts! This will last for a maximum of two minutes.


Some rules to be aware of

Know the rules

Like stated above, the fundamental use of a chess clock is pretty straightforward. Although, if you’re new to the game – or at least the use of a chess clock – there are a couple of things you should be aware of.

First off, you always need to use the same hand to perform the move and press the clock. If you move your rook with the right hand, you also need to press the clock with the right hand, even if the clock is situated on your left-hand side of the board.

Secondly, the clock should always be placed on the side that the black player wants it. UNLESS stated otherwise by tournament officials! They might for example say that everybody has to have the clock on a certain side of the board.

Either way, the clock will most of the time end up on the favorable side for black’s right hand and white’s left hand. This is because most players are right-handed, and black should be given this advantage, since white get’s to start the game.


Remember to press your clock!

This won’t happen often, but occasionally a player will forget to press their clock. If this happens, more often than not the other player will be a gentleman about it, and let you know.


From time to time you will see the guy who really looks for every advantage they can get, and will sit there hoping their opponent doesn’t spot their mistake, and uses up valuable time on nothing. In my book that’s really not good sportsmanship! Is that how you want to win a game? Is that really why we’re playing chess?!

You should try to win by playing good moves, not with some “dirty” tricks! And I know you might try to argue this wouldn’t qualify as a dirty trick, since it was never you who did anything… But in a sense you have done something by not doing something! And to me that is a dirty trick… Premium

Time management

This topic is quite important when you’re playing a game of chess. And the more you play, the more experience you will gain.

Especially in the faster games and the games without increment (added time per move), this could be vital to the outcome of your game. The probability of blundering away your game when you HAVE TO make a move, increases exponentially.

So, how do you manage your time? Here’s a list of some good tips on the topic:

  • Look at your position and decide which moves are the most likely moves you will make. These are known as candidate moves.
  • Discard all the moves you see that are simply rubbish. No need in spending time calculating these.
  • Usually a certain move will attract your attention the most. Calculate this first.
  • If you’re sitting at the table (sometimes – especially in classical games – you will get up to have a stretch, go to the bathroom, etc.) you might as well spend the time thinking, even if it’s your opponent’s go.
  • Obvious and forced moves should be performed instantly! If your opponent gives a check, and you only have one legal move, just do it! There’s no need in calculating what might happen after, because this will be the case no matter how much you think before you make the move you anyway have to!
  • This will be more automatic after having used the clock for a while, but have an idea about what your average move time should be. This will work as a guideline as you play, and obviously you will spend less time in a known opening or when you have forced moves. On the other side of the pendulum are the complex positions where you have more to calculate.
    • For this pre-game assessment, you can assume that your game will be about 40 moves long. Obviously this will differ a lot from game to game.


Time trouble Time trouble

Maybe you are exceptionally good at managing your time, but if you play enough games, you will encounter this problem at one point or another:

You will get low on time!

And when you do so, your game will suffer. You will not be able to play up to your usual standards. Albeit this is somewhat self-explanatory, there are measures you can take to make sure it doesn’t suffer too badly. Here’s a little list:

  • Like in the previous list, make sure to think while it’s your opponent’s turn.
  • Make your list of candidate moves shorter than usual, and evaluate this. If the first one you see and calculate (which should be the move you think is your best move) seems to be a reasonable move, just do this. Don’t evaluate nr. 2 and nr. 3.
  • Look for forcing moves, e.g. checks and captures, where your opponent has one valid move or just one move that makes sense.
    • If they have only one legal move, make sure to have your next one ready instantly! When you know they have to go Kxh7 after you played Qxh7+, you should know how to follow it up.
  • Stay focused!
    • Don’t waste time and energy on what might have happened earlier in the game, or what is happening on the board next to you. Focus your energy on your game in this moment!

Most games today are played with increment, meaning you will gain time for every move you make. If you have the chance to make a few moves in a short span of time, you can at least somewhat rebuild your clock-time.


Final words of wisdom (due to own mistakes…)

Playing with a clock isn’t that hard, and pretty quickly it becomes automatic. To me it almost feels weird to play a game without a clock!

Like I’ve tried to explain in this article, you must learn to manage your clock. In the games where you find this difficult, you must learn how to deal with time pressure. Also, you must remember that even if you fear making a mistake or blunder when faced with little time left on the clock, it can never be worse than losing on time! (I have done that too…)

Make the move, and pray! 😉


May the clock be with you,


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2 thoughts on “Chess clock rules (and how to avoid time trouble)”

  1. What a nice post you wrote! I really enjoyed reading it and I could not be silent about your post so I decided to leave my comment here and say Thank You for sharing this quality post with others.
    Actually this is exactly the information that I was looking for information about the chess clock rules and when I landed on your website and read this post, it answered all my questions in detail.
    So I’m happy that you decided to write about this topic and share it with people. It’s very useful and can definitely be used as a great source for everyone who is interested in this topic.
    I will come back to your website again for sure and I’m looking forward to reading your new posts.)


    1. Thank you, Ali!
      It’s always nice to hear that my posts can help people and bring them useful information. My exact intentions!

      Hope to see you around, and good luck in every chess endeavour you might encounter,

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