Introducing: the Garde chess clock!

by Frederic Friedel
4/8/2023 – The what? "Flag"? What is that and how does it work? We recorded a confrontation between an absolute super-talent (17 years old and number 18 in world rankings) and a mechanical chess clock of yesteryear. Many of our readers will be well acquainted with the Garde, or other similar clocks, but many will be just as clueless as Dommaraju Gukesh.

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Recently we had the 17-year-old D Gukesh in our office. This super-talent has risen to number 18 in the world – with every intention of reaching the top ten in his teens.

Gukesh did recordings for ChessBase in Hamburg and in the ChessBase India studio

In the ChessBase office in Hamburg the founder and CEO of ChessBase India was present, and during a lull in the recordings challenged Gukesh to a blitz game. You can watch all the action in this video:

It was a rough and exciting game, which Sagar, a very strong IM, managed to win – on time! See, it was the first time in his life that Gukesh had used a mechanical Garde clock.

This is the famous analogue chess clock that many of us grew up with. It was used in professional tournaments and world championships before the introduction of digital timers. You saw it in countless championships and it is still available, e.g. at Amazon Germany, for around $90. ChessBase is the proud owner of a couple of these clocks. For our younger readers, here are instructions on how to use the Garde and similar chess clocks. Spoiler: they have no batteries and have to be wound up!

Problem is many of the young talents who visit our office have never seen a mechanical chess clock, and don't know how it is used.  The what? "Flag?" What does that mean, how does it work? You can see Gukesh learning about this in the above video.

How things have changed: today everyone is using LED digital clocks, which are available in all sizes and shapes. Analogue mechanical clocks, we are sad to inform you, are a thing of the past. Still you should keep your Garde or whatever clock, so that you can explain chess history to young upstarts.

Here's another clock adventure. Grandmasters Praggnanandhaa and Iniyan battling it out, in an Epic blitz battle using the old mechanical Garde chess clock in our Hamburg office! Watch how expertly they operate the mechanical clock in a time scramble, in which Pragg manages to "flag" his opponent two seconds before his own flag would have fallen.  

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.
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arzi arzi 4/13/2023 09:48
I also have an old analog clock. I actually had two of them, but over 25 years ago I converted the other (Garde) to a digital clock. This chess clock had only two possible game times: 5+5 (min) and 30+30 (min), selected with a switch. The passage of time was shown with LEDs (30+30). The end of time and whose turn is to move, also with LEDs (2+2). Total of LEDs, 64 pieces. The wiring diagram was from the magazine, Elektor. The components were regular components got from the electric shop. The clock still works.
Michael Jones Michael Jones 4/9/2023 02:39
Digital clocks may now be universal at the elite level, but in local leagues and amateur tournaments the analogue ones are still going strong!
first25plus5 first25plus5 4/9/2023 12:10
I have an analogue clock from the USSR, one from Yugoslavia, and one from West Germany. All three countries don't exist now. I also have a fourth analogue clock- from England. That country still exists !
mehmet17 mehmet17 4/8/2023 08:53
Justjeff Justjeff 4/8/2023 04:36
It isn't quite correct that you didn't "know the seconds". Generally one would know the difference between the flag being horizontal (20 secs. or so left) and the the clock hand crawling over the round end of the flag (< 5 secs.).
thirteen thirteen 4/8/2023 04:33
@mikolov. Me too! Likely to last another 100 years, no doubt about it.
mikolov mikolov 4/8/2023 04:22
I still have my Jerger. Still working after 40 years.