Bughouse for tournament chess players

part two

(Chess Life, May 2003)

Between rounds at tournaments, or late at night at chess clubs, bughouse games abound. Bughouse is a chess variant played with two boards and four players. During bug, pieces captured on your partner’s board can be placed on your board. If your partner plays Black, you will play White. As your partner captures White pieces, he hands them to you. On each turn, you may move your pieces already on your board, or place a piece given to you by your partner. You may not place a pawn handed to you by your partner on your first or eighth rank. Because of the symbiotic relationship between bug partners, bughouse is sometimes called Siamese chess.


In the March issue of Chess Life, two tips about bughouse (#1 Pick an awesome partner, and #2 Let one partner lead) were discussed. As in any relationship, though, it’s not just about the partner. Thus this month’s bug tips focus on self-improvement. Not surprisingly, just as with chess, progress requires knowledge and experience.


Bug tip #3: Make great opening moves

In bug, more so than in chess, putting your best foot forward is crucial. With pieces likely to come over to your board at any time, your opening goals should be completed within the first three or four moves. As in chess, the squares f2 and f7 are vulnerable since only a King defends them. The quick mates you learned as a chess player have their parallels in bug.

As White, former Texas State bug champion Jason Doss chooses d4, Nf3, Bf4, Nbd2.

The Dallas Opening

This opening’s goals are to play very quickly and thus gain time on the clock. Furthermore, this move sequence is safe. Jason can use the time advantage he gained with quick opening moves to later moderate the trades. That is, if he wants to attack he can encourage trades by his partner and wait for pieces to be handed to him. On the other hand, if his team is on the defense, he can slow down trades to forestall attacks. An aggressive White opening is Nf3, Ng5, and Nxf7. The early sac of the knight on f7 works best when your partner is going to hand you a N and a P. Then, when Black plays Kxf7, you can drop your N@g5 check and follow up a retreat (Ke8) by P@f7 mate.

Beginner's mate

As Black, various defensive set-ups are possible. FM Igor Shtern told me to try …e6 and …d6. Though cramping, these two moves fend off N placements on g5 and e5 because my queen controls g5 and my P controls e5. My pawn on e6 blunts White bishops placed on the a2-g8 diagonal. Another way to defend f7 is recommended by my co-author Eric Wiggins. He suggests playing …Nf6. If White attacks the N with e4-e5, sacrifice the N. After 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nc6 3. exf6 exf6, Black’s f6 pawn is a bulwark against White N drops at g5 or e5.


Bug tip #4 Practice mating positions.

I thought I knew how to mate, but I don’t. My previous mating experience causes me to make wrong moves. I learn this lesson over and over again, as I keep trying chess mates when bug mates are required. Consider the following position, where I had a R and N in my hand and my Black opponent has two Rs, a N, and a B in hand.

white to move - where is the mate?

As a chess player, my first thought was to sacrifice my B with Bxh7. In chess, such a sacrifice to bring the king forward is a common theme. Especially with a N in hand, I figured mate would follow with Ng5. But in bug, giving the defending K squares to run to is often a mistake. Not only can a defensive king use those squares to escape, but he can drop pieces into open squares to shore up his K.

The correct mate restricts the defending K behind his own pieces. 1.R@h8 Kxh8 2. Ph6xg7 Kg8 3. N@h6 mate.

When I first saw the next position, a flash of recognition went through my mind.

White to move (and mate?)

Surely with a Q on b3 and a N on g5, a smothered mate was in the position. Though I had a N in hand, as a chess player my attention naturally focused on what I had on the board. My first try of Qxf7 fizzled quickly. Black had an armada of pieces in hand, so White had to mate with a series of checks or lose the initiative.

The correct solution is 1. N@h6 gxh6 2.. Qxf7 Kh8 3. Qxh7 mate.

 Bug tip #5 Don't stop!

Like chess, bug is addictive. When bugging, minutes slip easily into hours. Nonetheless, you feel every nuance of each move and moment. Your elevated breathing and heart rate reflects the game’s excitement. To use psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s term, you are experiencing flow, that is, “joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life.” To taste that pleasure is a worthy goal. Enjoying life’s moments to their fullest is happiness. Unlike highs achieved from drugs, which bring physical risks and inevitable lows, bug is a harmless addiction.

Furthermore, bugging may enhance the rest of your life. Csikszentmihalyi theorizes, “A person who becomes familiar with the conventions of poetry, or the rules of calculus, can subsequently grow independent of external stimulation. She can generate ordered trains of thought regardless of what is happening in external reality.” In other words, the more symbolic systems we master, the more we can entertain ourselves. So, don’t stop! Be the last one to close up the chess club on Friday night. And during the week, let pleasant bug thoughts bring harmony to your mind.


About the authors: Alexey Root was the 1989 U.S. Women’s Chess Champion and enjoys playing real-life bug. Eric Wiggins is one of the top ten bug players on the Internet and in real life. Eric plays on FICS and ICC as GhostShell; his handle on USChessLive is sylph.