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With the development of digital chess clocks (a century after the mechanical version made its debut) this torment has become less redolent of Edgar Allen Poe's Pit and the Pendulum. Not only is the digital display less like a guillotine; gone also is that infernal ticking. The increasing sophistication of the digital chess clock made possible a brilliant innovation by Bobby Fischer. In 1988 the reclusive genius patented what he called the "Fischer clock": in reality it was not a new device, but simply the proposal that each player would gain a time increment (typically of 30 seconds) with every move he made. Fischer's idea was, in part, that this would end the unsatisfactory situation in which a player would lose on time in an easily winning position even though he knew exactly how to finish off his opponent.

Fischer's patent has taken away a little of the almost absurd drama which used to occur when a player so mismanaged his clock that he had, say, only a minute to play 20 moves. Before Fischer's innovation, that would have meant just three seconds per move: now, every time such a desperately short of time master plays one of his 20 remaining moves, he will gain a further 30 seconds' allocation.

With or without the added increment, there are and always will be even very strong grandmasters hopelessly addicted to what chess players call "time-trouble". Today, the worst addict is the many-times Italian champion Michele Godena, who would almost certainly have achieved more if only he had been able to cure himself of what appears like hopeless indecisiveness in the early stages of every game. 

For much of the 20th century the most notable time-trouble addict was Samuel Reshevsky, the strongest US player before Fischer arrived on the scene. He was fantastically good at bashing out half his moves (or more) almost instantaneously, having used up almost all his time allocation during the opening and early middle-game. Some accused Reshevsky of gamesmanship, especially after he noted: "It is an odd fact that more often than not it is my opponent who gets the jitters when I am compelled to make these hurried moves." But this was not something Reshevsky really wanted to do: it was more of a compulsion. When he was asked by an interviewer why he was such a notorious time-scramble addict, he admitted: "I tried to figure out that which was impossible to figure out in the time allotted. I was so anxious to analyse the position to its end, so to speak, that I had a tough time getting out of the habit."

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