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I recently purchased an analog chess clock. That is, although battery powered, it has two normal clock faces, including the red flags, but also including red second hands.

The second hands can be set to the zero (12 o'clock) position by letting the clock run until they each arrive there, and then setting the minute hand to the desired position. In other words, the clock can start with the second hands pointing vertically.

Two problems arise:

  • The minute hands, used to signify the end of the match when they arrive at the 12 o'clock position, are difficult to set precisely. For one thing, there is a bit of "slop" in the setting knob, and for another thing parallax errors can make the hand seem to move slightly if you rotate the clock as you look at it.

    Now, at the end of a (say) 5-minute match you could conclude the match ends when the flag falls, or the second hand reaches the 12 o'clock position. In practice these do not occur simultaneously, with around +/- 10 or 15 seconds being observed. In this case, when is "time up"? When the flag falls, or when the second hand reaches the vertical?

    If the answer is "when the flag falls" — regardless of where the second hand is — isn't that a bit unfair? What if you clearly see that there are 15 seconds to go, based on the position of the second hand?

  • In a similar vein, having observed that setting the minute hand precisely is difficult, is there not some unfairness in using analog clocks at all? If (deliberately or inadvertently) one player get an extra 15 seconds, and the other player gets 15 seconds less, then that could make quite a big difference in a 5 minute game.


Also, is there some convention about who sets the clock? Does one player set it and the other check it? Does each player set their own side? Does a third party set the clock?


(Edit)

In response to a comment requesting more information:

  • I got the clock from eBay

  • This is what it looks like:

    Chess clock appearance

  • It appears to be a PQ9905 model

  • Here is the "user manual" with links to the manufacturer's web page:

Clock user manual

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  • I've never seen chess clocks with second hands, but some of the chess clocks at our club did have a 'third' hand, only operated manually, which you set to the intended end of the hour hand. Ending the game at a position of 12:00 is awkward with two hands near each other. So instead we set them to, say 6:00, and the third hand to 8 o'clock; that way, you had 'proof' that a flag falling at 7:00 didn't make you lose the game.
    – Glorfindel
    Sep 4 '21 at 6:34
  • My initial reaction when I saw this (and not seeing a lot of other chess clocks with second hands) was that someone thought that adding a second hand would make their clock "even better" without considering the ambiguity it would introduce. Sep 4 '21 at 7:03
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I have no comment regarding the question of the seconds hand, but yes, analog clocks are likely to be less accurate compared with digital clocks, which may be one reason why they are not preferred anymore. If you look at official FIDE or USCF rules, they say digital clocks are "preferred", while analog clocks are only (usually) "allowed". The other reason of course is that many events use time controls with increments or delays.

Now the question of who sets the clock: I've never found anything written in the rules, but anecdotally my experience is that the clock is usually set by its owner in "bring your own clock" events; in events where the organizers supply the clock, sometimes the clock is set by the organizers although sometimes they leave it to the player. I've never seen a dispute where both players wanted to set the clock themselves, but I suppose in such a case calling the tournament director would be in order.

However, if you are setting your clock you should let your opponent see and explain any particular quirks of your clock that they need to know about.

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  • Well, I'm old enough to have blitzed thousands of games with analog clocks. The "flag" counts (not the hands), and the clock is set by gentlemen's agreement: one player sets, and the other protests if the minute hand looks too far off. Even if unprecise setting might amount to ten seconds, this was never a practical issue. Sep 4 '21 at 8:02
  • Thanks for that information! If you make it an answer I will be pleased to vote it up and accept it. Sep 5 '21 at 6:54

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