Beginner's Bug Guide

Beginner's Bug Guide

NM ArtOfDeception
Nov 16, 2016, 1:09 PM |

After playing a recent bughouse game where my partner got mated in 3 moves, I have decided to write a guide for all chess players new to bughouse. It may benefit you to consider the following guidelines as more concrete rules to follow until you are strong enough to know when they don't apply.


  • Time is extremely important in bughouse: specifically, the time between players of the same color on opposite teams. The reason for this is simple: suppose that you have a strong attack and a pawn would mate your opponent. You might want to sit (stop moving) and wait for a pawn, but if your partner's opponent has more time than you then he can simply stop moving as well and wait you out. Oftentimes the team that has the time edge will win because they can actively sit on their opponent's turn and trade pieces when it is to their advantage on their own turn.
  • "Sac-sitting" is where you sac a piece early on and then passively wait for your partner to start handing you massive amounts of material. This is one of the worst things you can do in bughouse, because generally it leads to the other time building both a time and material advantage. Here is a classic example:



  • One of the most common mistakes that beginners make is overvaluing pieces in bughouse. Because pieces are always being recycled across boards, sacrifices are much more sound for both offensive and defensive purposes. Very often when you are under attack a queen sacrifice will get you out of trouble, and that is much preferred to walking your king into a mate. Example:


  • On the offensive side, sacrificing a piece is very often the way to break through your opponent's defenses and start an attack. Be careful that you don't sacrifice for no reason, though, because otherwise your partner's opponent now has an extra piece in the fight and will likely start to build an advantage as well.


  • The initiative is one of the most important concepts in bughouse, and is very often badly misplayed by beginners. It can sometimes be a rather abstract concept, but the idea is that imitative is when you have important threats against your opponent that he must defend rather than begin any counterattack of his own. As the saying goes, sometimes "the best defense is a good offense." This is perhaps most true in bughouse!
  • Initiative is usually maintained by "keeping check" on your opponent's king. If he is in check, you know he must respond to that threat and so you can focus solely on your attack. Sacrificing pieces for check is usually worth it if you can draw the king out into the open, but is not worth it if your opponent can merely take it with another piece and keep his king safe.
  • Not only is the initiative important to defending, but it is also important when pieces are trading. The classic rookie mistake is to build up a strong mating attack, ask his partner to start trading pieces, and then unwittingly abandon the attack to take a piece or develop a piece. Then suddenly his opponent starts checking him, the initiative is lost, and probably so is the game.



  • Playing safe openings is important in bughouse, because disaster can strike at any moment. As a general rule of thumb, never push your c-pawn or f-pawn because the natural defenselessness of those squares invites your opponent to drop pieces in them.
  • For now, as Black play e6/d6 or nf6/d5. Stay away from e5 lines because it is too easy for White to sacrifice a piece on f7 and go for a mating attack unless you really know what you're doing.


  • On that note, don't castle either. It is all too easy for either player to go for an attack without really understanding what he or she is doing, and still end up winning!


  • Here is an example of how a relatively safe opening might go for both sides.



  • A final note on teams: unlike chess, bughouse is a team game. Oftentimes one player will need to sacrifice his position and material in order to help his partner go for a checkmate on the other board. Communicate constantly with your partner: let him know what pieces would help and/or hurt your position, and ask for advice if you need it.
  • Generally if you have a partner much higher rated than you are, you should play quickly and defensively in a support role. He will likely keep track of your board and give you move recommendations: play them quickly.

Piece Value

  • In bughouse piece values are different than in chess. Bishops are worth about as much as a pawn, sometimes less because of a pawn's promotion abilities. Knights are worth more because their check cannot be blocked, and queens are generally worth less.
  • Generally, winning anything for free is a pretty important event in bughouse (but still not as important as in chess). The reason is that if you win a free pawn, then now your partner has an extra pawn over his opponent and should be able to use that for an advantage.