Bullet Chess - A silly game?

Posted on Mo 05 November 2012 in Chess

I define bullet chess as games with one minute time for each player. There are plenty of other definitions, but I think my definition refers to the most common one. This article is definitely worth a read and helps to understand my further deliberations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_chess

Well, besides my enthusiasm for IT security, I have always been a bullet chess player with myself worrying adictive feautures. It all began around three or four years ago, when I realised that simply too much people tend to use chess engines on online platform and in addition, I was just to nervous and unwilled to calculate and think the average (somehow boring long) length of a entire chess game. Bullet games came perfect in this manner: It is almost impossible to cheat manually in bullet games (of course you could write bots which directly interact with the server through the underlining protocol - HTTP when you're lucky, or some really badass proprietary one, when you have misfortune, but I assume that's a rather low percentage). It turns out, that my renunciation of the original purpose of chess; thinking deep and beeing patient, turned my in a slightly better long time chess player, but what is more important: It let me keep my fascination for this highly complex and interesting game. Nevertheless, the increase of tension and fun comes also to a high price, I mentioned before: Addictve elements ;)

I played more than once a whole night and I guess that I played more than 10 000 games over the last years. I saw people online with astonishing 200 000 bullet games. Assuming this person was 10 years on this platform (which indeed is a very long time) this would be 55 bullet chess games per day! This adds to (just a rough guess - supposing a game is last a average 90 seconds) 1 hour and 20 minutes spend on chess for every day for freakin 10 years! This sounds crazy but may not be unrealistic. I played many times just against one player 80 games without interruption. Just think about it: 80 * 90 seconds = 7200/3600 = 2 hours of chess without any pause!

Although this might not be very healthy, there are lots of voices out there which critize the nature and even raison être of bullet chess. I'll list and argue against them, which finally, brings os to the initial purpose of this blog post: Is bullet chess just a random, silly game for players who suck at real chess?

Prejudice 1. Bullet Chess is all about luck and moving figures


No, definitely not. While novice bullet chess players might judge it this way, it changes rapidly if you improve. With 60 seconds on your clock, there is plenty of time to mate your opponent. Of course the general approach to attack and defense is modified. Bringing your king into a safe position is essential; you just don't have the time to figure out, if you might be able to defend him. This reveals a very important property of being successful (at least up to a specific degree) in this kind of chess:
Intuition and strategy over knowing and thinking! It is for example ways easier to play in a situition in which you don't have to care for
potential mate threats, but otherwise would be lost in a longer game, due to some disadvantes in figure constellation or positioning. This works as long as you have enough power to generate new mate threats, but as soon as your opponent can stop your attack he can just play very fast towards figure exchange and run a peasant into a queen. If you run out of threats and your opponent has three or 4 seconds left, this is usually considered enough time to mate you.

And this brings us to the second fact: Better bullet chess players tend to play stronger. This sounds stupid, but it isn't. Stronger isn't equal to 'better' in bullet chess. Till a specific rating (I'd say as far as ELO 1650), playing faster means playing better in bullet chess terms. But if you cross this border, while your improvement process, the trade-off of playing
strong and fast switches to playing strong. You might have 40 seconds left after 30 moves, but your ELO 2100 opponent has a indefendable mate threat while 5 seconds remaining. Still owned...

Last but not least, you can disprove the above prejudice just like this: On big online chess platforms, like chessbase, there are a wide range of various strength classes of bullet players. Bullet players ELO rating, who play often and are well trained, disperse around 1500-3000 ELO (at least on chessbase), just like the equivalent players who just play 'real chess games'. If bullet was all about luck, why is the range so big and diversified? Just because they move in differeing velocity? (yeah, it's a rethorical question).

Prejudice 2. Real chess players don't play bullet games

There are even big official blitz campionships and a lot of grandmasters play for fun and part time seriously blitz and bullet games. It will never replace the original chess, but it has it's own valid place.

Prejudice 3. Mouse and high latency times make 'fair' games


That's just nonsense. While the critisms are partially true for some poorly programmed web platforms, these arguments aren't valid for the more sophisticated, non browser based chess platforms like chessbase, where you're able to make premoves, have super low latency times and much benefits. A normal mouse is perfectly fine and you don't need to invest money in special ones. I never understood the guys claiming that I won because I possibly have the better mouse.

Despite everything said, I still have to admit that there is some kind of hardware/configuration hurdle between novice or even average bullet players and the advanced onces: You have to figure out some tricks and shenanigans which give you advantages:

  • Use premoves
  • When you're both really short on time (1 or 2 second before timeout) and you still have a figure to sacrifce, do it while checking! Just make the most spatial imparing check possible, so that the opponent is forced to move and 'think'. Usually he's moving really fast some random peasants and then he is forced to move his mouse the whole way to the king, and, tadaaaa, you won on time!
  • Hands down: Bullet chess players are rude and emotional people, mainly because it's such a enormous mental stressing game. So, if you win on time, don't feel sorry about it! It's part of the game configuration, and winning on time is like winning on check mate. You were just better.
  • Check as often as you can. It steals time from your opponent.
  • Internalize openings.

Prejudice 4. Bullet chess is a silly game ;)

I guess after you played it the first time, you very mentally so broken that you became angry and blamed the game instead of yourself. It's a hell of a thrilling, stressing and somehow insane game. It need sheer unimaginable mental ressources, and not everyone can handel that! It's a dead tough game, not a silly one, not ment for ramblers :D

Prejudice 5. Bullet chess is bad, because it makes you a worse chess


Often bullet chess is considered as a game which ruins your normal chess skills (as you can see on the wikipedia article above, even by world famous chess players support this opinion), because it animates you to move quickly and don't spend (too much) time on positional and general thinking. Chess is by all means not a game designed to play in a minute. I would never say that. What I want to say instead is, that we have to carefully distinguish between the 2 games. They aren't the same. You also don't say that hall football is stupid and silly because it misinterprets the rules of the well known football. They are two similar games (both played with balls, several players and on grass), but have different approaches on tactics and strategy. And if you want to become successful in bullet chess, you need to be deadly concentrated, very fast, and in my opintion the most important, you constantly need to have a inner overview over the time!

Write me and I would love to play some games with you, recently, I prefer chess.com, and if you dare to challange a 1930 ELO player (of course just on bullet ;) ), I'll wait for you :)