While it is quite entertaining to read the vacation flag thread, it is quite clear that timeouts and vacations are still a big concern, and both side of the argument have valid points.
My view is that when you start a game you have entered into a “contract” that specifies the time constraints. Personally, I’d rather not have the discretion to time my opponent out. I’d much prefer timeouts to be fully automatic. But this is just a personal preference, and there are many other views and circumstances that would support a more flexible approach, provided both parties to a game are agreeable – basically an escape clause.
One possible escape clause would be the ability for players to mutually agree to submit their game to adjudication when it becomes clear that one or other player cannot complete the game for whatever reasons. All that is required is a FEN of the game, independent analysis software such as Fritz, and a pre-determined range of scores signifying white win, draw or black win. I’m sure it could even be automated.
I can think of several instances when I would happily have agreed this route rather than time my opponent out.
This should also be an additional option to claiming the win when the skull appears. Yes, you are entitled to the win, but I think many players would be happier to click an adjudication button, and even risk losing, rather than claim a hollow victory.
Another enhancement could be the ability for players to mutually agree to suspend their game indefinitely, until both players are ready to resume. When suspended, the clock stands still in the game. Obviously this would not work for tournaments, clan games or sieges (where third parties are also affected), but would be fine for open invites and challenges.
The mechanics of both adjudication and suspension during game play would be similar to offering a draw. One player plays, and requests it (and can state reasons in the message box) and the other player either accepts it or (by moving) rejects it.
There would have to be an “unsuspend” option in the case of a suspended game (so the game can be mutually resumed at a later date.)
With the above options, and the excellent timebank system, I see no need for discretionary timeouts or vacation flag fraud. Make timeouts automatic. But give the “victor” the option of either claiming the win, or submitting the game for adjudication.