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The Open File - Adjournments, An Outdated Practice

  • NM Zug
  • | Jul 9, 2010

The Open File

by Life Master Mike Petersen (Zug)

Adjournments, An Outdated Practice

FIDE chess games didn’t always play out to a finish in one sitting.  There didn’t used to be “sudden death” time controls in all FIDE games.  They used to have controls that started with 40 moves in two hours but with no added time per move (there were no digital clocks). The second time control was 20 moves per hour for the rest of the game.  Again, no added time, and all subsequent time controls were 20 moves per hour.

Think about it.  Some chess games can last up to 100 moves (maybe more).  If all the time available was used during a 100-move game, it could last as long as 10 hours!  Egad.  Something had to be done to ameliorate the fatigue factor, so FIDE came up with the idea of postponing the game to be completed later after 5 hours of play; in others words, just about at the end of the first time control.  The question then arose:  how the heck can they do that in a fair way?

Here is how it worked.  At some point, the arbiter would come up to the players and tell them the next move shall be sealed.  Whosever move it was would nod, and keep on thinking.  When he decided upon his move, he would NOT play it on the board. He would stop the clock, and call the arbiter over for the “sealed move envelope”.  He would then write down his intended move on a piece of paper and seal it in the envelope.  Then the game would be stopped until a specified time, usually the next morning, but not always.  The net effect was that the player who sealed the move knew his next move, but not what his opponent will play against it.  The player who did not seal the move has to wait until the next day to find out his opponent’s next move.  Both players were therefore in the same situation.  It was a fair as you could get.  There was only one problem.  How did they prevent someone from analyzing the game during the adjournment period?  Well, they didn’t.  All Grandmasters at FIDE tournaments had at least one other ranked player with them whose job it was to analyze the adjourned positions and go over them with the player.  But that’s cheating, you might say.  Yes, today it would be considered that, but not back then.  There were no reliable chess engines to analyze the game to death, so a GM’s “second” was a very valuable commodity.  Today we look upon this practice as weird, but it was necessary back then.

Once digital clocks were invented, we could alter time controls in chess games so that the whole thing could be completed in, say, six hours at the most, thus eliminating the adjournments, and the outside analysts.  But, I’m from the “old school” of chess.  You might think I would miss the whole adjournment process, but you’d be wrong.  I don’t miss it, not even for one “second.”


Click here for links to Mike's other work on Chess.com


  • 5 years ago


    We still have quad events at a club near Trenton, NJ where "evergreen" time controls are used, and sometimes games will get ajourned.  In fact, I've had adjournments on a few occasions.   The time controls that we use are 40/80 and then 15/30; 15/30; etc.   If games are adjourned it's either on move 55 or 70.    At any rate, it is a rite or passage to endure a Rook and Pawn endgame or a difficult Rook and minor piece position under these conditions.  You can't play the clock you might in a "hard bottom" time control.

  • 5 years ago


    While inconvient the adjournments was a great way to study endgames. I missed the old days. Still wonder how TD's were able to do pairings tabulate results by hand back in the day. Must say that not having descriptive notation is a blessing.At some point I may even upgrade to the Monroi.


  • 5 years ago


    Our league was 36 moves ( could be 30 sometimes ).  You could be a piece up but find yourself arranging another night to finish the game.  Some people never resigned until they could look at the position at home.  Imagine having to give up an evening after work, travel 10 or 20 miles just to play a handful of moves.  Many times people resigned after seeing the ' seeled move '.  " Had you written down something else I was ok ", they say.  Adjournments were at knightmare.

  • 5 years ago


    Nice article, history for me, memories for others Wink

  • 5 years ago


    Nice article.  Check out this game between Todd Bardwick and David Gliksman from the Colorado Open in 1995.  It's the unofficial longest continuious Master game.  No adjournments, and the game lasted 12 hours!  143 moves with a mind numbing K+R+N vs. K+R ending.


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