Tic Tok Chess Clock

There has been a mass of discussion around the socials lately about the potential use of chess clocks in competitive AOS.

With the recent inclusion of chess clocks at the world games this year the broader community has taken to social media to discuss the pros and cons of introducing timepieces more widely to the competitive scene. Whenever something like this comes along, we ask ourselves ‘why do it?’ and ‘how will this impact on me personally?’.

So how does a chess clock work? Basically, both clocks are set to give each player the same amount of play time (for example, 90 minutes). As one player is taking their turn, their clock is counting down. As soon as they finish, they hit the button and their opponents time starts ticking. The aim is to give each player an equal amount of playtime.

Let’s have a look at the first question – why do it?

This is a way to even up the game and level the playing field in situations where games are going to time (or not even being finished in time) because one or both players either

  1. have a lot of models to move,

  2. doesn’t know their rules properly and must stop and look them up,

  3. are generally a slower player in making decisions and enacting strategy, or

  4. is slow playing on purpose to gain an advantage.

In these situations, a single player may be chewing through the designated time at a rate unproportionate to their opponent. This can lead to timing out and having to call the game before it’s proper conclusion. When this happens there is a change that one player is at a disadvantage because they do not have enough time left in the round to catch up on points.

Let’s be clear. If a player is slow-playing as a tactic for winning they are cheating. No ifs, buts or maybes.

But some armies are slower to play than others I hear you say. Yep, they are and always will be. What’s the solution? Learn to play faster or write lists that you can manage in the time limit that you have. Simply put, the time it takes you to play your army should not be a deciding factor in who wins the game. The way I see it, learning to play your army more efficiently solves 3 of those problems without the introduction of clocks. Buuuuuuuuuuut in a world where you can’t demand that people demonstrate a minimum skill standard prior to attending a tournament (we actually want to encourage people to join the community right??!) we can use clocks instead to ensure that the negative impact of these situations is reduced.

So, is there a downside? Yep, and that’s what makes this a discussion rather than a given.

The community chatter has raised some interesting points about the impact of including chess clocks. Some of which include:

  • Added pressure increasing anxiety in players with a tendency to suffer this issue to some degree already.

  • Extra equipment/resources to pack or provide to players (or determination of appropriate/acceptable phone apps).

  • Questions around buffer times, setup times and dispute resolution times involving discussions or the requirement of a tournament organiser to make a decision.

  • Issues around enjoyability and casual gaming (generally talking bottom tables here).

Questions about how exactly the clocks need to be used and what triggers the transition of countdowns. For example, its your turn and you’re in your movement phase. Your opponent opts to redeploy a unit of their own. Do you swap to their clock while they roll and make their move or does your time keep ticking since it’s your movement phase? Another example is in the combat phase. You’ve rolled to hit and wound and your opponent needs to make their save rolls. Your time or theirs? What about in the hero phase? Do we hit the clock after a casting roll, then again after the unbind attempt? If a spell is causing damage (go back and see combat phase save rolls question) etc etc etc.

By no means are these situations difficult to decide on, but will that decision be consistent and documented in the player packs at different tournaments? Or will it be left to players to negotiate the terms at the beginning of each game? A standardised approach, or variations on one will likely be the end result. Leading me to my next point:

Does it need to be an all-or-nothing outcome?

I’ve seen a few people suggest that maybe clocks belong on the top table only. Somewhere beyond that invisible line of players who are in with a chance at a podium, or chasing Masters points vs. players cruising the mid-bottom tables, enjoying a few drinks and the social aspects of the event (cases where getting a result of 2-3 and running a ‘fun’ list is the aim). Also only bringing clocks in from round 3 onwards once the pack starts to properly settle into a clearer distribution. Another approach is that clocks follow players instead of table positions. After 3 wins a player (and their opponent) must use a clock for their final 2 games, better reflecting on the competitors who have the most to gain (and lose) at the end of the day.

There’s plenty to think about when it comes to introducing any new governance to the way we play games. Not all players are going to feel like it’s really needed, but to others it’ll become a non-negotiable inclusion. The next 12 months are going to be very interesting indeed. I predict that we’ll see significantly more use of chess clocks in Aussie tournaments, but the shape of that development is yet to be seen.

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