7 Bughouse Chess Tips For Beginners
IM Danniel Rensch shares with you 7 tips to become a better bughouse chess player

7 Bughouse Chess Tips For Beginners

DanielRensch
IM DanielRensch
Sep 8, 2016, 12:00 AM |
38 | For Beginners

Tired of playing chess alone?! Bughouse is for you! Tired of not having someone to talk to about your decisions on the board (at least not legally)? Bughouse is for you! Tired of not having someone else (your teammate) to blame for your loses?  Bughouse is for you! 

Looking for regular partners to play bughouse with? Join the official club!


Here's a list of tips I give to all my friends and students before they dive into—what I believe—is one of the most fun ways to play chess! Bughouse truly is the "team sport" and social game that chess, to be frank, is just not... BUT it's also more complex and tricky than chess in many ways.

These tips should help any "bug newbie" navigate the murky waters:

  1. Develop the pieces
  2. Communication is key
  3. Sacrifice on f7
  4. King satefy comes first
  5. Knights are better than ever
  6. Attack/Check
  7. Play fast

Tip #1: Develop (It's just as important in bughouse.)

Bughouse is a fast-paced game that sees many players get caught up in "dropping pieces" before using all of their "regular pieces." This is a mistake! Similar to chess, there are fundamentals that everyone should follow. As in chess, development is paramount in bughouse. Yes, you will get extra pieces, but they most likely won't come until around move 5 or 6 at the very earliest, so don't "twiddle your thumbs" waiting for the perfect piece to arrive. Develop that perfect piece!

However, developing all your pieces as rapidly as possible is not the goal. Being in a good position to either start or defend an attack at anytime is the main goal. Let us take a look at an example below:

Tip #2: Communication Is Key. (Talk, type and YELL if you have too.)

Whether I am playing in person or online, I am constantly talking to my partner! I'm asking things like:

  • What pieces do you need?
  • Are you attacking or defending?
  • Do you need advice on whether to trade a piece or not?
  • Should I trade queens? (It's often dangerous to do this without consulting your partner.)
  • Do you need diagonals? (That means, pawns, bishops or queens.)

The more communication between partners in bughouse the better. Even between games it's important to get an idea of what happened in the previous game. Review if anything can be improved upon, or discuss mistakes the opponents made that you might exploit next time.

If you're winning the majority of your bughouse games, the odds are that you're communicating well with your partner!

Tip #3: Sacrifice On f7. (well, much of the time)

We all like to sacrifice in chess, often dreaming of brilliantly unstoppable mating attack. That's what makes bughouse so fun: We get to do this all the time! The first thing to learn about bughouse is that being on the attack is huge! Often the first player to put the enemy king on the run will win the game!

With that in mind, let's take a look at an example of White's quickest way to expose Black's king:

Tip #4: King Safety Comes First, Everything Else Comes Second

There will be times when you run out of pieces to drop and your attack ends. What to do then? At this point, you should be wary of your opponents' possibilities for counterattacking.

The first thing I look to do is cover any holes I may have created in my own position, and I try to cover any weak squares around my king. In bughouse, these are open squares that my opponent might be able to drop pieces on.

You should also look to cut off long diagonals that could potentially hurt your position as we will see below:

Tip #5: Knights Are Better Than Ever (maybe better than rooks)

The awkward way the knight moves, and its ability to attack "over and around"is extremely valuable in bughouse. As shown in the diagram with the sacrifice on f7 above, a knight directly checking the king from e5 would be devastating to Black's position. No other "checking piece" would even have the ability to reach the king on f7 without being captured. 

Furthermore, the knight (and the pawn) are actually the only two pieces that, when they check the enemy king, must be met by either a capture or a king move. That means there is no way to block a check from a knight or pawn (more on this in our next tip). The knight's "rare" form of attack makes it by far the more valuable minor piece (better than the bishop), and in many cases, it might even be more important than a rook.  

Tip #6: Check/Attack As "Directly" As Possible

In bughouse, you'll find that making threats and playing aggressive moves is a given. Every tempo counts and so every player is looking to play the most powerful move available on every turn. What becomes important then is how forcing those threats can be, or perhaps better said: Can you make checks and threats that directly limit your opponent's responses? For example:

The type of line your pieces attack on is critical. "Diagonals" (queens, bishops and pawns) are, at times, interchangeable pieces. If the only available way to attack the king is on a diagonal, use the pieces that can move this way! The same can be said for "rank and file attackers" (queens and rooks) in that they (the queen and the rook) may be considered interchangeable attackers as long as you get a piece that is able to attack on a rank or file.

This is exactly why the knight (and even the pawn) can be so valuable: If you can place them next to the king, there is a good chance that the king will have to deal with the threat. Yes, you could sacrifice your queen on a diagonal (or on a square like d6 in the above diagram) for a "direct check" but this might be too much material to give your opponent's partner and would take away some of the value of playing the royal fork of Nf7+ next move, because you already gave up a queen. 

Tip #7: Play Fast (and learn the importance of "stalling")

Finally, we arrive at one of the most important concepts in bughouse: time management.  Being up on time is crucial in bughouse for many reasons. For starters, the team that is ahead on the clock has much more control over the coming trades and decisions on the board. Why? Because a partner can sit and wait for a piece, so even if your partner can't make a trade to get you that coveted knight for that great outpost square right away, if you're ahead 30 seconds on the clock, they may eventually find a way to make that trade happen. 

One or two pieces can be a complete game changer! If you don't get the pieces you need, your attack may completely fizzle out and you lose! On the other hand, if you can just wait a few moments for your partner to get you the right pieces, you may win the game very quickly. Sitting is the bughouse strategy of waiting for those key pieces to come your way! 

Next, we discuss the strategic purpose of "stalling." Stalling (I'mnot sure where the term came from, but it is widely used) is a key and often-used strategy in high-level bughouse games. Telling your partner to stall may be useful if you are winning on your board, but your partner would end up losing his/her game first (before you can win yours) should they keep moving.

In this scenario, you may tell them to "stall" and wait for you to win. As long as your partner is "ahead on the clock" compared to your opponent, then your opponent cannot do the same, i.e. sit and wait for your partner to lose. They must move (because if they let their clock run, they will lose on time first), which enables you to win the game on the board before your partner loses. 

Following these tips may save you from a few painful losses, a few verbal (or written) lashings from your more experienced bughouse partner , and you may even win a few games you wouldn't have won otherwise!

Let me know in the comments if you agree with these beginner tips and/or if you have any other advice for players just getting started on their "team chess" adventure. 

Bughouse chess

Looking for regular partners to play bughouse with? Join the official Club!

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