Beginning at Bughouse on Chess.com

Beginning at Bughouse on Chess.com

JarlCarlander
JarlCarlander
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9

Every bughouse player has different reasons for being drawn to the game. Some like the collaborative aspects, some like the increased depth, and some like the fancy checkmates. I'm sure if you try bughouse, you will be hooked like I was. This is a quick guide to getting started with some discussion of chess.com's features. Feel free to skip the first section if you already know the rules to bughouse. 

The Rules

Bughouse is two teams of two, and each team has mixed colors; White on one board, and Black on the other. Your partner has the same color as your opponent. When you capture a piece, you give it to your partner, and they can drop the piece as a move. Any piece can be dropped on any vacant square, but pawns cannot be dropped on the first or eight ranks. Pawns which are promoted always revert back to pawns when captured and passed. Checkmate may be dropped. If one King is checkmated, that side loses. 

There are no draws by agreement, but there are draws by repetition. If the same position occurs three times on one board, the game is a draw. 

Time also plays a fundamental role in bughouse. If any player runs out of time, that player's team loses. 

The Implications of The Rules

Bughouse is a team game. A "no player gets left behind" philosophy falls right out of the rules, since no matter how dominant your position is, your partner may be mated first, and you will lose anyway. The other important corollary is time. You do not need to be ahead of your opponent on the clock, but you do need to be ahead of your opponent's partner on the clock. So long as you have more time than your opponent's partner, you don't need to make a single move. Your position may be completely lost, and you can win the game without moving. Conversely, you may have mate as soon as your opponent moves, but they don't, because your team is down time. If your opponent has more time than your partner, your opponent does not need to move.

Time directs the flow of pieces. You can wait or as bughouse players say, "sit" for pieces. Or you may sit to hold pieces from your partner's opponent. In chess, it might be considered unsporting to take advantage of the clock, but in bughouse it is absolutely necessary. You have to use your peripheral vision at all times.

If you are wondering, bughouse is virtually never played with a time increment, so no-one recovers any time on the clock. 

Also note that many checkmates in chess are not checkmates in bughouse. If a piece can possibly be dropped in between the checking piece and the King, it is not checkmate. If you have a piece in your hand, you can drop it, or you can wait for a piece. If you are down on the clock, without a piece to interpose, (a blocker), you can either resign or wait for your time to run out. (These mates are sometimes called chessmates.) 

Getting Games

First, go here. You have to change it from standard chess to bughouse. 


And the bughouse option is below.


Make sure the time setting is 3 minutes, or you will never get a game. If you have recently played any other time option such as 5 minutes, be sure that it's set to 3. 


You can play with a a random partner, or you can choose a partner. Clicking the box where it says random allows you to choose from your friends list. Once you're ready, you can hit the play button. 

If you are rated above 1000, it shouldn't take too long to get games. Sometimes users rated below 1000 have to wait longer. It speeds things up if you are partnered up. 

The Trials and Tribulations of The Random Pool

If you are new to bughouse, it is very likely that you will lose your first game. The situation is roughly the same as the "jump" scene from the Matrix.

"Everyone falls on their first try." 

It will be no different if you are a strong blitz player. Your provisional bughouse rating is taken from your blitz rating, or if you have no blitz games, whatever else you may have played. When I began bughouse on chess.com, I had some limited experience with it, but I nonetheless plummeted from roughly 2200 to 1600 in 5 games. It then took me about six months of playing to get back to 2200, with particular difficulty around the 2000 mark. Even Grandmasters are not automatically good at bughouse--they have to study it. 

Any reasonably perceptive player will know a new bughouse player when they see one. But you will always have people ready to give you a piece of their mind. My advice is to be open to their suggestions, and to laugh at their rage. In general, it is more constructive to be specific. The following are examples of constructive criticism. 

Move your e and d pawns in the opening. 

Develop your pieces, like in chess! 

Don't move your c and f pawns in the opening.

Castling is not necessarily safer. 

Sacrifice your Queen on move 14 to retain the initiative. 

Unhelpful criticism looks like this.

Be FAST and SAFE. 

You're terrible!

You're a noob! 

Telling someone unfamiliar with the game to be fast is unproductive. You can't be fast if you don't know what to play. And you can't be safe if you don't know how. And name-calling is not constructive advice. Someone may play terribly, but telling them that doesn't help them get better. It always helps to have a jocular attitude in bughouse. 

No-one is perfect, and anyone can get frustrated. I myself resolved to be kinder when an 1800 rated player I was chastising told me "Yes, you're right. I played this one badly. I'm still learning." This was not calculated to make me feel stupid, but it did. It gave me a sense of perspective. 

Toxic players who get angry at everyone tend to struggle to get games, because they have huge lists of players they've blocked. And for that reason, they tend to make many accounts, and they have no stable presence. And they are nearly always underrated. Excessive irritability does not pay off. So you don't need to worry about these sorts of players too much. Just avoid becoming one.

Anyone can get frustrated. I can only think of one player who I've never seen get frustrated at a partner even once. You're not a terrible person if you express some annoyance--although you may not have a future as a Zen master, most people don't. But the proper thing to do is to remember that your partner is also a human--which is surprisingly easy to forget when their profile picture is a cartoon dog wearing glasses playing chess, or something. 

Psychology is important here. High morale among the troops is important. You can turn around lost positions with a partner who is determined and ready to fight, even with few resources. You can also lose won positions with a partner who is too busy telling you about a missed mate. Be pragmatic, be encouraging, and focus on what's ahead. 

Sometimes even strong players can have problems. The number of times I haven't taken a pawn that mated in one has been very high. It's all very well and good to try to watch the partner's board, but you also have to watch your own board. You can easily miss the pawn that mates. Either you didn't see it, or your partner didn't tell you, or both. Even communicating with your partner over voice, it is hard to play for your partner and to keep your own King safe. It's important to remember that bughouse makes a lot of demands on your brain. Virtually no-one is very good at multitasking. (I'm sure best scientific theories bear this out). 

Sometimes your opponent can't avoid giving the piece that mates, but they can make a threat of checkmate, which allows you to take the piece. So you take the piece and get instantly mated before your partner can drop it. Being FAST and SAFE is not always straightforward.

A Few Key Tells


Here, Dielie is asking for low trades. Next, p00pfacek1ll3r wants his partner to take a pawn. PatzerSchool is asking for trades. Later PatzerSchool is asking for his partner not to lose a Queen. As you play more, you will realize which requests are reasonable and which are unreasonable. It is never reasonable to expect Queen and Knight out of the opening. But it is reasonable to expect pawns and Bishops, or "diags" 10 or so moves into the game. 

The red hand of course means "sit", and the picture of a clock means "go". Sometimes, a strong player may ask you to sit while they get you a certain piece. Sometimes, they may ask you to sit in order to explain something. Sometimes, your partner may have checkmate on the board, so long as their opponent does not get anything to block with. In that case, your partner will naturally want you to hold everything. It is hard to be reasonably fast and also reasonably well-timed, but you will get the hang of it with practice. 

Sometimes, the partner tells are ambiguous. For instance, if I need any diagonally moving piece to deliver mate, I might press the pawn, Bishop, and Queen partner tells. This doesn't mean I want all of those pieces, it just means I want any of them. Sometimes, Knight or Rook mates. You just have to get used to keeping a third eye on your partner's board in these situations. 


Networking

Bughouse is one of the more social variants. I've made some good friends playing the game. To that end, I recommend joining the bughouse club on chess.com. 

https://www.chess.com/club/bughouse

From here you can find blogs, links to streams, and so on. You can post threads in the forum to ask questions, and so on. 

If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments. 

Getting Strong

Sorsi's bughouse blog is the best one, and it is linked in the bughouse group. I also write blog posts directed at beginners, trying to cover things other players like Sorsi and MiniGreat didn't get to. The pre-eminent bughouse streamer is HelmsKnight, and her twitch channel is also linked in the bughouse group. JannLeeCrazyhouse also has a lot of good bughouse content, although he focuses primarily on crazyhouse. (Playing crazyhouse doesn't hurt your bughouse game either.) 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbo8-5AEH7u3lE-yOGeNW1Q

Between watching these videos and playing, you have everything you need to improve. Happy playing!