The Fabulous 70s: Rewarding the Clock-Punching Monkey

The Good and the Evil Inherent in Clock Punching Monkeys

I was titillated to read in a recent CLO Irina Krush’s protest against Anna Zatonskih’s blitz tactics in their US Women’s title playoff match.

Her open letter ends,

“To conclude, I will state that sharing the title would be an acceptable outcome for me, but I would certainly welcome any initiative to decide the title in over-the-board games, with real time controls that don’t degrade the participants into clock punching monkeys.” (emphasis mine).

The bold-faced phrase brings back rich, nostalgic memories. Turn back the clock to 1975 and the scene is the Silver Spring chess club, managed by Larry Kaufman and frequented by such personalities as Diana Lanni, me, future IM Steve Odendahl, and other riff-raff. Since we were young and highly immature, Steve and I invented a game that was solely to reward the clock-punching monkey. The game was called “Clock”. It is fun for all ages and invariably reduces the participants to gasps of laughter, unless of course one of the players is Ray Keene or some other dour type. I want to stress a chessboard and pieces are not needed! Here is how you play:

The Immortal and Skillful Game of ‘Clock’

  1. Set the clock to one minute each (this was the old fashioned clock that ticked, but I imagine you could subject a Chronos to this too).
  2. ‘White’ bangs his or her fist on the table then bangs the clock to start the game.
  3. ‘Black’ must bang his or her fist on the table and only then can he or she bang the clock to start the opponent’s clock.
  4. In response, now ‘White’ must bang his or her fist on the table before he or she can hit the clock.
  5. And so on, alternating steps 3 and 4, until somebody flags.

No Chess Involved! Any hit of the clock without first banging the fist on the table is an immediate forfeit!

Overturning: A Nuance of the Game

The 1975 version of the game naturally resulted in the clock often overturning and sitting on its side. It was unclear who should right it and clearly in such a thrilling game neither player really wants to right it. I suggest playing with the clock in an enclosed case so it can’t overturn.

A Surprise ‘Clock’ Spectator

In one uproarious ‘Clock’ incident, the clock had just overturned and both players were howling loudly. A small, dapper gentleman gave Steve and me a pitying glance. And this was the first time I laid eyes on surprise club visitor GM Lubosh Kavalek.

Enjoy your game of Clock, everyone! For extra thrills, play with a digital clock and set it for 10 seconds each, or try a game of “Clock Odds” to test the speed demon in your neighborhood!

Sad postscript:

Krush didn’t leave sleeping dogs lie and wrote an awful “final letter” to US Chess online. The bad sportsmanship meter is now in the red zone on this issue. Poor Anna Zatonskih could not, and should not, respond to this nasty Krush tirade. Simply change the format going forward if it’s so upsetting!

Happy Post Post-Script

Anna Zatonskih righted the boat with a well-conducted interview. Hurrah for Anna Z.  All is well.


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5 Responses to “The Fabulous 70s: Rewarding the Clock-Punching Monkey”

  1. Arthur Glassman Says:

    Perhaps we should require all clock manufacturers to submit their clocks to a game of ‘clock’. That should quickly eliminate all the cheap junk.
    Chess Reseller and Chronos dealer.

  2. Jim T. Says:

    I think one of the late-GM E. Gufeld’s better lines (if I can remember it correctly) as he ruefully noted the then-growing popularity of sudden-death time controls:

    “You don’t need pieces. You don’t need a board. You just have two players banging a clock back-and-forth!”

  3. Kenneth W. Regan Says:

    Hi, Mark—

    In your experiments, how important was “Rhythm” in the game? Could you throw off your opponent by hesitating half a second between the fist pump and the clock bang? Did it net more gain than the 0.50 sec. invested in the maneuver?

    As observation (5) in my comment in “The Chess Mind” blog
    here shows, this could be relevant to a crucial point in the controversy! The advancement of science is always vital…

    MG 6/4/08: It seems tactically advantageous to syncopate the rhythm. In the Krush match, a stronger move would be to yell out “You’re down!” then yell out “Sorry, you’re not!” to flag the hapless opponent and wrap up the victory and that luscious engraved trophy. Then we would have even funnier protest letters.

  4. r Says:

    You’re blog is great! I was looking at the stuff about Petrosian and was reminded of a time the Fed drew the Great Man. I think it might have been Fedorowicz’s first trip abroad . . . as I recall, Fed was white in a Sicilian and was rolling Petrosian up when, rather than keeping queens on for a winning attack, Fed traded queens and eventually Petrosian drew. At any rate, it made headlines in Garden State chess news, because Fed was so young. This must have been mid- to late-70s.

    Thanks for the memories. Again, awesome blog!

    MG Note 7/2/08: At the time, Chess Life magazine made a big deal out of the Fedorowicz-Petrosian game. According to reporter GM Leonid Shamkovich, Petrosian said to Leonid “Oh my God, why did he exchange queens?” Petrosian would have been dead meat if John had retained queens and kept up the attack.

  5. The Fabulous 90s: The Manhattan CC 1990 International « IM Mark Ginsburg Presents A Personal Chess History Says:

    […] Clock Punching Monkeys article in Chinese (translation requested by a curious Asian reader, I presume).  Click to […]

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