Mike gets out of his pram

This, from Competitions Secretary, Mike McNaughton:

At a recent Committee meeting, Bob made the suggestion that digital clocks should be made compulsory. He said they are always used in the British Championship.

Well, that’s as may be, but I can recall a fiasco at a British Championship which was held in Southport some time between 1983 and 1986. The organisers, bless their little cotton socks, had decided that digital was the future. All the clocks for the Championship proper were to be digital. Ta-ra! The beginning of a new era! You remember, Harold Wilson, the white heat of technology, or words to that effect.

What happened was that competitors, to a man, refused to use these digital dervishes after the first few rounds, and they had to revert to analogue.

That wouldn’t happen now, of course. But I remain worried about them. It’s not the cost; there is little difference between an analogue clock and a simple digital model (although I suppose that 4 x £25 at a time of austerity is something that most clubs would not welcome). I suppose it’s just that I’ve used analogue ever since I was in nappies. Just one look at an analogue clock will tell me at once what I need to know, whereas with a digital I have to think about it. Only for a few seconds, of course.

But I suppose the juggernaut of technology will steamroller on, flattening everything in its path. There will come a time (I won’t see it, thank goodness) when people of my age will solemnly tell the younger generation, “In my day we used to use analogue clocks” and be rewarded with a disdainful stare from the young whizz kids. As a matter of interest, Norfolk has now introduced a rule change about the use of digital clocks; in effect it means that if the home team provides a digital clock the away team has no right to object (eat what is set before you, so to speak).

So I suppose, when I start pushing up the daisies, that digital will become the norm. But please please please, the Suffolk League is not the World Championship, and even for a time trouble freak like me, nanoseconds aren’t all that important. Can we, at the very least, ban fancy time limits like Fischer, time delay, Bronstein and Lord knows what else (except by prior agreement between the players). We don’t want or need clocks which flash, light up, and sing Nessun Dorma when the time control is reached.

Perhaps the way forward (assuming the clubs want a way forward) is to agree a protocol for the use of digital clocks so that clubs can replace their analogues over a period of time, and pay £25 or so for a new digitral clock (more or less what you’d pay for a basic analogue) as their old clocks wear out. Players will gradually get used to digital, and eventually an analogue chess clock will make its appearance in the British Museum in the section, ‘Stone Age timing devices’.

Thankfully I won’t be around then.

Ed – Thanks Mike for this article, which was written a few months ago and was destined originally for the Suffolk Chess Journal. Let’s see some responses from you the readers!

All Suffolk players will wish to send Mike our deepest sympathies for the recent loss of his wife, who died in the USA after a long illness.

3 thoughts on “Mike gets out of his pram
  1. Hi All,
    As a long in the tooth chessplayer with 50 years of using an analogue clock behind me, I feel no reason to change from perfectly functionl analogue clocks just because digital clocks exist.
    The encounter with a wretched digital clock at the Bury congress left me and my much younger opponent irritated at the board by the need to call the arbiter to show us just what the digi clock was telling us. Gone is the small pleasure of watching your opponents red flag lift , falter and fall over the last 5 minutes to indicate a clear end to the game. It is simply not the same when watching the seconds flashing on a digi clock.

    David Green of Stowmarket Chess club

  2. Perhaps you never get into time trouble Dave. But if you were to, how much better it is to see how many seconds remain to make that final move to meet the time control, than hoping against hope that the flag won't fall. As for not understanding how the digital clock works, all will become clear over the next ten or so years…

  3. Hi Bob and All,

    Two matches in the last week have suffered Digi Clock confusion.

    Game 1 was against my clubmate Franceys Allen in the Stowmarket club championship when neither player actually knew what the digital clock was telling him. I had played at my usual lunatic speed and had 42 minutes showing on the clock so had I nothing to worry about anyway you look at it. Franceys on the other hand had 1 minute 38 seconds showing and that is much more of a concern. We had reached the 30 moves time limit as shown by our scoresheets and would just have turned an analogue clock back 15 minutes. If we had done this then both players would have known precisely and indisputably how much time each had to complete the game.

    As it was neither of us knew whether the clock had already added 15 minutes to the game time or not.
    The other was against Scott Taylor at Bury, I am glad we had you sitting beside us when I pointed out that Scott had failed to press his clock lever two or three times during the game and I was concerned that the clock was registering the wrong number of moves compared to those on the score sheets.

    You assured us that the clock does not count moves, Given that this assertion is correct then how is the required 30 move time limit made known to the clock? If the clock just counts down until zero is reached on either clock and then adds 15 minutes this should cause the person whose clock goes to zero when they have not made 30 moves to lose on time as indicated by his electronic flag that should "drop". If the clock just adds 15 minutes regardless of the number of moves played then the player who did not reach zero has got to see that his opponent's clock has reached zero before 30 moves have been played and claim the game on time with no indication on the clock to back such a claim. Not very satisfactory.

    I endeavour to concentrate on the board when playing, sometimes with a little success, and I have never checked my clock or the opponents clock every time it is pressed so I could easily be unaware that the time control for my opponent has passed.
    Bad practice at the board?
    Bad time management?
    I may be guilty of both but I have got along fine all this time and now is a bit late to change.
    The short analogue clock "putting back" ritual makes the status of the indicated time absolutely clear to both players.

    Neither issue affected the outcome of the two matches, both of which I won, but simply would not have crossed my mind if there was a standard analogue clock ticking gently away completely devoid of any even imaginary complications or ambiguities.

    All the arguments I have I have heard so far are hollow and listed below:
    :Digital clocks are the future, fine just count me out of that bit of the future please.
    :From time scramble addicts who want Fischer timing and the like presumably to compensate for their inability to play their best chess within the set time limits.

    My argument is rather more basic: If it ain't bust there is no need to fix it.

    Analogue timekeeping in chess simply is not bust so why should we change to Fischer etc etc when the time limit on chess is as much part of the rules of the game as how the king moves and the size of the board.
    Live with it and play your games within the time control restrictions. If the time limit hurts then either suffer or adapt your play to avoid the hurt. Don't try to inflict change for the sake of change to help you avoid time trouble when there is a perfectly good if analogue system for recording and indicating time that has served for at least a century.

    Maybe I just misunderstand all this but I am not alone so how can we resolve these concerns?

    Teaching old dogs new tricks springs to mind.

    David Green
    David Green

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