Sunday, December 16, 2007

Falling Into The Analog Clock Gambit

In the December issue of Chess Life Jon Jacobs has an interesting story about the strategic use of analog clocks in fast time controls. At one point in the article he writes the following:

"Nevertheless, analog clocks remain ubiquitous at tournaments. Since delay-capable models cost two to four times as much as analogs, it’s hardly surprising that the “house clock” at most chess clubs—pressed into use in club events when neither opponent brought a clock—is an analog.

Less understandable is that a sizable segment of the playing population continues to rely on their own analog clocks. In fact, analogs may still outnumber digitals in the real world of USCF-rated play."

I do agree with the first paragraph, but I disagree with the second paragraph. Outside the Marshall Chess Club, I rarely see analog clocks in tournament play. When I walk around the tournament hall in most weekend swisses I see mostly digitals. I might see some old timer with an ancient BHB. There are so many digital clocks on the market now, and there are a number of them that are about the same price as the old BHB clocks that I grew up using.

As a TD I go a little crazy with players coming up to me and asking me how to set their clock. Hell, the only reason I can set my Chronos is because I spent an hour with the instruction book, found all the different settings I might need, and programmed them into the user preset. If I need anything besides a one or two control game with time delay I'd have to dig up the book and find the code for that setting. If someone hands me a Chronos that doesn't have the time control format in one of the presets I'm screwed. A good rule of thumb for tournament directors is "If you can't set your own clock then you lose the right to use it if the opponent provides a clock that he can set."

In the article Jon also talks about Rule 14H. I must say I agree with his description. "Their (people who use analog clocks) persistence also is a source of aggravation for tournament directors across the U.S. who must daily interpret the infamous Rule 14H, “Draw claim based on insufficient losing chances.” This rule was the TD community’s biggest collective headache until Rule 15A came along (the abortive “move-then-write” rule, sometimes wrongly tagged as the “MonRoi rule”). The need for an “insufficient losing chances” rule is a direct consequence of the chess-playing public’s stubborn attachment to outdated analog clocks."

One of the main reasons I went to a time delay capable clock was because I reached so many positions where I had to invoke Rule 14H, and hope the TD had enough experience and chess knowledge to make an appropriate ruling on the position. Since in many cases these types of situations arose at my local chess club where I outrated the TD by 200 points. It was difficult to expect him to really know how to rule. Obviously if I was up a bunch of material it was easy to call it a draw, but in marginal positions it was tougher call. My nickname was "the queen of no losing chances". (Back then it was called no losing chances. Then they changed the wording.)

14H has become easier to work with since in a case where no time delay clock was used the tournament director has the option of placing a time delay clock on the game with the claimant losing 1/2 his remaining time with a one minute max. I remember the first time I made a claim under this new 14H rule I had to explain to the newbie manager at The Marshall who was directing what his options were. As a player I don't like being in the position of having to explain to the TD how to rule. However there was no one else around to tell him what to do. So before he went into the playing room, I told the TD, "go in and look at the position. If you think it's a valid claim call it a draw, if you don't think it's a valid claim then make the game continue and if you're not sure put a time delay clock on the game."

I was up a piece, but there were still rooks on the board so I don't think he felt a C player could hold the position against a master so he opted for the delay clock. The funny thing was a few moves after I made the claim, I hung the piece. Several moves after that my opponent hung his rook. Eventually he offered me a draw, which despite being up a rook for a pawn I accepted. I think my mindset had been in draw mode, so I just took the draw. Also at the time I wasn't as proficient with handling the clock with 2 seconds left with a 5 second delay. I've had lots of practice since that time.

Jon's observations on the clock scene at the Marshall are spot on. With the exception of Jay Bonin and Vladimir Polyakin most of the higher rated Thursday night regulars show up with no digital clock. Despite the fact that Steve Immitt has bought 4 Saitek II digital clocks, many of the old masters would rather borrow the beat up old BHB clocks from the club then use Steve's nice new digitals. This is rarely an issue for me since I bring a Chronos with me 99.9% of the time. It's those rare moments when things get moved out of my "Going to the Marshall" bag that I find myself clockless, and at the mercy of the opponent. The other possibility is when I've shown up late.

A few weeks ago I had one of those rare times when I actually showed up late for the first round. This particular Saturday I was being a jack of all trades. I started off the morning doing a 15K race in Central Park, and then doing a mad dash via subway from 103rd St. down to the Marshall. Just my luck that in the first round I get paired against Yefim Treger. He is one of the old school Russians who prefers an analog clock. So I come into the playing room in my sweaty running clothes and sit to play Treger. He's borrowed one of those old crappy BHB clocks. 8 minutes have elapsed already and I have no time delay. To make matters worse, in trying to remember to bring everything I'd need for running and chess I forgot my Mon Roi, so I had write by hand. The Mon Roi is a major time saver for me.

The clock he borrowed wasn't working properly so we needed to replace the clock. I offered my Chronos with no time delay. That would have been a permissible substitution for the defective clock. Adding the time delay wasn't permissible since one is not allowed to switch to a delay clock once the game has started. Nope. He wanted another one the crappy clocks from Steve. None of this high tech stuff for him. Having gotten to the board first and being able to start my clock without me, gave him the edge on the clock war. This was the same guy who last month made me play out R & P versus R with 5 seconds on my clock. I had the pawn. It was only someone getting Steve to come count to 50 for me that allowed me to get my draw. Had I played that game with the analog I would have needed to make a 14H claim.

I had a good game against him. Here's the first 40 moves:

I'm up a pawn, but this no position to try to make a 14H claim. Unfortunately "delay-less" time pressure caught up with me, and I ended out misplaying it. As the clock struck 6:00 this was the final position. Cinderella's position had turned into a pumpkin, and "Prince Charming" was about to become a queen.

The moral of this story: Time is of the essence both in the running race and at the chess board. Next time I'm taking a 1/2 point bye for round 1.


denopac said...

I played Yefim Treger once, years ago. Interestingly, an analog clock played a role in our game too. We were playing with a clock I provided. I can't recall the manufacturer, but the thing I liked about it was it had an ingenious scale printed on the clock face that allowed you to determine very accurately how much time you had left when you had very little time left. When we were a couple of hours into the game I noticed that the total elapsed time on the chess clocks was greater than the total elapsed time on the wall clock. And after looking more closely I realized that the problem was on his side -- his clock was running fast at about 10 minutes per hour. I didn't want to interrupt him during the game, but I was mortified that he would notice this too and come to the wrong conclusion. Fortunately he was beating me pretty handily on the board and didn't really need all his time. Later on as soon as I determined that the little time adjuster on the back of the clock was worthless that clock went straight into the trash. Yet another reason to prefer digital clocks.

Polly said...

I had one of those clocks too. I never had problems with the accuracy of it. It kept good time and one could tell how much time ome had left fairly accurately. It was the last analog clock I used before going digital. The clock was made in Yugoslavia.

There's a very funny story about that type of clock. A hot tempered master who shall remain nameless had an unfortunate experience with one. He was confused by the flag mechanism on it so when he forfeited he was very upset. He asked the opponent how much he wanted for the clock. When given a price he handed the opponent the money, picked up the clock, and threw it aginst the wall shattering the clock into several pieces.

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