Let's say I totally dominate my opponent, but simply run out of time, then I lose the game right? But doesn't it make more sense to be given 51% of the rating adjustment (not 50/50 as for a draw).

The criteria would be simple, that is if a user is in a completely winning position by stockfish evaluation (mate in X) or they are up 5+ material points.

I feel like losing rating when you dominate a GM who is rated 500 points higher than you in a 1+0 bullet game just because they moved very fast (and randomly) at the end is a bit unfair. Is there a historical reasoning for not applying such rules?


8 Answers 8


I feel like you somewhat misunderstand the concept of a time control. The clock is a part of the game. If you are up a piece in a complicated position with five seconds left on the clock that may well be a losing position for you. Sure, the engine may show you +4, but the clock is an important part, especially in blitz.

Importantly, if you spent all your time getting a good position while the opponent played quickly to conserve their time, then they performed better, because they got to a still tricky position while using less thinking time.

If you don't like this flagging mechanic (I for one do not), increment exists for a reason. There is still some time management there, as playing on just the increment means you don't have time to think deeply. However, it allows you to keep playing instead of losing on time. If you play without increment, it is your decision, but then you have to be up to take the consequences.


Let's look at the title question from the perspective of engine chess, which is more objective in the sense that you can get two engines to play tens of thousands of games against each other at whatever time control you desire.

If you look at the latest season of the unofficial world computer chess championship, you'll find that the strongest engine is Stockfish, and the weakest is Bagatur/A0lite. A match between the two engines on equal hardware & time control won't be much of a match - in a 100-game match I'd be surprised if Stockfish doesn't score 95% or more. The gap is just that large. Let that sink in for a moment: in an equal match, Stockfish is expected to win with both colors, again and again and again.

However, if you allowed Stockfish only 1 second a move while giving Bagatur/A0lite an hour a move, then it's no longer so certain that Stockfish will beat Bagatur/A0lite. In fact, it might very well lose. See the result of similar testing in the past, where Stockfish had only 0.3% of its opponent's time.

You can see the absurdity of it all. Let's say I sit down to play a blitz match with Bagatur against Stockfish at time controls of 5 minutes per game. Stockfish plays a move. I let Bagatur think for two days, then come back and make a move. Stockfish says I lost on time. I counter with "I flagged, but flagging isn't considered a win". If Stockfish were a human, how do you think it would respond?

tl; dr: the clock is part of the game. If you get a good position, but have to spend too much time to reach that good position, you might not be winning.


Because not having it would result in some perverse incentives. In particular, in any game where a draw is an acceptable outcome, the optimal strategy without flag drops being losses would be to never make a move and simply wait for the flag.

With any partial approach like you propose, the optimal strategy would instead be to try to force such a situation (far easier than actually winning - your "+5 on material" suggestion is especially bad for this, because you end up with situations in which the stronger player has a forced mate that involves, say, a rook sacrifice that takes them to -6 on material, at which point the weaker player can simply let that happen, then wait for the flag. Your rule, in particular, would make a fair number of winning positions into losing positions.

It is also worth noting that there already is a partial form of this rule in place: if there is no sequence of legal moves by which the player with time left on their clock can checkmate the player whose flag dropped, then the game is a draw. This avoids the above issue, because in such a situation, a draw is already your worst possible outcome, so the perverse incentive is avoided.


Since you specifically asked for historical reasons: Think about your two proposed criteria in the context of the year 1800 or 1900.

  • Using engine evaluation is obviously out of the question. So is "asking a better player", because you may often not have one at hand (physically, due to limited means of telecommunication!).
  • Using material count is at least possible. But keep in mind that back in the day, people generally liked to play chess in a much more "romantic" way than today. In other words, less fear of sacrifices. Determining the outcome of games by mere material count probably had very few fans when the rules started to be formalized (and as any strong player will confirm, the romantics wouldn't be entirely wrong, as material is only one of many factors of the evaluation of a position).

Except for exceptional circumstances, only three results are considered valid for a chess game (and the corresponding rating change): win, draw or loss.

Your suggestion would come with a huge problem: what exactly counts as flagging? How big should your advantage have been for your opponent's victory to not count as a "real" victory? Who should evaluate that advantage? Would it be fair to take 20 seconds per move on a 3-minute game and still claim you dominated the match?

As other answers have pointed out, the flag is a part of the game. If you don't like losing on time, then you probably shouldn't be playing 1+0

You won't lose much rating for losing to a GM, whether by flagging or not, by the way.


It's considered a win because that is what it is by definition from the rules of timed games.

When you enter a game you commit to its rules; in this case one of those rules is that the time you have to force mate or other result is constrained by the clock, and you must adapt your strategy to meet that constraint.

In the example you have given, you have not met that constraint and been outplayed by the opponent who has dominated on time.

The simple solution is to adapt your game strategy to the timed format or play another format instead.


Why does a football team lose when the clock runs out?

Time is a key factor in playing chess. Else you would be back in the olde days when players could take days or weeks or longer before they moved.

Even postal chess has time limits.

Time limits is fair for both sides. If you played faster thereby not dominating you would not have won. Why should you be special and not have the clock run out on your team just because you did not get to kick that final field goal?


There is simply no other practical "punishment" for overstepping the time limit. You cannot remove a piece or something like that. In fact, the only punishment for other infractions which are not grave enough to warrant declaring the game lost is a time penalty, which clearly doesn't apply here.

It's not that clear-cut though: In order to win, you must have enough material left to mate your opponent. If you are left with the bare King, even when your opponent oversteps the time limit all you get is a draw.

  • In Weiqi(Go) a variation of rule exists, when a player running out of time, their land occupied will be deducted at the end of the game instead of losing immediately. Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 7:43

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