Bughouse in Berlin

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
As mentioned before, I spent a week in Berlin before I went to Dortmund. It was an quite a coincidence that a club member happened to be in Berlin too. During the weekend of 23/24 June he would play, for the 6th time already, in a tournament I had never heard of! It wasn't that surprising after I read further: he was talking about a bughouse tourney. I met my friend at the hotel where the players resided, and suddenly found myself in between the cr?ɬ®me de la cr?ɬ®me of the international bughouse chess scene. Wrong, of the international bughouse scene. Bughouse isn't chess.

Before we continue, a quick explanation for people who have never heard of bughouse. Bughouse is played by four players, forming two teams of two, with two chess sets and two clocks. Your partner always takes the opposite colour to you on his board. The big difference with chess is the following: when you take a piece on your board, you pass it across to your partner. He can then place it on his board, if he wants, which is one move. He can also play a normal move, if he wants to, and wait to use the piece/pawn he just received. Pieces can be put on any empty square, even if this means putting your opponent in check. (This is actually an important way to keep the initiative with bughouse!) Pawns can be placed on the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh row. The team that scores the first victory wins the whole match.

As a preparation for the tournament, but also just for fun, in the hotel a bunch of players (about 30 guys, and one or two girls, no difference with chess) were playing bughbouse blitz: bughouse with three minutes on the clock. Normally no chess trainer would allow his student such preparation, but in this case there was nothing wrong with it because the tournament would consist of many matches with exactly the same rate of play!

That night I had fun watching and talking about bughouse. It soon became clear to me that a seperate bughouse scene exists, with no more than a few hundred fanatic players worldwide, mainly using the free server FICS. (You won't find world's strongest bughouse players on ICC or Playchess!) Every time a player would arrive at the hotel, he would introduce himselve with his "handle". Real life names were usually exchanged only about fifteen minutes later!

I also found a book on bughouse laying on the table, in which some opening theory and strategical knowledge is explained. (Pawns are extremely strong, for example, four of them being enough to trade for a queen - but this is also because a queen is worth just two minor pieces.) In the book I also found an interview with Levon Aronian, one of the world's strongest players and a big bughouse fan. Because he's living in Berlin, people expected him to come by that Friday night. Unfortunately I missed him, but Levon did visit the tournament, on Sunday and Monday.

What struck me in this video was the speed with which they are playing. For a minute I felt like the layman who looks through the window of a chess cafe and for the first time in his life sees people playing blitz.

The video belongs to Andrew Stone's report on the Berlin bughouse tournament, published on the Streatham & Brixton Chess Club's blog. His first report explains bughouse and is about the tournament. In his second report he writes about Aronian. Do check it, it has one more video!
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