Some board games, such as chess or Go, use an adjournment mechanism to suspend the game in progress so it can be continued at another time, typically the following day. The rationale is that games often extend in duration beyond what is reasonable for a single session of play. As in chess, there is sometimes a sealed move, where the next move that would be made is sealed in an envelope, to be played out (usually by an independent third party, normally the director or arbiter).
In chess, the practice of adjournment was common until the 1990s, but has since largely been abandoned, due to a trend towards shorter time controls and the advent of strong chess computers.
When an adjournment is made, the player whose move it is secretly writes his next move on his scoresheet but does not make the move on the chessboard. He places both his and his opponent's scoresheets in the sealed-move envelope and seals it. The names of the players, the colors, the position, the time on the clocks, and other data are recorded on the envelope. The arbiter keeps possession of the envelope until it is time to restart the game. The arbiter opens the envelope, makes the sealed move on the board, and starts the opponent's clock. If the sealed move is ambiguous and subject to more than one interpretation, the opponent of the player making the sealed move may choose among the reasonable interpretations (Just & Burg 2003:72–78). If the sealed move is illegal and there is no reasonable interpretation, the player making the sealed move loses the game (Just & Burg 2003:38).
Schedules allowing for adjournment usually fall into either of two categories:
- 2½ hours per player for the first forty moves, followed by adjournment (a five hour session)
- two hours per player for the first forty moves, followed by one hour for the next twenty moves, followed by adjournment (a six hour session)
The rules for adjourning a game are as follows:
- Once the time control has passed, either player has the option of adjourning, and may do so on their move.
- If a player exercises that option, they forfeit the remainder of their time that had been allotted for that session.
- When the duration of the session has ended, it is imperative for the player with the move to adjourn the game.
- A player adjourns the game by recording their move secretly in an envelope and sealing it. Upon resumption, the arbiter makes the sealed move and the game continues.
The first three rules are designed to encourage players to continue games until the end of the session, but no longer. The last rule ensures that neither player knows upon adjournment what the position will be when it is next their turn to move. It is still generally considered advantageous to be the player to make the sealed move, especially if the move forces a specific response from the other player.
Considerations on when to adjourn a game can be complex, and often involve an extra dimension of psychology that is not part of the strictly logical struggle on the board. Analysis of adjourned positions is an art in itself.
With the advent of strong chess playing computer programs, which could be used to analyze adjourned positions, most tournaments have abandoned adjourning games in favor of shorter time controls. The first World Chess Championship not to use adjournments was the Classical World Chess Championship 1995, while the last one to use adjournments was the FIDE World Chess Championship 1996.
Adjournments are common in long matches of the game of Go. Major Japanese title matches like the Honinbo, Kisei and Meijin commonly have thinking time of over 8 hours per player. Such matches are played over 2 days and use a sealed move during the adjournment. As in Chess, a sealed move may have a forced response, giving an advantage to the sealing player. Sealing a move that has no purpose beside forcing a particular answer is considered poor etiquette.
- Just, Tim; Burg, Daniel B. (2003), U.S. Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess (5th ed.), McKay, ISBN 0-8129-3559-4