Best chess clocks

Chess clock

A chess clock?

A chess clock, along with a chess set, represents the main equipment of a chess player.

Chess clocks are used in chess (and other board games, such as checkers or backgammon) to keep track of the time each players spends during the game.

To be completely honest, possesion of a chess clock and a chess set isn’t as important as it was in the past, because of the great availibility of chess in the 21st century.

However, there is still much joy in playing the opponent in real life instead over the computer screen.

Whether it is just a friendly evening blitz , or a serious tournament game, the sound of piece movement, clock ticking and old men coughing their lungs out represent an integral part of chess culture (note: for the sake of this article we consider that “friendly blitz games” do exist).

Slikovni rezultat za angry blitz chess
Here we see a chessplayer taking a blitz loss in typicaly respectable and gracious manner

Also, if chess clocks never existed, the list of greatest chess blunders would probably be much shorter.

Most importantly, certain tournament organizers require the players to bring their own equipment to the tournament.

Therefore, I believe that anyone who considers him a chess player should own a chess clock of his own.

How to choose a chess clock?

The choice of ideal chess clock depends largely on your preferences as a chess player.

And the depth of your wallet.

Slikovni rezultat za money

Manufacturers of chess equipment really DO offer something for everyone nowadays.

From cheap clocks that offer basic functionality to more advanced chess clocks that have abundance of possible time controls preprogrammed.

However, even though chess clocks offer more possibilities than ever before, for an average chess players there are two basic characteristics of primary importance:

  • Is a clock analog or digital?
  • What time controls does a clock offer?

We will examine these characteristics in turn.

Analog or digital chess clock?

Before the birth of the digital era, analog chess clocks dominated the chess scene.

Analog chess clocks use mechanical buttons and are equipped with a flag that falls once a player’s time runs out.

That’s where the well known chess term of flagging comes from.

However, analog chess clocks have a very serious drawback, since their functionality doesn’t include time controls with increments (see below).

Therefore, they have gradually been supplemented with the digital chess clocks, that are uniformly used today in chess tournaments.

Apart from being much more versatile and offering the options of time controls with increment, digital chess clocks are also much more practical overall.

Due to the ability of displaying both minutes and seconds, they are much more precise.

During my chess career, I have witnessed people making a move with just one second left on their clock. With analog chess clocks such scenario is virtually impossible.

An example of an analog chess clock

One might be wondering what is the point of mentioning analog chess clocks in the first place.

Well, apart from the price factor, some chess players of older generation find it hard to adjust to new technologies.

And if you happen to be related to one, there is high probability that you will make your grandpa happy by agreeing to play a game using these old fashioned clocks.

Time increment or delay?

For the most part of the 20th century, chess tournaments were played on time controls that didn’t include increments.

It all changed when former World Champion Robert James Fischer applied patent number US 4884255 A.

The patent is a digital chess clock that adds a predetermined amount of time to each player after they make their move.

This clock gained international recognition after Fischer’s 1992 rematch against Boris Spassky. Nowadays, the so called Fischer clock is a standard clock used in chess tournaments held outside the USA.

Important variant of the Fischer clock is the so called Bronstein clock, named after the Grandmaster and former World Championship Challenger, David Bronstein.

Bronstein’s clock also uses increment as Fischer’s clock, with the key difference that maximum increment is not always added. If a player plays a move faster, he gains the same amount of seconds he spent when making a move.

This prevents players from gaining more time than they had at the start of the game. (You would be surprised to know how often this happens with Fischer’s clock in the local tournaments).

Another variation of digital chess clocks, used in chess tournaments held under the auspice of USCF (Unites States Chess Federation), introduces the idea of time delay instead of increment.

With the time delay, the time on the clock is paused instead of added. In principle, time delay is the same as time increment according to Bronstein, although digital chess clocks displays these two time controls differently.

In order to explain the difference between Fischer’s clock, Bronstein’s clock and time delay more clearly, let us look at two examples.

First, let’s consider that the time control is 5 minutes with 3 seconds increment, and that a player plays a move after 2 seconds:

  • Fischer’s clock – The clock starts at 5:03, runs down to 5:01 and after the move ends up on 5:04
  • Bronstein’s clock – The clock starts at 5:03, runs down to 5:01 and returns to 5:03 after the move
  • Time delay – The clock is paused at 5:03 and nothing changes after the move

Secondly, let’s consider that the time control remains the same, but the player makes a move after 5 seconds:

  • Fischer’s clock – The clock starts at 5:03, runs down to 4:58 and returns to 5:01
  • Bronstein’s clock – Same as Fischer’s clock
  • Time delay – The clock is held at 5:03 for 3 seconds, than runs down to 5:01 and remains at 5:01 after the move is made

One final word is required. Since there is a number of time controls that are used more often in tournaments, various chess clocks have a number of those time controls preprogrammed.

Although one can always adjust the clock manually, the automatic choice of time control often comes in handy.

By now you might be wondering how on Earth you ended reading about different time controls when all you wanted was a information on specific clocks.

But I think it is important to know the subtleties about different time controls when buying a chess clock. Different chess clocks offer various possibilities regarding the time control they have implemented.

Based on the criteria above, but also taking the wide array of price ranges into account, we have assembled a list of best chess clocks that are well established in the tournament practice.

List of best chess clocks

1. Ckeyin174 Digital  Chess Clock

Ckeyin174; Professional Digital Basic Chess Clock Timer with Alarm - Red 1389040mm

Let us start with the most primitive chess clock out there. Ckeyin174 Digital Chess Clock is basically a simple timer.

It is probably not very suitable for serious tournament play since the timer is accompanied with alarm when the time starts running low.

However, if you are a casual player you might consider Ckeyin174 as a choice, because compared to other chess clocks, its price is considerably lower.

For more details and reviews, click here.

2. ZMF II Digital Chess Clock

ZMF II Digital Chess Clock is a product that finds itself in the category between the Ckeying174 and digital chess clocks examined below.

This clock incorporates both increment and delay time controls. It’s comparable advantages are that it is quite intuitive to handle (only three buttons) and that it offers most thing an average chess players needs for a reasonable price.

On the other hands, the clock does have somewhat limited capabilities and perhaps aesthetically it is not the most appealing (although it is a matter of taste).

For more details and reviews, click here.

3. Chronos GX Digital Chess Clock

The Chronos GX Digital Chess Clock can be regarded as the mother of all chess clocks. Both by it’s price and it’s capabilities.

Chronos offers virtually everything a digital chess clock can offer. Time delay, increments, preprogrammed time controls, high quality aluminium casing and tight electronics.

There are pitfalls, though. Compared to the DGT clocks examined below, the design is not as appealing. Additionally, users claim it is not very user-friendly; certain time controls tend to be very complicated to set.

Chronos is more common in the United States, although it is a regular clock according to the FIDE rules as well.

In the terms of pure quality and possibilities, you can hardly go wrong with Chronos if you are willing to say farewell to the somewhat larger sum of money.

For more details and reviews, click here.

4. DGT North American Chess Clock

In Europe,chess clocks made by Digital Game Technologies, or DGT, dominate the chess tournaments.

Out of the broad assortment of chess clocks they offer, there are three flagships that are especially worth mentioning.

The first is the DGT North American Chess Clock, the cheapest option primarly intended for players participating in USCF tournaments (as the most perceptive readers probably deduced after reading the name of the clock).

Compared to the other two models examined below, DGT North American has the least array of functions.

Its 23 preprogrammed options include all three time controls examined above. However, the main emphasis remains on time delay, making it very suitable for tournaments held under time delay time controls (like USCF official events).

A comparison between DGT North American and DGT 2010 model examined below (Source: Digital Game Technologies)

DGT chess clocks have very pleasing aesthetics. North American’s blue frame with orange buttons is particularly attractive.

The main drawback of DGT chess clocks is lack of robustness. They get broken quite easily.

I still remember when a couple of years ago my friend FM Matej Blazeka borrowed his DGT chess clock to IM Milan Mrdja and late GM Krunoslav Hulak. 

The duo engaged in a heated blitz session with money stakes that lasted the whole night.

You can imagine that they weren’t very gentle with the clock. Indeed, the very next day IM Mrdja approached Matej with guilt written all over his face and murmured the words: “I fear we have some bad news. You might have suffered a loss yesterday.”

But as long as you don’t mash the buttons like a titled player, DGT chess clocks ARE an excellent choice.

For more details and reviews, click here.

5. DGT 2010 Chess Clock

The second DGT clock that definitely deserves its place on the list of best chess clocks it the DGT 2010 Chess Clock.

DGT 2010 is the most common clock one encounters in FIDE tournaments (at least in Europe).

DGT 2010 is much more powerful than the DGT North American (as the photo above confirms). It doesn’t have that many preprogrammed time delay functions, but the possibility of choosing between Fischer and Bronstein clock compensates for that drawback.

It’s colours are slightly more conservative, but it still looks rather elegant.

The combination of attractive visual identity, acceptable number of functions (36 options) and reasonable price make it a best buy on this list in my personal opinion.

The photo below is probably the most accurate description of my own thoughts related to this clock.

The author of these lines posing proudly with his own DGT 2010 clock

I have had my own DGT 2010 for almost 4 years now, and apart from regular  battery changes, I haven’t had any serious issues.

For more details and reviews, click here.

6. DGT 3000 Chess Clock

Everything we have said about the DGT Chess Clocks is also true for the DGT 3000 Chess Clock as well.

This model is the most expensive chess clock DGT has to offer. The reasons for somewhat higher price are as follows:

  • Compared to DGT 2010 which shows seconds only for the last 20 minutes of the game, DGT 3000 shows seconds from the very start of the game.
  • DGT 3000 has most flexible programming possibilities.
  • DGT 3000 can be connected with the electronic boards and used in live broadcasts of the games.

This last factor is especially important. Although I don’t know a  chess player in Croatia that owns a DGT 3000, in many tournaments I have played, games on the first boards were transmitted live.

Therefore, this clock is a must have for a tournament organizer. But if you are willing to invest a fistfull of dollars more in a product of the highest quality, you probably won’t regret buying DGT 3000.

For more details and reviews, click here.

7. Analog Wood Chess Clock 

Wooden clock

This list would be incomplete without at least one analog chess clock.

Since I haven’t used an analog chess clock for ages, I had to do some research to find a clock that I can recommend with full confidence.

I think that Analog Wood Chess Clock is a reasonable choice for the nostalgic chess players out there.

For the relatively modest price you receive a clock that has both frame and timer made out of wood.

For more details and reviews, click here.

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