How To Improve In Bullet Chess

Jan 12, 2011, 1:39 PM |

They say chess is war between two human minds, clashing enormous amounts of mental energy with every single move on an epic scale of proportions. 

Now, step it up to bullet chess.

Bullet chess is, by definition, chess played within very strict short time controls. The most common time controls for bullet chess are:

  • Both players have exactly 1 minute on the clock, no time increments
  • Both players have exactly 1 minute on the clock, 5 second increments
  • Both players have exactly 2 minutes on the clock, no increments
  • Both players have exactly 2 minutes on the clock, 5-15 second increments

With chess, comes different variations. Blitz is the most popular form of chess on the internet. Bullet is also popular, but because of the immense amount of mental power needed, many people prefer softer, longer games.

However, if you are one of the players that do not cower at the sight of a challenge, than bullet chess is your kind of game. There are many tips and tricks to improve your bullet dramatically, and being a 1750+ bullet player myself (beating a Candidate Master (CM) twice in one day), I will show you the key strategies and tactics to winning over 50% of the time to players stronger then yourself. 

I will post a top 5 list of ways to improve your bullet chess, and if you follow all these specific instructions, I guarantee your bullet chess will become much more phenomenal.


1). Enable "pre-moves" & enable "auto queen promotion"

This tip might seem obvious, but it is the most important factor to bullet chess, hands down. For those of you that have no idea, yes, there is the option to play a chess move in advance, as long as it is legal and within boundaries. Having the option to pre-move makes all the difference. If you make a premove before your opponent makes a move, then you do not lose ANY time when you play the premove. This is how players gain enormous space and grounds in the opening, moving pieces left and right, only setting up but never attacking until ready. It takes a while to get used to, but I use premoves even in my longer games, because not only does it save me time, it's a psychological attack on my opponent. Even in bullet chess, I can recall many games when a single blunder by my opponent was enough for me to premove the rest of the game. The opponent quickly loses composure and starts moving slower, taking time to think and gain back his/her lost ground. But keeping the crushing premoves coming ensures a dominant victory, either on time or by checkmate. 

The auto-queen promotion is also a useful way of shaving off those precious seconds wasted while quickly and carefully choosing the queen as my pawn promotion option. I have never had a game when I did not want a queen as my pawn promotion. And seeing how I have played nearly a 1000 bullet games, I doubt anyone else would object to the logic of allowing this setting. With it, the pawn immediately becomes a queen when you promote it on the final rank, allowing for lightning fast counter-play. I can't tell you the number of times someone lost a game because they took too long promoting a pawn. Just enable the settings and you'll be much quicker, saving about 14+ seconds on average per game.

2). Play the opening like a book, the middle game like a magician, and the endgame like a machine.

Quoted by Spielmann, but still rings true. In order to establish a stronger bullet chess rating, you MUST open very quickly, and close even quicker. In most of my bullet games, I premove at least the first 3 moves, just because I know it will save me time, and because I know my opponent hates when I do it.

Think about it! If you play white, and you play e4, premoving the next 3 moves ahead, whether they be an aggressive fianchetto or a defensive prophylactic minor piece development, your opponent will not expect having to move without hesitation for the next 3 moves, therefore allowing for a messy opening by your opponent. Same as black, EVEN BEFORE white moves, premove a piece just to surprise white and allow for better time control for yourself. 

The opening has to be played furiously. I have played many games that demanded faster paced openings. Nowadays, most of my games are already in the endgame while me and my opponent still have 40+ seconds left on the clock. We premoved like crazy, but still holding equal ground. It's a matter of premoving enough to be comfortable with, but not so much that a premove costs you a game when you accidently premove your queen to a spot you did not think your opponent would have the chance to take it. In addition to all this premove strategy, I highly recommend NOT premoving at all during the middle game. Middle games are highly deceptive and your opponent might not see what you see, and therfore move pieces around without care. As for the endgame, I have seen even myself win a game while my opponent had 20+ seconds on the clock while I only had 5 seconds left. Premoves saved my so many times, and even in a losing position, if you can defend the king effectively, you might be able to pull off a win (on time of course).

3). Open up your game defensively with passive play

If you premove your first 4 moves to be pawn moves only advancing one square at a time, then you are pretty much going to see a closed variation of your game, thus allowing your opponent to waste time by opening up and allowing a "central control" theme. But the truth is, center control is useless in bullet chess. No one has enough time to think effectively enough on how to use the center to their advantage, and usually your opponent will over extend themselves by doing so. If played defensively enough, you and your opponent will commence self-defeating moves, like moving minor pieces back and forth to pass time. It is during this time that you might want to consider doubling up your rooks and slowly building up a massive attack to break the ice. If you ever find yourself in such a position (about 10% of my bullet games end in gridlocked pawns), then you must be the first to commence the attack. Being first will allow for better leverage against the opponent, and ultimately, his/her king.

Opening up your games defensively is also an excellent way to premove perhaps 10 moves ahead, shaving off precious time you will need later in the middle game. And having more time then your opponent is always a good thing, even as a small psychological weapon against them that keeps reminding them "you have less time then your opponent, your opponent has more time then you". It's all the more effective if you happen to be up in material.

4). Check, Check, Check, Check, Check, Check

Bullet chess is always full of surprises, but if there is one thing I have seen in observing hundreds of bullet games throughout the year, is this: check the opponent's king as often as possible.

This might seem like a waste of a tip, but in reality, it's perhaps the deadliest tool that can be used against the opponent. I have seen that there is always a certain hesitation (even with myself) when the opponent has to move the king. It's a type of psychological attack that stems from aggressive play. It might not seem like much to check the king with a bishop only to be easily blocked by a pawn, but it makes sense to do so. As easily as you pull out a surprise check on the king, you can easily maneuverer the piece that created the check into another spot that will serve a better purpose, all before your opponent has time to react!

In real life games, people play like this all the time, and for good measure. If an opponent makes an illegal move 3 times during a game, they automatically lose. In the online world, however, we are very lucky to have the websites automatically decline an illegal move, thus allowing for perfect games that never miss a single check. Even if the check is just a quick jab at the opponent, it's enough to cause a breakdown in the tactics of the opponent. Human players are always concentrated on the game, never giving thought to being checked by a minor piece because they can easily block it off. But this is bullet chess, and anything to shatter your opponent's concentration is key to winning a game. Checks are usually countered fairly quickly, but having premoved enough, you can easily release yourself from counterplay by the opponent, thus allowing even more time for you to use for the middle game.

Bullet chess almost never ends in a draw because of the time controls, but if you do find yourself in a drawing position with little counterplay from either side, it is essential to check the opponent's king as often as possible. Surprise checks are also neat tricks to use against the opponent, but are much harder to find because of time pressure. Always be aware of your kings position, because chances are, your opponent will use this fatal "checking" tactic in their favor. Don't allow your king to be exposed, and keep it extra protected at all costs. Even I will serve my opponent a string of checks that ultimately slow down his game play, therefore giving me the time advantage. I rarely fall prey to this tactic, but I have seen many whom have, so stay on your toes when it comes to checks. Even if they are harmless checks that can easily be blocked, you will still have to take the time out of your concentration to protect the king, and thats exactly what your opponent wants you to do: hesitate on a harmless move.

Check hard, check fast, check often.

5). If you are low on time, run as fast as you can for a tie, then go for the win

Many times, I have very little times left on the clock, even though I am clearly in the winning position. I forget that even though was way up in material, my opponent had 20+ more seconds on the clock then I do. And usually I do not have enough material to checkmate my opponent. So a few pointers to all who have the trouble of low time in the endgame.

  • If you have a passed pawn with no immediate threat, push it! Pawns are meant to be pushed, and if the board is full of pawns (like many of my end games) you can use a rook to block off the king from passing a file, thus allowing an easy promotion. But be careful, don't premove the entire way, your opponent might attack a bunch of your pawns with a single pawn, munching them away if you premoved too much. Just eliminate the threat first, the march to victory
  • If your opponent is about to obtain a promotion from a pawn, block it at all costs! Nothing serves the opponent better then having the mighty power of a queen in the endgame. 
  • If you have literally less then second on the clock, and your down to either a minor piece or a queen, while the opponent has just a single pawn desperately making its way down to promotion, you might want to consider a trade off. It ensures a tie in the losing position of time pressure. Use this only as a last resort when you know your opponent has more time then you and will attempt to make you lose on time.
  • If you are down to basically pawns while your opponent has much more material attacking your king, protect it! Nothing frustrates the opponent more then a fight for survival in the endgame. Especially in bullet games, even though you have a few pawns for survival, you can outlast the opponent, even force them to trade off a minor piece just to open up your king a bit. Never give up! Never surrender!

These are my personal tips and tricks for bullet players that want to obtain a stronger rating. I hope you enjoyed reading this article, please message me if you have any questions about my "bullet survival guide" and I hope to write more articles on helping others achieve higher chess ratings.