Time controls, Frank Marshall and Nuremberg 1906

While there is still debate today about the optimum time-control for official FIDE chess tournaments and matches, we take it for granted that there MUST be a time control.  However, this was not always the case.  The use of time-controls , and especially a chess-timer, was a rather late development in our ancient and noble game.   Up until the mid-19th century, players were free to think as long as they wished, and as a result–despite misgivings– the average game could last for hours on end.


The infamous Howard Staunton vs Pierre St. Amant encounters of 1843 saw most games last 10 hours or more.  In particular, the 21st game lasted 14 and a half hours! 



Certainly the great Paul Morphy had it no better: some of his games with Louis Paulsen in 1857  lasted more than 15 hours!  The American legend at one point became so enraged that he insisted that the record of Paulsen’s time usage be preserved for posterity!




Chess was considered a gentleman’s game and  pressuring the opponent to move more quickly than what he would like to was frowned upon., even if some tried to deliberately employ ”out-sitting” strategies!  The organizers of  world’s first international tournament (London, 1851) had originally wanted to incorporate some sort of  time control but then backed down.  Never the less,  soon after Staunton and some other leading players  started lobbying for standardized time limits and from  1861 onwards  the sand-glass  would become a regular feature of tournaments and matches. Chess would never be the same…a new era had begun.


The very first tournament where the double-sided chess clock was used was London 1883, which set a  minimum limit of 15 moves per hour, failure to do so resulting in forfeit of the game by the  player who has exceeded the limit. The games started at noon and the playing session would continue to 5pm, after which–should the game not yet be concluded–there was a two hour interval for supper followed by the adjournment (until 11pm, if necessary).


Fattorini & Sons “tumbling” clock c. 1890 .  The company still exists today! The  London 1883 International was the first tournament to use the double-faced mechanical tumbling clock  invented by Thomas Bright Wilson .  It was a pair of clocks that sat on a see-saw  type platform. When one clock was pushed down the other’s pendulum was activated. 



But while chess-clocks soon became common place in the chess world, few could actually agree on what time-control should be used , let alone whether there was any point in standardizing it.  There were great variations and it was not uncommon (something like today–editor) for players to go from one tournament to the next with completely different time controls.  The London 1861 match between Anderssen and von Kolisch saw a time control of 24 moves per hour.  The Paris International of 1867 saw a slow 10-moves per hour, and only a financial penalty should the time control be exceeded!  Baden-Baden 1870 saw 20 moves per hour. As stated, London 1883 saw 15 moves per hour;  the subsequent world championship match of 1886 between the Steinitz and Zukertort (the winner of the 1883 London tournament) also saw 15 moves per hour.


Later world championship matches would see a limit of 5 hour playing sessions and 40 moves (which works out to 40 moves in 2.5 hours) followed by 16 moves or so (sometimes 20)  every hour afterwards.  This would become the norm for most international tournaments (and national tournaments) until the mid to late 1980’s, by which time  calls for both faster time controls and the elimination of adjournments could not be ignored.  No doubt Bobby Fischer had some  influence in this process.


His return-match with Spassky (1992)  saw both players start with one hour and fifty-one minutes. After 40 moves both players got a 40-minute gift, after 60 moves, 30 minutes and after 80 and each succeeding 20 moves, 20 minutes. The gifts were in addition to the regular bonus of one minute a move.  In addition, Fischer applied for a patent for a special chess clock that could incorporate this time control.


Finally, when Kirsan arrived on the scene in late 1995, a range of ever faster time controls was experimented with, and today FIDE officially recommends 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by half an hour to finish (plus 30 seconds per move), though even this is not always used by organizers.  Curiously, FIDE would be happy with even faster time controls, but there is much resistance to these.




Legendary American champion Frank Marshall wrote  (My Fifty Years of Chess, page 16) of the extraordinary time contol experiment that the organizers of the Nuremberg 1906 tournament tried to implement:

”One thing that made this tournament hard was another experiment: an attempt to abolish the time limit!  I notice that  The Year Book of Chess  (1906)has this to say on the subject:  ‘The rules were: No time limit for the first six hours of a game, afterwards 15 moves an hour and a penalty of one shilling for each minute in excess of this.  To avoid these absurd restrictions Leonhardt and Przepiorka at a certain juncture of their game agreed to make a number of meaningless moves so as to escape the fine and gain time.  Other players copied this procedure.  The most amusing incident was in the game Salwe–Tarrasch.  Not only did  Dr. Tarrasch suffer defeat in this game, but having consumed a great deal of time in endeavoring to stave off this disaster, had to pay 4 pounds and 15 shillings for the privilege!  After this the rule was altered as follows: No time limit shall be enforced the first day, but only on adjourned games.’ As for myself, I didn’t let these weird rules bother me much, but just went about the business of playing good chess.”



Dr. Tarrasch had to pay the equivalent of 30 dollars for exceeding the ridiculous time control!


Which all leads to today’s chess tactic, a wonderful game played by Marshall in the Nuremberg tournament, and certainly one of Marshall’s best combinative efforts:

Frank J.Marshall  — H.Wolf

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 5. e3 e6 6. Bxc4 c5 7. O-O Nc6 8. a3 Qc7 9. Qe2 b5 10. Ba2 Bb7 11. dxc5 Bxc5 12. b4 Bd6 13. Bb2 O-O 14. Rac1 Rad8 15. Bb1 Ba8 16. Ne4 Nd5 17. Neg5 g6



18. Nxh7! Kxh7 19. Ng5+


Instead 19… Kh6 goes off quickly after  20. Qg4! e5 (what else?)  21. Ne6+! etc

20. Qh5!!


”Naturally the Queen cannot be taken.”  Marshall

Really beautiful and well worth the price of the ticket!  Why is it that some grandmasters have all the fun?  Marshall has played some of the most incredible combinative tactics ever seen in modern chess.  Although this tactic is well known to every student of the game, only one or two ever really get to see it in their own games!

Marshall had no problems mopping up.  I give the remaining moves with a few brief notes:

20… f6 21. Bxg6! Rd7 [21… Qa7 22. Bh7+;  21… Qg7 22. Bh7+ Kh8 23. Bf5; 21… Qe7 22. Nxe6] 22. Nxe6 Rh7 23. Bxh7+! [23. Qxd5? Bxh2+ 24. Kh1 Be5+ is a draw;  but 23. Qg4 is also good enough to win: 23… Bxh2+ 24. Kh1 Rh6 25. Bh5 Kh8 26 Nxf8 etc] 23… Qxh7 24. Qxh7+ Kxh7 25. Nxf8 Bxf8 26. Rfd1 Nce7 27. e4 Nb6 28. Rc7 Kg8 29. Bxf6 Ng6 30. Rd8 [1:0]

”He has no defence against Rg7+”–Marshall


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