Are Time Increments Bad For Chess?

Jul 13, 2011, 3:08 AM |

Please help me out.  I can’t decide whether incremental time controls are a good thing or a bad thing, and until I decide one way or the other the question is gnawing away at me like a tricky mate in 5 that I just can’t solve.

Modern digital chess clocks allow time controls with increments, so that after each player makes a move he has an extra amount of time added to his time remaining.  But just because we CAN do this, does it mean we SHOULD?

Here are some of the issues:

So are increments good or bad for chess?  Please help me decide!

Official FIDE laws of Chess, extract para 10.2

If the player, having the move, has less than two minutes left on his clock, he may claim a draw before his flag falls. He shall summon the arbiter and may stop the clocks. (See Article 6.12.b)

  1. If the arbiter agrees the opponent is making no effort to win the game by normal means, or that it is not possible to win by normal means, then he shall declare the game drawn. Otherwise he shall postpone his decision or reject the claim.
  2. If the arbiter postpones his decision, the opponent may be awarded two extra minutes and the game shall continue, if possible in the presence of an arbiter. The arbiter shall declare the final result later in the game or as soon as possible after a flag has fallen. He shall declare the game drawn if he agrees that the final position cannot be won by normal means, or that the opponent was not making sufficient attempts to win by normal means.
  3. If the arbiter has rejected the claim, the opponent shall be awarded two extra minutes time.
  4. The decision of the arbiter shall be final relating to (a), (b) and (c).


Addendum: Some interesting facts I discovered while looking at the history of chess clocks...

The double-sided chess clock was first used at the London 1883 chess tournament.

Invented by Thomas Bright Wilson (1843-1915) from Manchester, England, this ingenious device replaced the requirement for a ‘recording secretary’ and separate clocks, or an hourglass.

Finding a way to easily measure and limit the time taken for a chess game was long overdue and the successful basic design of the chess clock remained much the same for a century.

Before the advent of strong chess-playing computer software, games were adjourned after five hours, and the standard time control for major events was 40 moves in 2.5 hours. The next session was usually at 16 moves per hour until a finish, or even a second adjournment.

Digital clocks began to increase in popularity in the 1980’s as technology advanced and prices fell, allowing for more experimentation in time controls.  In 1988 Bobby Fischer filed a patent for a new type of digital chess clock which allowed time to be added after a player makes a move.

Fischer’s motivation for introducing a time increment was essentially twofold: to enable chess games to be completed in one session, and to avoid time scrambles.