5 Tips to Becoming a Bullet Expert
Since I’ve never written a post before, I think it’s high time that I give some commentary on the most exciting chess time control there is: BULLET! Like many other chess players, I’ve been captivated by the simplicity and elegance of 1-minute chess. Since setting up accounts on chess.com, ICC, FICS, playchess.com when I was about 11 and just about any other popular online chess sites that have cropped up being then and now, it has been clear that bullet chess is wildly popular.
I believe bullet is popular for two reasons:
1) The Internet.
I mean, who actually plays bullet over the board? Aside from the very real danger of flying pieces, it really isn’t practical. Were it to be an actual rated function of the USCF or any organization, it would have to be heavily enforced, as players would invariably move before their opponent hit the clock or hit the clock without setting up pieces that they knocked over, etc. Thanks to software that inherently controls for all of these factors, internet bullet is essentially seamless. Of course, the argument could be made that this drains a bit of fun and excitement from the game, replacing it with cold pre-moves and annoying lag. But ultimately, I think the development of online chess interfaces has been paramount for the growth of bullet as a chess form.
Alright, this is pretty obvious. But not only does the sheer quickness of the game make it fun, it also allows to pack more chess into a smaller amount of time. Of course, I’ve often made the mistake of thinking along the lines of “Well, I really don’t have time for a long game, so I’ll just play a couple bullet games instead.” *Facepalm.* This never works out. Ever. I’ll end up playing about 20 games of 1-minute chess and get mad. But there’s always time for one more. And then maybe another. Okay, last one. Shoot.
Anyway, I wanted to give a few tips for anyone that just wants to understand what makes a good bullet player. Please don’t think that I’m an excellent bullet player, because I’m not. But I have quite a bit of experience playing and watching top players, so I feel like passing on some things. Sit back and enjoy some chess advice. Or don’t, and go play bullet.
TIP #1: TAKE YOUR TIME. This seems like a counterintuitive thing to say. So read on and don’t take it at face value. There is a common misconception that bullet chess is simply won by moving quickly. This is absolutely false and a harmful generalization. Good chess is always important. So when I say take your time, I mean that you should not be afraid to think for a few seconds on critical moves. Of course, recognizing critical situations is a completely different story. But don’t pre-move through the middlegame (unless you’re in a completely closed position and neither player can make progress, then by all means). Also, try to avoid pre-moves in general unless you’re in an opening where the moves you’re making are safe and good no matter what your opponent plays (or in the case of a recapture or time scramble). For instance, do not play 1.g3 d5 2.Bg2 e5 and then pre-move on your third turn because people will play 3… Bh3 if they recognize that you pre-move a lot during the opening. Trust me, it happens. And it sucks. You will scream in agony if you do not follow this rule. Finally, the average chess game lasts about 40 moves. So you (generally) can use 1 or 2 seconds on average throughout the game. Just keep this in mind. Sometimes all it takes is 2 more seconds of thought to see a winning tactic, which is far more valuable than any time you could have saved. It’s also much easier to move faster when you’re up material.
TIP #2: ALWAYS CHECK, IT MIGHT BE MATE. Yeah I know... another dumb cliché that doesn’t really provide any actual insight. But the big idea here is that bullet chess is all about the initiative. People play wild lines and unsound attacks that they would never play in a long time control. This is because it’s hard to punish in bullet, because there just isn’t much time to use. Defending accurately is usually much more time consuming than attacking on a whim is. Even if an attack is refuted, chances are it will be at the cost of time. So as long as you’re playing forcing moves like checks, your opponent is forced to be in a reactionary manner which just tends to take longer than doing whatever they want. Checks are also an excellent tool in flagging an opponent during a time scramble, as checks make them react instead of pre-moving any piece they can reach.
Tip #3: AVOID THEORETICAL OR SHARP LINES AGAINST TITLED PLAYERS. This is something I have found is true time and time again. Unless you’re a master yourself, or just booked up like a Taylor Swift concert, I suggest you follow this guideline. Beating titled players is difficult unless time is a factor. Obviously this has to be true, given that I have probably beaten over 100 different titled players in bullet, and exactly 0 in standard time controls. So make sure you try to make them think, whether this is accomplished by playing an uncommon move or, better yet, playing good chess. Titled players generally like to be in control, not wanting to blunder or be in an uncomfortable position. So it is important that you avoid sharp, well-known openings because they will probably know it better than you do and have an easier time coming up with quick moves to improve their position.
Tip #4: ENABLE PRE-MOVE AND AUTO-PROMOTE. These are a must for any serious bullet player. There are fewer things more agonizing than having a checkmate in one with a pawn promotion to a queen but watching your clock move to 0:00 as you’re scrambling to slam that queen home. Don’t be that guy, turn on auto-promote to queen under Settings. Trust me; those puzzles in books when only promoting to a knight works are full of it. Those never happen. And if you’re afraid of stalemates, just ensure that you plan ahead so that on the move you promote the pawn, the opponent’s king has another spot. And of course, enable pre-move under Settings as well. But like I said before, only use it for recaptures, time scrambles, and openings without any pitfalls like 1.d4 g6 2. Bh6. It’ll add years to your life.
Tip #5: KNOW WHEN TO STOP. This is also a life tip of sorts. It will help you have more fun and play better. Don’t play on tilt. Bullet can be very frustrating. It can also be addicting, sometimes even drawing comparisons to gambling. The worst thing to do is base your happiness or even worth around your ability or rating in bullet chess. This is true for any activity, but doing this is dangerous. Yes, it makes winning more fun, but when you lose it can be hell. It also just hurts your rating when you play angry. Don’t enter a vicious cycle. Bullet chess should always be fun. If it starts to be anything else, step away for a few minutes and think about how privileged you are to be able to sit and use an amazing piece of technology that not everyone has access to in order to play a game that not everyone knows simply for your own enjoyment. Perspective is important.
Please comment any feedback or questions you have! I’d love to write more about chess but I need to know if there would actually be an audience.