Getting Started In Chess: Part 7 – Time Controls

If you haven’t read my blog post on A chess clock history now would probably be a good time so you can gain an appreciation for how time controls in chess absolutely changed the game for the better. This particular post will focus on helping you understand the implications and etiquette that go along with playing a tournament with a specific time control. After reading this you will be able to read a tournament announcement and understand the biggest variable in any tournament which is the time control.


The very first thing you need to understand is that the time control drastically changes the way you approach a potential tournament. The time control is the amount of time each side gets during a tournament. Below is a quick overview of the common time controls that occur in US Chess tournaments. But before we get into time controls, let’s review some standard clock practices that every chess player should know.

Clock Etiquette/Rules: 

  1. Same Hand Moves Pieces and Presses Clock. Each player must operate the clock with the same hand that moves the pieces.
  2. Recording Moves. If either player has fewer than five minutes remaining, both players are then allowed to stopped notating. (However, most coaches recommend that if you have lots of time, you should still notate even if your opponent falls below five minutes).
  3. What happens if a player runs out of time? 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 on time.
  4. Should I let someone know that I ran out of time? No. It is your opponent’s job to notice your flag has fallen (most digital chess clocks will read all zeros when you run out of time; on older analog clocks a red “flag” falls but these clocks are now much rarer). Until your opponent notices, you could achieve stalemate, checkmate, or capture all your opponent’s pieces and end the game with a draw instead of losing on time.
  5. Should I point out the flag has fallen on someone else’s game? NO!! Stay focused on your own game, not everyone else’s game. The tournament director can discipline you by forfeiting your game as assisting players with time management is prohibited.
  6. When can I pause the clock? A player can pause the clock to wait for a tournament director (TD) to approach the board and make a ruling on a claim.
    • A player cannot pause the clock to:
      • go to the bathroom, or
      • record moves, or
      • argue with the opponent.
  7. May I object if my opponent or players nearby are slamming the clock? 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.
  8. What side of the board should the clock be? 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.

Now that you are familiar with the mechanics of operating a clock lets review some of the actual time controls you will encounter in standard game situations.

Time Formats:

Time Delay and Increment

Time delay is a period that counts down before the game time begins to deplete. In most cases, a delay of 5 seconds is used; however, 10 second delay is becoming more common. In some variants of faster chess play, 1 second and 2 second delay is used (see below).

Increment is an amount of time added to the clock per move. The most common is 30 second increment. However, other increments are used for faster time controls (see below).

Bullet Chess

Bullet chess occurs when each side has 2 minutes or less. The most popular version is when each side is given 1 minute. However, it is common to see 2 minutes with 1 second delay/increment or even 10 seconds with 1 second delay/increment.

Blitz Chess

In US Chess rated tournaments, blitz time controls occur when both players have between 5 minutes and 10 minutes. The World Chess Federation (FIDE) defines blitz chess as anything below 10 minutes and the world blitz championship features a 3 minute 2 second increment time control.

Quick Chess

When you play games with 11 – 65 minutes, it is considered “Quick Chess.” This time control is common in local clubs and tournaments. FIDE defines “Quick Chess” as more than 10 minutes but less than 60 minutes.

Standard Chess

Standard time controls occur at 30 minutes or more. Whenever a tournament’s time control overlaps the Quick Chess and Standard Chess definitions, they are “dual rated” and your rating for both categories changes accordingly.

Multiple Time Control Periods

There are also events that feature several time controls for a single game. For example, a common one FIDE uses is 90 minutes for the first 40 moves and 30 minutes gets added to the clock thereafter. Most tournaments that make use of multiple time controls only have two different time controls. However, events do exist that have more than two.

Example Tournament Announcement

The tournament announcement  states the “time control” for an upcoming tournament is Game 30/d5. What does that mean? The first number after “Game” is the number of minutes each side has to complete its moves. In this example, the player has 30 minutes. The “d5” indicates the “delay” that is also applied for each move.  So, in this case, each player has 30 minutes with a five-second delay for each move. 

Thank you for reading to the end. I hope your day is blessed and your chess games sharp!

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