Forum Archive : Tournaments

Clock rules--Digital clocks

From:   Chuck Bower
Date:   2 October 2003
Subject:   The time for digital clocks/rules is NOW!
Forum:   GammOnLine

David Montgomery wrote digital clock rules a few years ago. They have
since been adopted (with possible minor mods) by others, including
Carol Joy Cole in the US and Liz Barker in Great Britain.

I have done quite a bit of experementation with digital clocks+rules
in the past year. I also was 'required' to play two matches in Novi
(Mich Summer Champs) with digital clocks and rules. Without clocks I
am in the bottom 50th-percentile of players concerning speed of play.
(Not sure exactly where -- maybe 25th percentile.) I have no problem
with digital clocks and rules. If it works for me, then it should work
for most players. If the debate is "analog rules vs. digital rules"
then the referee should stop the fight mercifully. It's no contest.

In my experimentation I've been playing with digital and analog clocks
simultaneously. The digital clock records number of moves as well. So
I have data (which I haven't analyzed) which correlates digital times,
analog times, and number of moves. (BTW, Liz Barker has provided me
similar data and I will use those as well when I do an article.) Not a
single match (out of ~50) has ended with a digital clock running out
(although one had 2 seconds remaining!). A handful of times the analog
clock time has expired. The obvious reason for the difference (which I
will chronicle when I get the time to write it up for FABN) is that
some matches take many more *moves* than others. Digital clock rules
allay this misfortune while analog rules don't.

One former objection to digital clocks is their cost. That is no
longer relevant since a company in Florida makes digital clocks which
CJC sells for $40 (same as her price for analog clocks). I've been
using one of these for over a year now. There has been a minor problem
of the display not showing good contrast -- an intermittant malady. (I
don't know if this is simply a problem with my device or is
characteristic of this model.)

The main difference between digital clock rules and analog clock rules
is that in analog, the allotted time is constantly being decremented
during a game (only stopped between games). You lose time for shaking,
rolling, cocking, thinking, moving. With digital rules you are given
12 *free* seconds per move to conduct your actions. After that you
have bonus time which is decremented. The current analog rules allow
(typically) a player 6 minutes per point of matchlength (e.g. 42
minues for a 7-point match). The current analog rules allow 12 free
seconds per move (which *cannot* be "banked" for later use) plus two
bonus minutes per point of matchlength (e.g. 14 bonus minutes per
player for a 7 point match).

If you can perform all required actions within 12 seconds, you would
never need any bonus time. Some players can probably do this! The
point is that even the "slow" players get bonus time to ponder tough

The other big difference in analog vs. digital rules is that the
"penalty" for running out of bonus time under digital rules is the
loss of the match. Period. No penalty points, no adding time, no
special strategy ("I'll play a backgame which will take forever and
run my opps analog clock down to zero...") With digital clock you are
simply playing backgammon by the rules of (non-clocked) backgammon.

It may sound as though the time penalty in the digital rules is
harsher than in analog, but in reality it doesn't work that way. You
can avoid ever running out of time just by playing within your 12 free
seconds each move. And you only have to do that after you've burned up
all your bonus time. Under analog rules, if a bunch of long games
(e.g. backgames) occur, even the fastest players can run out of time.
That just cannot happen with digital rules.

If there are advantages to analog clock rules over digital, I'd be
interested in seeing/hearing them. To date I don't know of a single

David Montgomery  writes:

The clock rules that were available for use at the 2002 Michigan
tournament are here:
I don't know of any other online digital clock rules.

These rules were for a combination of analog and digital clocks. They
were developed to give the benefit of digital clocks without their
expense. That is no longer a real concern, so now one should go
directly to the digital (Bronstein or Fischer) time control.

I haven't seen any clock rules that I don't think could be improved
(including, especially, those I've written). To me the first priority
is bringing clocks -- with any sane rules -- into the mainstream of
championship backgammon. My second priority is to use digital clocks
with a per-move time control. Digital clock rules avoid many of the
strategy distortions that analog clock rules produce. Things like the
one-sided/two-side five-extra-minutes issue that have been being
discussed here, and whether you can just sit on your six prime until
your opponent's time runs out.

The third priority is getting the details of the clock rules right.
This is an area that I'm sure is going to need work for years to come.

Regarding the balance between time per move and extra thinking time, I
really think it is up to the backgammon community to reach a
consensus. I do believe that you absolutely have to play with the
controls in question to see how fast or slow they are. I enjoy playing
money games at 10s/move, or less, but I'm pretty certain that is too
fast for people's expectations of the pace of tournament play. You can
always trade off between the extra time and the amount per move, but
if the amount per move becomes too small, the rules come to have the
defects of analog clock rules. At some point it becomes advantageous
to simply lengthen a match because your opponent will not have to time
to think about (or, at some point, even to make) his or her plays. On
the other hand, if the amount per move is too high, play is simply too
slow. So we have to search for the right balance.
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     



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