Digital chess clock

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Americans have become notorious whiners, especially in this age of entitlement. Instead of working on their weaknesses in order to overcome them (something that builds character), many Americans try to get a break that costs them nothing. As a chess player and long time member of the United States Federation, I have seen such attitudes seep into participants in chess tournaments.

When I played in tournaments in the 1970s, the rounds would start on time–anyone who arrived late was penalized time off their clock, and therefore had less time in which to make all their moves in the game. They thus had a greater danger of losing. Now some tournaments routinely start ten, fifteen, or even thirty minutes late. Those who arrive on time end up staying later than they had planned due to delays in the later rounds. Those who arrive late are not punished for their late behavior. Now there are some tournament directors, such as Tennessee’s Harry Sabine, who do an excellent job of starting rounds on time. But they are becoming fewer by the day.

One of the worst developments, in my opinion, in the contemporary chess tournament is the five-second delay in many chess clocks. On this setting, a player’s clock does not start until five seconds after his opponent hits the button on the clock. Thus, a player may have one second left on his time, but if he moves within five seconds, he will have a potentially unlimited moves left.

Players who have good time management skills will not be harmed by the five-second delay. I have only lost one tournament game on time in thirty-three years of tournament play. But players who have not learned good time management skills benefit from the five-second delay. Instead of learning such skills, they now can move quickly and avoid losing on time. Most of these players are higher-rated players, and a lower-rated player would sometimes win on time. This greater chance of an upset added to the excitement of a tournament and was good for the morale of the lower-rated players. Now, since by the time a higher-rated player gets into time trouble, it is usually during the endgame, most of the time that player can easily make moves during the five second delay period. There are fewer upsets as a result.

The USCF default is to use the five-second delay setting. That is, if a player prefers that setting and the other player protests, that does not matter–the five-second delay is forced on the protesting player. Thus whiny players with poor time control skills have gotten their way with the five-second delay instead of taking the time and effort to improve their time management. The USCF has become a participant in the entitlement culture. How sad.