Are Chess Tournaments Timed? What You Must Know

If you’ve ever watched two chess players in a serious game, then you will almost certainly have seen them using a chess clock. A chess clock allows each player to draw on a set amount of time to make all their moves in but is this mandatory? Do all chess tournaments have some sort of time limit for their games or is this down to the individual players involved? Let’s find out.

Are chess tournaments timed? Yes, most chess tournaments are timed. It is down to the individual tournament organizer in most cases as to how this will work, though FIDE official tournaments are governed by FIDE’s rules on timing for individual matches. In order to allow players to play at a very high standard, many tournaments may allow additional time based on number of moves played.

This is what you need to know about the timing of chess tournaments.

Are chess tournaments timed? -
Are chess tournaments timed? –

Chess Tournaments And Timing

The vast majority of chess tournaments are timed, and they do this by placing a limit on how long a game may last by allocating a certain amount of time for each player to make their moves in. This can vary depending on how long the tournament lasts, how many players are in attendance, what kind of chess is being played (as you might expect speed chess, lightning chess, blitz chess, etc. don’t get very long), etc.

In the United States, typically, assuming the players are playing regular (slow) chess then the players will be given between an hour and two and a half hours to play their moves in.

Theoretically, this can limit the length of a game to 5 hours though if the arbiter becomes involved the time may be paused while decisions are made and there are instances where time may be added back onto a player’s clock and thus a 5 hour game can become a 7 hour game or more in some circumstances.

There may also be “bonus time” added to a clock, this might be added per move or after a certain number of moves have elapsed.

Why Are Chess Tournaments Timed?

If the players aren’t limited to a fixed amount of time, they could, in theory, take their entire lives to play a game. While this sounds ridiculous, in any competitive sport there are people that like to misuse rules to their own benefit.

So, it’s entirely possible that a player in a losing position would simply opt never to make a move. With no time constraint to oblige them to do so, their opponent would be left frustrated in limbo, forever. If, however, there were rules (and there are) about remaining to finish a game then the player who had the most time available to them could win by out-waiting their opponent.

The player with less time might offer a draw but their opponent would not be obliged to accept and could continue to wait, until the person with the least time had to leave and thus, forfeit the game.

Games That Go On Forever

This is bad enough in a game between two players but imagine this on a tournament level scale! You could find that a 2-day tournament suddenly dragged on for periods of years. This is not just impractical, but it would destroy people’s enjoyment of chess.

This doesn’t mean that a game can’t drag on even when timed. In 1989, in Belgrade, at a competitive tournament where time was added on for each move the player made a game between Nikolic and Arsovic ran for an incredible 269 moves!

This meant it took over 20 hours and 15 minutes from the first move to the last move. Do you want to know the really disappointing thing about this long game? It ended in a draw!

Correspondence Chess And The Limits Of The Game Length

This does not mean that there haven’t been longer games. Correspondence chess games, for example, where players in different cities would make a move and then send a letter with that move to their opponent, could go for years at a time as the players needed to rely on slow and unreliable mail services to get their moves made.

However, it is worth noting that a game cannot go on “forever” as long as players keep making moves in a sensible time frame then the maximum number of moves in a chess game is 6,350 after which the players will either exceed the threefold repetition rule or the 50 moves without check or capture rule and thus it will end in a draw.

How Are Time Limits Imposed To Be Fair To Both Players?

Time limits in chess are imposed by the use of chess clocks. These are a pair of clocks set side-by-side with some additional controls on them. Each player will, normally, be given the same amount of time – and each will take control of a single clock.

The old school clocks allowed the time to be set and perhaps offered a reminder at 5 minutes before end of play and some controls for the player to finish their move and start the other player’s clock.

Newer digital chess clocks can have all sorts of additional functionality that allows them to automatically add time per move or after a number of additional moves.

How The Clocks Are Used By The Players

However, all clocks have two buttons on the top. The starting player will push their clock button to start their clock and then after they move, they will press it once more, to stop their time and start their opponent’s.

Each player then presses just once when they have made their own move. The clock may be stopped on mutual agreement in some circumstances, in others, the clock continues to move even if the player must use the bathroom or the arbiter is called in to resolve a dispute.

Typically, the clock sits to the right of the player who is playing with the white (or lighter) pieces and thus, to the left of the player with the black (or darker) pieces. However, this is not mandatory, and the players may agree to move it to the other side of the board if they wish to.

Time Trouble And Losing The Game

Many players who do not practice with a clock find themselves getting into trouble at tournaments when they make a move and then forget to hit the clock. Their opponent is not obliged to point this error out to them and may sit there and allow their time to run out.

When a player runs out of time, they lose the game but only when the opponent “claims” the game by indicating they have seen the flag fall.

Two Other Time Rules In Chess

In the case, where a flag falls but the player whose flag it is plays a move that places his opponent in checkmate – the checkmate stands if the opponent did not call “time” prior to the move being played.

It is extremely bad form to call the flag fall in someone else’s game. You need to leave that matter to the players involved.

How Long Do Chess Tournaments Last?

Chess tournaments can last for a long time. The world championship series is often played over a matter of weeks, to allow each player time to recover from the mental exertion of the games they have played as much as to allow time for the games themselves.

Most tournaments at a lower level will usually last for a weekend or maybe a week in total. Some may last only for a few hours. It’s very much up to the organizer to determine the length of the tournament.


Are chess tournaments timed? There is no obligation on tournament organizers unless they are affiliated with a particular chess body to place a time limit on games, matches, etc. however, in practice almost all tournaments make use of timed games because without such limits a tournament could drag on for weeks, months or even years and unscrupulous players would be able to force wins simply by outwaiting their opponent and refusing all offers of a draw.

The overall tournament, however, does not tend to have a strict deadline to meet but rather a set number of days (or at higher-levels weeks or months) over which it will be played. This is to allow players to play at the speeds they choose and not to constrain them to some artificial game length imposed by another party. Mastering the chess clock is an essential part of tournament life and it’s fun!

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