Bughouse Chess
by Bill Wall

Bughouse chess is the most popular of all chess variants. It has been around since the early 1960s (I was playing giveaway chess during that time instead). It is the perfect game that combines teamwork, tactics, speed, and initiative. And it is a lot more fun than regular chess!

In Australia, bughouse is called "transfer chess." In other parts of the world, it is called Siamese Chess, DoubleBlitz, Parachute, Doublespeed, Chok, Tjak, Tandem chess, Exchange chess, Cross chess, Swap chess, Bunkhouse, and Choke chess.

Bughouse chess has no random factor and there is no color advantage, as one player on each team has White, while the other team member has Black. Bughouse is fast-paced and multi-dimensional and relies on team effort and a good partner who can communicate.

Bughouse is played on two chessboards by four players in teams of two. Each team member faces one opponent of the other team. Partners sit next to each other. One partner plays with the white pieces and the other partner plays with the black pieces.

If you know how to play chess, you can play bughouse. It's chess with a twist. All the rule differences can be understood n a few minutes. Just observe a couple of bughouse games at a chess tournament or online with YouTube and you should pick up on how the game is played.

Normal chess rules apply, except that captured pieces on one board are passed on to his partner on the other board. That partner has the option of putting these pieces on their board. For example, if a team's white player captures his opponent's rook (a black piece), he/she must pass it to his/her partner, who is playing black.

The game is usually played with a 5-minute or less time control (3 minutes is very popular on line and OTB). Bughouse chess is usually played with chess clocks to prevent players from waiting indefinitely for a piece. Clocks are place on the outside so that each player can see both clocks. You have to press the chess clock with the same hand that you move a piece.

Each team sits across the table from each other. The stronger players on each team should sit across from each other, and the weaker players face each other as well.

It is preferable to use digital clocks. If possible, the same model of chess clock should be used.

In a bughouse game with no clocks, a player may not delay his move beyond the time that it takes for his partner to make three moves.

Each move must be made with one hand only.

To capture a piece, you can use your left hand to remove the pieces from the board, as an example, and then with the right hand, move your piece to that square. The right hand then is use to start the opponent's clock.

A player may use both hands to castle.

At the start of the game, the players with the black pieces start the clocks simultaneously.

Provided that you express your intention before you touch a piece (by saying "j'adoube" or "I adjust"), you may adjust one or more pieces on the squares. However, it is not touch move in most bughouse games, rather, it is clock move.

Bughouse is usually played using clock move, not touch move. The move is completed only when the clock is pressed.

If you knock over pieces, you must re-establish the correct position on your own time.

A player capturing a piece or pawn immediately passes that piece to the capturing player's partner. The partner may keep these pieces in reserve or play the piece instead of playing a regular move.

The played pieces on the board is called dropping the piece.

Pieces may be dropped on any vacant square. There are no restrictions on where pieces may be placed. However, pawns may not be dropped on the first or last (eighth) ranks. A piece may not be captured by a drop move.

Dropped pawns may promote, but all promoted pawns convert back to pawns when captured. When captured, it reverts back to being a pawn when it is passed to the other teammate.

It is a good idea to drop pawns near the last rank where it can be promoted quickly. Pawns are always good for dropping in, to attack or defend. Pawn chains are strong.

In play over the board, a promoted pawn can be put on its side on the chessboard square to indicate promotion (usually a queen, but can be a knight or other piece except another pawn).

A pawn placed in the second rank may move one or two squares on its first move. Thus, a pawn dropped in the second rank can move two squares up on its initial move. Once this piece is captured, it reverts back to a pawn, not the promoted piece.

En passant is allowed in bughouse chess.

Stalemate is almost impossible since it is possible to get a piece to drop.

Castling is allowed in bughouse chess if it is a legal move. Castling is illegal if the king has already moved, the rook has already moved, or moving into check. A rook dropped onto either rook home square is considered not to have move, so castling is allowed if legal on the next or later moves.

Declaring or saying chess is not obligatory.

When a pawn reached the 8th rank, it can be promoted to any piece (except another pawn), usually a queen, and sometimes a knight.

In regular chess, the value of the pieces is usually Q=9, R=5. B=3.5, N=3, and P=1. In bughouse chess, the value of the pieces is usually Q=10, N-7, R=4, B=2, P=1. Other sources have the values at: Q=6, R=3, N=2.5, B=2, P=1.

The queen is slightly more powerful in bughouse chess because it can often be placed into a position with mate. The knight can check from a small distance and can't be blocked. It can lead to a direct checkmate. The bishop usually performs no better than a pawn and cannot even get promoted. A pawn's promotion abilities may, in some positions, be worth significantly more than a bishop.

The queen is powerful, but she can be vulnerable to pursuit by the opponent's pawns and pieces. However, don't drop a reserve queen on the board immediately if it doesn't have a purpose or attack since it would expose her to attack and lose the pressure she exerts as a reserve piece. Be aware that the exchange of queens on one board may lead to mate on the other board. If you are being threatened with a mate if an enemy queen is dropped into play, tell your partner not to trade queens at all costs. It is a good idea to clear it first with your partner on trades, especially the queen or knight.

Each player must keep the reserve of chess pieces on the table in front of the board, always visible to all players of the game. A player may not hide captured pieces from your opponent. When a piece is captured, the captured piece is passed to the partner in the "stuff-place." This is the are reserved for pieces that the player can drop on the board. The stuff-place must be between his opponent's eyes and the player's hands. So, the stuff-place is usually between board and player's hands.

A player cannot attempt to hide pieces from the opponent. During the game, the players need to keep the pieces in such a way that everyone is able to see all the pieces. Only when captured pieces are transferred to the partner's stuff-place, or in the moment when a player is moving or dropping a piece on the chessboard, a piece may be partially hidden in a player's hand.

On each player's turn, they may choose to either make a regular chess move on the board or place one of the pieces their partner has passed on the board.

A game is won when one player gets checkmated, resigns, forfeits on time or when an illegal move is made in which the offending side is caught, provided an opponent claims the win. Capturing the king is equivalent to claiming a win. An illegal move ends the game immediately. However, a player may only claim an illegal move before completing his own move. The match is finished when one player is checkmated, resigns, or flagged (time runs out). His team loses and both games end.

If neither team member realizes he has won, the game continues until a correct claim of a win is made. The first correct claim of a win decides the issue. There should be no draws or stalemates.

Keep in mind that a player is not checkmated if they have the potential to block a check by placing a piece there, even if they don't have a piece "in hand" yet. There is always the possibility of their partner passing something to them to block the checkmate. Thus, a decisive checkmate must always be given either with a "contact check" (placing a piece next to the king), a knight check, or a multiple or double check. It is not checkmate if there is a possibility of interposition.

A player must claim checkmate before completing his own next move, which will cancel the checkmate position. After this, the checkmate cannot be claimed. If his opponent tries to escape from checkmate by making an illegal move and the player then completes another move, he loses the right to claim a checkmate.

A match can be drawn (very rare) by agreement or when two players run out of time or are checkmated simultaneously. A draw request should be made and accepted at both boards before the match is ended as a draw (almost impossible).

Threefold repletion is also a draw. To claim a three-time repetition draw, a player should count 1,2,3 out loudly so as to make it quite clear and easier for an arbiter to assist in showing the threefold repetition.

If a player claims a draw, he shall immediately stop the chess clock. He is not allowed to withdraw his claim. If the claim is found to be incorrect, the stopping of the clocks is considered as an illegal move and loss of game if claimed.

Partners are normally allowed to talk to each other during the game. They can ask for a specific piece, ask for more piece trades, ask to hold a piece, suggest moves, or ask the partner to stall. A common request would be "trades are good." If the other player is in trouble, he/she would say "trades are bad." Other popular requests are "knight wins a queen" or "rook mate me" if the player is in trouble.

It is illegal for a player to move one of his partner's pieces or in any way physically intervene on his partner's board. You cannot advise your partner by moving your finger over your partner's board.

Full communication between partners is allowed, so the player can advise his partner about concrete moves.

Because new pieces come in the game, there are no endgame play in bughouse. The position never simplifies since captured pieces are constantly dropped and recycled.

One strategy is not to move, also called sitting or stalling. This can happen in anticipation of a certain piece or at the request of the partner. Stall if you need a certain piece to mate with. It is perfectly acceptable to wait and hope your partner get it to you, as long as you don't run out of time. However, stalling occurs more commonly when you are being mated by force. You realize that if you move, you may be mated. Therefore, you decide not to move and let your partner try to win the game. However, for this to work, you need to have more time on your clock than your partner's opponent, or he will also refuse to move and you will lose on time first.

Another good time for stalling is if you know your opponent needs a certain piece to mate you (such as a knight), and your partner tells you that that piece (the knight) will come to your opponent on the next move, then tell your partner to stall until your opponent moves. This forces your opponent to move without that piece. This works only if your partner has more time than your opponent on the clocks, otherwise, your partner will lose on time.

Stalling can happen on both boards. For example, you are one move away from checkmating your opponent, so he is not moving. However, your partner is also not moving because any move that he makes, he gets checkmated the next move. The game is now decided by whether your partner or your opponent has the most time left on the clock.

Attacking the king is usually more important than defending or attempting to win material. Because of the possibility of dropping pieces, attacks in bughouse can quickly lead to checkmate.

King safety is paramount, so do not leave weak squares next to your king. This applies especially to the f2 and f7 squares. Diagonal weaknesses are prey to dropped chess pieces on that diagonal.

Keeping a secure king is critical, as holes and unprotected squares around the king can quickly become occupied by enemy pieces. Once an opponent is placing pieces with check (especially knights), it can become impossible to use you own pieces in hand.

Knight checks are best since your opponent cannot drop a piece to interpose. This makes the knight a very powerful piece, often worth more than a rook, but slightly less than a queen (unless a knight check leads to mate).

Rooks are the most difficult pieces to use in the game. Rooks are hindered more than any other pieces by the constantly changing pawn structure that opens and closes vertical and horizontal lines. However, rooks are good for mating threats and other tactical operations, such as pinning queen and king on a vertical or horizontal row. Rooks are good for occupying the 8th rank and trapping a cornered king.

Be on the lookout for sacrifices to create weaknesses. The ending combination usually starts out with lots of sacrifice drops to lure the king out and into a mating net.

In bughouse, it is easier to attack than to defend.

Bughouse openings are generally geared towards dominating vital squares and fast development.

In general, one of the players in the team attacks while the other team member defends. Usually, White attacks and goes for mate, while Black tries to defend everything. Black should try to exchange pieces to reduce his opponent's attack, while strengthening his partner's position with more pieces to drop. White, therefore, attempts to keep his pieces on the board to ensure attacking chances. White usually gains a large space advantage built on pawn chains.

Castling may not be best, but if you have to castle, then usually the kingside (O-O) is preferred, since the queenside is vulnerable to a heavy piece drop on a8, then a knight getting to a7. Also, a White pawn getting to a7 with a Black king on c8 is very strong.

Avoid leaving any holes in your position. Remember that any hole can be occupied immediately by a dropped piece. It is usually a good idea to avoid fianchettoing, as fianchettoes can be easily occupied by pawns. An opening move like 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Nf6 is bad for Black as White can drop a pawn on h6, followed by another pawn on g7. So, avoid holes on your second rank. Another bad opening for Black with a hole is the Sicilian Defense after 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nb5 a6. Now White waits for a pawn from his partner and drops the pawn on c7, winning Black's queen.

A key square is usually the f7 square for Black and the f2 square for White. Black usually wants to defend the f7 square. White it trying to sac a bishop on f7, drop a knight on g5, and something diagonal on f7, leading to a quick win. Black should defend by playing the pawn to e6, blocking the a2-g8 diagonal. Yet White will try to drop a pawn on f5 or sac a knight on f7, then drop a second knight on g5.

White will try to drop a pawn on h6 to open up the f7 and f6 squares for attack. If Black plays is pawn from h7 to h6, then White drops a pawn on g6, attacking f7.

For Black to survive a White attack, here are some tips. Drop an extra pawn when you get one on h6. Play e6 early. Drop a bishop on g8 to support f7. Avoid putting a king on f7. Reserve f7 for a pawn, bishop, or knight. After dropping a pawn on h6, drop another pawn on f6 to control g5 and e5. Avoid moving the c-pawn or the f-pawn. Avoid pawn moves if possible. Exchange your bishops for the opponent's knights by pinning them to the queen or king. It is a good idea to drop a bishop on bishop on h5 to protect f7 and pin the Nf3 to Qd1.

It is usually better to continue an attack on the king than trying to win material. The best way to attack is through checks that have to be met with a king move. This can be done with knights (which cannot be blocked), or with "contact" checks. Once attacking, talk to your partner on what piece you need. Also, let your partner know that you are about to begin sacrificing pieces to ensure that he/she is not under attack first. Your attack may lead to your partner getting mated as his opponent will be gaining more pieces to drop.

Make good opening moves. One good idea for White is to play 1.d4, 2.Nf3, 3.Bf4, and 4.Nbd2 if possible. You can play these safe moves very quickly to gain time on the clock. For Black, try ...e6-Nc6-Nf6-d5 as your first moves.

A notation to denote a dropped piece uses the @ sign. So, N@f1 means knight drop at f1. Q@e6+ is queen drop with check at e6. This format is known as BPGN - bughouse portable game notation. A dropped piece can also be noted with the standard algebraic notation preceded by an "x" letter. If White drops a queen to e5, the move can be written as xQe5 ("Extra queen on e5") or Q@e5.

Grandmasters that have played bughouse include: Michael Adams, Levon Aronian, Joel Benjamin, Magnus Carlsen, Fabioano Caruana, Sergey Karjakin, Garry Kasparov, John Nunn, Michael Rohde, Yasser Seirawan, Andy Soltis, Jon Speelman, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

In 1992, John Manson and Stephen Hoover wrote a book on bughouse chess. It was advertised in Chess Life and an article on Siamese chess appeared in one of its issues. At the time, it was called Siamese chess. The Kindle Edition in now called Bughouse Chess.

The chess engine Sjeng is able to play bughouse chess.

Sample games:

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 (your partner gives you a pawn to drop) 3.p@c4 dxe4 4.d5 Nf6 5.Bc4 Bg4 (you have another pawn to drop) 6.P@e6 Bxd1 7.exf7+ Kxf7 (you have a knight to drop) 8.N@e5+ Ke8 (you have a bishop to drop) 9.B@f7+ Ke7 (you have a knight to drop) 10.N@f5#

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 Ne4 3.h4 d5 4.f3?? and Black waits for a pawn and plays P@f2 mate.

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