My son David loves to play chess. He is pretty good at it too, to the point where he has to go online to find someone who can beat him. Unfortunately, he lets his love of chess interfere with his studies at times, so it’s something we have to watch.

Before he got into this hobby, I had no idea that chess games were timed, but apparently, they are. Some games (bullet and blitz) are pretty fast, and some games are slow. Well, they are not slow to me. I’m used to taking all the time I need when thinking strategically. But I think the clock adds an exciting element to the game.

In live matches, the players use a chess clock. It has two clock faces on it (or digital readouts) and two buttons. When a player finishes his move, he touches his button which stops his clock and starts his opponent’s. They usually count down. The game ends at checkmate or when one player’s clock reaches zero (which counts as a loss for that person).

The really good chess players don’t usually play anything other than fast games when they are online. There is a good reason for this. As a person plays, his rating changes. A win against someone with a higher rating increases a player’s rating, and a loss against a weaker opponent decreases it. I don’t know what happens when a player loses to a better player or beats a weaker one, but if it affects the rating at all, it’s not by as much.

Once a player reaches a certain level, he starts running into cheaters. These people run a chess analysis engine on their computer, and plug its moves into the live online game. This is harder to do in blitz or bullet, because making the move in those games represents a pretty significant amount of time relative to the thinking. Cheaters can’t keep up with a real chess master. And that’s why the really good players don’t play anything other than the fast games online.

So why write about this tonight? Because as it turns out, a chess clock may have other applications, and I have ordered one to try it out.

Beth takes piano lessons, and part of that includes 45 minutes of practice five times a week. This is a point of contention and a source of major unpleasantness in our household. She will whine and fuss and “ask questions” during practice, and all of that is intended to reduce her actual practice time. Apparently, whining is more enjoyable to her than playing beautiful music. Go figure. By the end of practice everyone in the family is mad, because no one likes to listen to this. I have tried many things to try to put an end to it, and I’m about to try one more.

Enter the chess clock.

Player one is Beth practicing. Player two is Beth not practicing. Practice ends when player one’s count reaches zero. If player two’s count reaches zero (which is not only possible – at this point it seems even probable) then… I don’t know yet. Maybe we start over. Maybe something else. The clock will be here in a week, so I have time to decide.