Simple Delay Setting To Replace Bronstein As The
Official Backgammon Clock Increment/Delay Type

By Richard Munitz

The October 2007 US Backgammon Clock Rules and Procedures state: 

. . . The clocks selected must use the Bronstein system of reserve time and per move deductibles and must be approved by the Director.

I propose the following change:

. . . The clocks selected must use the Simple Delay system of reserve time and per-move delay time and must be approved by the Director.

To understand why this change is being proposed, it is first necessary to understand the similarities and differences between the Bronstein and Simple Delay time controls. Both methods for backgammon match time control employ a reserve time that is usually a function of match length (e.g. 2 minutes times match length for each player) as well as a per-move allotment (e.g. up to 12 additional seconds allotted per move). The reserve time is a bulk allotment for the entire match to allow extra thinking time above and beyond the per-move allotment.

If a player exhausts his reserve time (his reserve time clock counts down to zero), he loses the match. Both methods employ a "use it or lose it" per-move time; any unused per-move time does not get added to your reserve time. How do they differ?

• Bronstein: When the clock is hit, the player's reserve time begins to decrement immediately. After the player completes his move and hits his clock, the reserve time is incremented by the smaller of: a) the per-move allotment; b) the actual time consumed for the move.

• Simple Delay: When the clock is hit, the player's per-move delay time begins to decrement. If the per-move delay reaches zero before the move has been completed, the reserve time begins to decrement.

For the most part, both methods are substantially the same in terms of the amount of time players get and consume. At the end of the move, after the clock is hit, the remaining reserve time will be identical with Bronstein and Simple Delay. The difference is in the time available to complete the current move and becomes apparent when the reserve time runs down close to zero. Because Bronstein does not award the per-move allotment until after the move has been completed, you can run out of time and lose the match before getting the per-move allotment for the current move.

For example, let's imagine that a player begins his move with 5 seconds of reserve time remaining and a 12 second per-move allotment. With Bronstein, the reserve time decrements immediately and the player must complete his move (and in fact every subsequent move) within 5 seconds, or his reserve time will go to zero. With Simple Delay, the player uses his per-move delay first and it must count down to zero before the reserve time is used; the player would actually have 17 seconds to make his current play before the reserve time would reach zero, and he would always have at least 12 seconds to make all subsequent moves no matter how low the reserve time went.

Simple Delay has three advantages over Bronstein that make it most suitable for use in clocked backgammon.

1. Simple Delay ensures that players always have the full per-move time available on each and every move. Discounting the time it takes to select a play, unlike chess, each move in backgammon requires a time consuming physical process: the dice must be lifted, placed in the cup, shaken vigorously and rolled; the chosen play may require up to four checkers on different parts of the board to be moved and one or more of the opponent's checkers to be placed on the bar; furthermore the dice may be cocked and one or more rerolls required. Unlike chess, a substantial portion of the per-move allotment in backgammon is to account for this physical process rather than thinking time. It is reasonable and appropriate in backgammon to provide a full delay allotment on every move, regardless of how little reserve time remains.

2. With Simple Delay, the display of the delay time countdown explicitly shows the player how much time he has left before consuming any reserve time. This allows the player to better manage their time. Furthermore, unlike chess, backgammon matches could have the same player moving twice in a row—making the last move of one game and the first move of the next game; in this case it is desirable to see the delay time on the clock display to be sure that the full delay has been restored for the new game.

3. Simple Delay is already the time control used by the vast majority of clocks in backgammon tournaments in the US and internationally, and has been for years. Virtually no players are even aware of the fact that they have been using a Simple Delay rather than Bronstein time control. This is the clock behavior that players have come to expect and the proposed rule change will do nothing more than reflect the existing reality; enforcing the rule as it is currently written could potentially require many players to buy new clocks.   The Simple Delay time control is also the current standard of the US Chess Federation.

Bottom line: Keep it simple.

You can read additional information on various game clock time controls at the Wikipedia site HERE.Richard Munitz

Editor's note: Richard's modification has been accepted and is found in the US BACKGAMMON CLOCK RULES AND PROCEDURES (March 2013). The Merkmatics Chess Clock app offers a USCF Delay setting and is highly recommended for iPhone users.