Why Chess Clocks Are Expensive (& 3 Under $25)

If you intend to play chess at any kind of competitive level then sooner or later you’re going to end up buying a chess clock because you’re going to want to learn how to manage the pressure of playing with a time limit. When you start shopping for a chess clock then you may go through what many players do – sticker shock. Chess clocks can be really expensive, and this is why.

Why are chess clocks so expensive? Chess clocks are so expensive because there aren’t many manufacturers and the demand is relatively low and stable. Consumers (chess players) aren’t buying that many chess clocks in one lifetime.

In essence, the free market dictates a price which allows the makers to stay in business and make a profit but not an obscene profit. Here is what you need to know about buying a chess clock.

Why are chess clocks so expensive? - ChessPulse.com
Why are chess clocks so expensive? – ChessPulse.com

Why Do We Need Chess Clocks?

A chess clock is actually something of a misnomer because it’s not one clock – it’s two joined together with a set of buttons mounted above them. When one player pushes their button, the clock for the other player starts and vice-versa.

A chess clock is designed to ensure that at no point in time can both clocks be running at the same time. The idea is that this allows each player to track the time taken for their moves and that the overall game can function under a time constraint.

There is nothing in the rules of chess that limits the amount of thinking time that a player may put into their game before making their move. In an informal setting, this probably doesn’t matter too much – if you are playing a friend, does it matter if your game stretches for a day or two? Probably not.

However, if you are running a tournament when you need players to switch boards and play against a range of other players, does it matter if some games drag on for seemingly forever? Yes, it very much does. It would quickly become incredibly expensive and totally impractical to run a tournament with unlimited time per game.

Sure, not every player would try to take a week per game, but you can bet that some would. And, in fact, that’s what was happening in the past and it’s what necessitated the invention of the chess clock.

They were introduced during a World Chess Championship even in London back in 1883! Yes, the chess clock has a proud history.

Since then, they’ve been adopted by nearly every sport that can be played by two players over a board. From Go! to Scrabble you can find people using chess clocks to prevent a game from going on forever.


Are There Different Types Of Chess Clocks?

Absolutely, yes. There are chess clocks that are analog (that is they have the traditional dial clock faces) and these are the “original” chess clocks. You can still buy these today but they have become less popular because they cannot support anything much more complicated than “standard” time controls (e.g. you have 90 minutes for all your moves) because they cannot be programmed.

There are also digital chess clocks and the first one was invented in 1973 by Bruce Cheney of Cornell University. Today, these are quite complex devices which can easily be modified to accommodate all sorts of rules (such as additional time added per move or after a certain number of moves) without much fuss. Thus, digital chess clocks are the most common choice of chess clock, today. They may not have the romance of the analog versions, but they are simply functional.


So Why Are Chess Clocks Expensive?

Economics. There aren’t that many chess clock manufacturers in the world. They serve a fairly small market place (yes, millions of people play chess but billions don’t) and a chess clock is, mainly, a one-off purchase and not a regular one (unless you run a chess club or tournament).

This simply leads to products that must keep the manufacturer in business and produce a profit but which won’t be sold in huge volumes and that means the margins on chess clocks will be higher than say on a commodity product like alarm clocks (everyone needs an alarm clock – or, at least, they did until smartphones added an alarm function).


3 Models For Less Than $25

Thanks to the entry of Chinese manufacturers into the chess market – there is now more competition for the chess clock market. These companies can afford to operate at low margins and have very low labor costs when compared to traditional manufacturers. Here are three decent chess clocks that you can purchase for under $25!

The LEAP Chess Clock

You can find this clock under a dozen different brand names and from a huge number of sellers on Amazon. It’s cheap and cheerful and yet, most people who own one appear to be very happy with their purchase. However, it’s not the easiest product to learn to use and you can’t program it to do anything more than count down – so, it’s a digital equivalent of an analog chess clock.

You can have a look at the LEAP chess clock on Amazon here. It’s got some good reviews.


DGT1001 Universal Chess Clock

It’s definitely not the prettiest chess clock ever and again, it’s the digital equivalent of an analog chess clock but the DGT1001 works just fine and it’s pretty well made. The battery comes in the box and it’s very portable. If you need a basic chess clock, this will do nicely.

You can find the DGT1001 Universal Chess Clock on Amazon here.


HEYEJET LEAP PQ9905 Analog Chess Clock

If you want the old school analog look (and why not when the two cheapest digital models function in the same way?) then the HEYEJET is your cheapest option. It’s just over 20 bucks but it’s an attractive portable clock which works just fine. Again, you can’t add on time or program it but it’s an inexpensive clock to get you started.


Why Are Chrono Chess Clocks So Expensive?

The Chronos Chess Clock is the equivalent of the Rolls Royce of chess clocks. It comes in a huge variety of styles – you can get them to activate with a button push or just by a general touch sensor activation. You can program a Chronos Chess Clock to support any kind of time variant that you want in the game you play.

Unlike the cheap Chinese models, they’re fully sustainable and you can buy replacement parts to repair a Chronos Chess Clock which makes them more environmentally friendly. They also make custom carry bags for these chess clocks (which are very reasonably priced when you consider the cost of the clock).

So, they are expensive because they carry brand equity, more complex electronics, a higher level of build quality, long-term support, etc. these are things that you would expect to pay more for and even a Chronos Clock is just over $100. When you compare the cost of a clock to the cost of a set of golf clubs or even a decent golf trolley – chess remains a very cost-effective sport.

You can find the Chronos GX Clock, their latest chess clock model, at the House of Staunton.


Conclusion

Although chess clocks can be expensive, the cheaper options are good enough. Sure, $20 is a bit more expensive than a cheap alarm clock but they sell millions of cheap alarm clocks every single day. Chess players are fewer in numbers and they will only buy one or two chess clocks across the course of their whole lives.

Premium brands can be priced at a premium because they are built to last, offer more functionality than the basics and you get brand value too.

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