When watching The Queen's Gambit I noticed that some players were late to their game. How is time measured in this case?

It is simple when the player playing black is late, because the one playing white would have done their move and switched the clock.

If the player playing white is late - is their clock switched on at the moment the game starts and is let to run?

  • I don't suppose you know whether the tournament was using USCF or FIDE rules?
    – D M
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 23:13
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    @DM At least in the case of the game that Harmon rushing to at the very beginning in media res, it took place in France and the opponent was Russian (or at least Soviet), so it probably wasn't UCSF. But the show was fictional, so I don't think that we can say for certain that it was FIDE, and not some fictional in-universe organization. Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 6:11

2 Answers 2


Play starts when the arbiter announces the start of play, usually by saying "Start white's clock". A good arbiter will then walk round the tournament room making sure that all clocks have been started. If both players have yet to arrive at a table then the arbiter will start white's clock. If a black player has not started white's clock then the arbiter will do so and make a mental note to check back and make sure the black player doesn't stop them again as this could lead to the round finishing late.

If a player with the white pieces arrives late, therefore, then when they arrive they will have lost the time from the start of the round when the clocks were started. If the black player was on time then this will be when the black player started the clock. Otherwise it will be when the arbiter started the clock.

If a player with the black pieces arrives late then when they arrive they will have lost the amount of time since clocks were started minus the amount of time white used for the first move.

If the default time is, say, 30 minutes, then the arbiter will go round the room looking for empty seats with a clock with 30 minutes gone. This works for absent white players and for most black players. The exception is when David Howell is white and has taken 10 minutes for his first move.

  • 2
    Haha, your last sentence. You appear to have experience with the situation :-) Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 21:12
  • 3
    Great. Now I'm imagining the amusing situation where both black and white fail to show, but black wins because white runs out of time.
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 5:13
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    Can you add a link to the last sentence so I can learn more about it?
    – Pedro A
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 13:09
  • @Michael In tournaments for games other than chess, it might be customary to remove half the time from both players when both players are absent (if both players are 30min late, remove 15 minutes from each player). Such rules were relatively easy to implement when clocks were mechanical. Nowadays most tournaments use digital clocks, which make it a pain to remove time from both players.
    – Stef
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 14:17
  • @Michael There might also be a separate rule that a player loses immediately if they arrive more than x minutes late; so the absent player will lose because of their absence before they run out of time. This makes a lot of sense if the time settings impose a pace rather than an absolute time for the game; the time per player is often not "30 minutes per player" but something closer to "15 minutes per player, then 30 seconds per move per player" in which case a player who arrives late and is allowed to player will surely lead to the round finishing late.
    – Stef
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 14:19

It depends. There are two likely sets of rules: FIDE (which governs international events) and USCF (which governs United States events.) These rules differ slightly.

Under FIDE rules, the default time is 0 minutes unless otherwise indicated. This means that, rather than start the clock of a missing White player, Black could simply claim immediate victory if White was late unless the tournament rules specified otherwise. Under USCF rules, the default time is one hour, meaning Black could only claim victory after waiting an hour (unless the clock runs out before then. of course.)

Under either USCF or FIDE rules, if Black is present and the default time is not zero, then Black starts White's clock when the round starts, whether or not White is present.

The USCF also has a different rule than FIDE if both players are late. According to USCF rules:

If both players arrive late, the first to arrive must split the elapsed time before starting the opponent’s clock. For example, if the first player to arrive is 40 minutes late, the clocks should be set to reflect 20 minutes of elapsed time on each side.

But under FIDE rules:

...if neither player is present initially, White shall lose all the time that elapses until he arrives, unless the regulations of an event specify or the arbiter decides otherwise.

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    It seems (to me as a complete layman) weird that white should lose immediately when not present at the beginning. They have an allotted time to use up; how they spend it is their prerogative. They could as well be at the table and not move; where they physically are seems entirely irrelevant. What happens if they are present when the clock starts and then decide to go have a coffee in the cafeteria with the pretty girl in the audience? The only thing coming to mind is that this (or a complete absence) could be interpreted as lacking respect for the opponent and hence be deemed unsportsmanlike. Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 6:09
  • I don't know how common it is for FIDE tournaments to specify a different default time. As for the coffee, according to USCF rules, "Players with games in progress should not leave the playing room for more than 15 minutes without permission from the director." Extended absences are rude to your opponent, yes.
    – D M
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 11:43
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Regardless of who is present, it seems their interpretation is that white's clock should be running when the game starts, and the game starts when the arbiter says it starts. It's such an edge case I wouldn't even write it in the "advantages to playing black" column.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 23:14

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