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How do you take breaks? Try singles Bughouse (42floors.com)
90 points by waratuman on Apr 5, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments

This is a bad game unless you are EXTREMELY good at bughouse.

The people in the article are not good. They are newbies. (You can tell because they play 5 minute bughouse and they play slowly. No good players play 5 minute bughouse because it's a waste of time. 2 minute is standard. If you play with more, you literally end up sitting around waiting for time to get low, for minutes, because that is often to the advantage of the team that is losing and is easy to force by either team most of the time.) Also based on their openings, which are utter crap in both bughouse and chess, they don't even know how to play basic chess either.

The reason it's a terrible game is that bughouse is all about SPEED. You must move AS FAST AS POSSIBLE AT ALMOST ALL TIMES or you just plain lose because time leads allow controlling when pieces come to the other board which is extremely powerful.

It's hard enough to make all your moves in .5 seconds on one board. If you're going back and forth between two boards, you have to literally be one of the best few bughouse players in the world -- with over 10,000 games of experience online -- or the quality of play is going to be terrible.

I'm a strong chess player, a strong bughouse player, and have a great deal of experience, but I'm still not very good at playing two bughouse boards at once. It's very very very very hard.

Doing one of the hardest things around -- trying to play lightning fast on two boards at once -- is not a very good idea for a break. To play halfway decent bughouse on just one board, you need an extremely large amount of practice so that you can defend all types of attacks by habit and intuition, because you need to stay safe in under .5 seconds a move at all times.

Bughouse is all about pattern recognition as fast as possible. Chess skill and other stuff is important but secondary. Honestly, newer players can't even move fast enough in person without knocking over pieces.

If you watch the game you'll see them sitting there thinking for several seconds about moves. If you try that against anyone competent, you simply automatically lose. That's how bughouse works.

The solution for them, btw, may be bughouse without clocks: white moves on both boards simultaneously, then black moves on both boards simultaneously, and so on. I think that would be a good game, though a very different one than regular bughouse.

This is not about being super-competitive at bughouse, it's about getting the mind in a working state to quickly go into the zone. Bughouse to the non-serious chess player is random enough to be zany and enjoyable whether you win or lose. It doesn't need to have a super-competitive streak to be useful as a tool for getting the mind up to speed. Spending a few minutes thinking about a concrete problem is sufficient.

It's not all about winning at all costs. Its just a warm up exercise that gets the blood pumping.

You don't understand.

If they ever stop to think about how to play well, they will soon discover they can win by playing worse moves faster.

Just a little basic strategy with the clocks will trump a lot of play skill on the board.

The only way it can stay the way it is now is if they never think about it much. Which is dumb.

Imagine candyland or monopoly was played with clocks and whoever moves faster won. That would be a terrible game for new players. And if they don't understand that the clocks matter, it's in a very precarious position: the moment one of them reads any strategy guide or thinks about it, their game will change itself against their wishes.

They are playing with a ruleset that makes something the most important part of the game, then ignoring it in their actual play. The ruleset doesn't do what they want. It's the wrong ruleset for them.

It's much easier to win on the clocks than learn chess. They are all easily smart enough to do it. It isn't very complicated and doesn't take long to learn.

I don't think if they knew how completely broken there game was they would be advocating it to the internet. The internet has people who know how to play bughouse, the internet will destroy their ignorance which is the only thing keeping their game working.

None of this has anything to do with being super-competitive. It's just the easy, lazy way to win: by focussing more on the part of the game that's easier but also more important.

This problem is fixable. They could set up clocks so if you don't make a move within 30 seconds on a board, you lose. After moving you reset to 30 seconds. With that system they will have some time pressure to keep the game moving, and there also won't be a simple easy strategy that completely dominates them.

You don't have to be super competitive to think about how to win and what is an effective way to play. You just have to be thoughtful. They are clearly thinking about chess strategy (even if they are chess beginners. chess is hard. shrug). I'm just pointing out they could divert a little of that thought to something else, be way more effective, and also dramatically change the style of the game. You don't have to be super competitive to put the thinking-in-service-of-winning which you're doing anyway to a more efficient area.

And if you want a game that you can post on your blog and suggest other people use, it needs to have robust rules!

They are setting up themselves -- and anyone who listens -- for conflict. Some people will play slowly, lose, and be annoyed. Some others will start to play faster and win all the time. One guy will say, "Don't be so competitive", the other will say, "What do you want me to do? I don't spend more time on this than you, I don't practice, I'm still just as bad as you at chess in general. Should I intentionally sandbag and not try to win? That would ruin it for me."

At that point, the winning-uber-alles guy doesn't get invited to play. Because he's over-competitive and missing the point of the exercise: stimulating the mind with an interesting and novel problem under a constraint of slight time pressure. Not win at all costs.

The game doesn't have to stand up to scrutiny of strong chess players or expert bughouse players. Those people don't play chess as a means of putting them in the frame of mind for solving dayjob problems.

You are defending a position that really doesn't need to be defended. I'm pretty sure that geeks using this as a ten minute brain exercise aren't going to think they are the next Kasparov.

"You aren't allowed to play" because you use a good strategy is a terrible system.

Blame the ruleset, not the smart players who learn the basic way the game works.

Bughouse does stand up to scrutiny of strong chess players, it's just the way to win is different than what they think the game is about.

You're still completely misunderstanding. This has nothing to do with being Kasparov. The point is that simple strategy changes, using the chess skill they already have no more, would make then far more effective at bughouse, because the bughouse rules do not work they way they are imagining.

None of this is "win at all costs" or anything. It's just a simple fact: a 15 second time advantage in bughouse is as good as a substantial amount of pieces. A one minute advantage is almost always game over. Their play is disregarding how the game works -- it's strategically poor in simple ways that they could learn to do better in a 15 minute lesson -- and you are wrong to blame people who use a part of the game (the clock) for applying basic strategy that any of them could learn in 15 minutes.

Games that rely on following special unwritten rules, such as objectively bad time management (vaguely defined for how badly you're required to play), are broken.

You missed the point 3 times. This isn't really about bughouse and everything you've said is about bughouse minutiae. This is about recommending a task that will quickly refresh someone during a break. I think it sounds like a great idea.

At the risk of inviting another irrelevant wall of text, I'll say that your advice while mostly on target is not all accurate. Plenty of people play 5 min bughouse. Not everyone is a high level player or interested in becoming one. For new players taking 2-5 seconds to come up with a move is often superior.

The task he recommended as a quick break just happens to be one of the hardest games around, and a game that is despite appearances, all about going really really fast. Not what he wanted. Oops... And then he recommended a version that is well over twice as hard.

All good players play 2min bughouse, go on FICS and type "best B" and look through the game history. Or just look at the games in progress, it's all 2min. More is stupid. If you look at the current game history of the highest rated active player, one of the 2min games involves a 1:48 wait on like move 6. If that was a 5min game, it would have been a 4:48 wait on move 6. So 5min is simply stupid and zero good players play 5min.

You're doing a weird mix of pretending this isn't about the details of bughouse and then getting the details of bughouse completely wrong.

Similarly you claim that taking 2-5s per move is superior for new players. This is 100% false. You will get a worse record if you do that. Stop arguing about the right strategy for newer players in a game you're clueless about. Even if you go back to 1995 or something it was still 3min games, never 5.

You are abrasive and ignorant but I'll slog through some points...

"The task he recommended as a quick break just happens to be one of the hardest games around, and a game that is despite appearances, all about going really really fast."

It didn't "just happen to be" anything. The whole point is an exercise that frees up your brain up from whatever else it was doing. The whole point is that it's hard and you are forced to think about it. Your mind can't wander back to what you were working on in bughouse, much less without a partner, because the game demands your attention.

"All good players play 2min bughouse, go on FICS and type "best B" and look through the game history. Or just look at the games in progress, it's all 2min."

This might be relevant if we were talking about good/high level players. We aren't, they are new players and they are playing OTB and most new players playing OTB play 5 minute bughouse. Yes, true statement, full stop.

"Similarly you claim that taking 2-5s per move is superior for new players. This is 100% false. You will get a worse record if you do that."

I would but a new player wouldn't. What's semi-optimal in bughouse is to make a strong move as fast as possible. A strong player can choose a reliably decent move in less then a second. A new player forced to move in 0.5 seconds as you suggest will make terrible moves and probably lose on both boards.

Why are you so eager to take a subject you know very little about and try to correct people who are much more familiar with it?

In the context of competent players, you specifically said that plenty of people play 5min bughouse. This is false and results in lengthy sitting.

I don't think you're getting that the way they are playing wrong is completely different than not being Kasparov. Learning to play like Kasparov would take ~20,000 hours. Learning basic time management would take ~15 minutes and make them easily twice as effective. Total ignorance is a poor defense against this -- and won't last given they want to hold a tournament -- fixing the rules to do what they want is a good way to keep the game roughly how they want.

They tried to fix their problem by changing the time control from 2min to 5-10min. They already made rule changes to try to slow the game down, but those changes were naive and are ineffective against anyone with 15minutes of basic training.

"a subject you know very little about "

Quit pretending that you know anything about me or that you're the only person that knows anything about bughouse. I've been playing bughouse longer then you've apparently lacked basic social skills.

I went to the early bug gatherings at Ajedrez's house, played ~10,000 games, have taught chess, know a bunch of GMs and top bug players, etc etc

So basically you think you have enough status you should beat someone on the internet, and you're arguing because you don't realize you're completely outmatched?

You also haven't addressed any of my actual points, e.g. that 5min bug = 3+ min of sitting, and this can be learned in very short order.

> Games that rely on following special unwritten rules, such as objectively bad time management (vaguely defined for how badly you're required to play), are broken.

You are the exact opposite of Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes comics.

I read through your entire chain of comments and can't fathom why you've gone to such great lengths to tell other people how to spend their break time. If it works, and they like it, what's the problem?

Some people like to analyze games and game rules/systems and see how they work. That's reason enough. You can use reason and logic to figure things out about them. It's the same sort of activity which is popular on HN.

Also they already tried to change the rules by raising the time control to make it slower but you don't think it's interesting that that actually doesn't work in the presence of a tiny bit of strategy? With all other chess variants it does work.

I'm amazed that you came away thinking I care about those particular people. If someone posted about a security hole on a website, and explained it in great length and explained why it does matter because the moment someone competent comes along it will be exploited ... you would not think that was a personal discussion to do with the particular people who made the insecure website.

I've played a fair amount of bughouse. You are right about the point about bughouse strategy. Stipulated.

These guys are enjoying themselves. They feel rejuvenated for work after playing it for a few minutes.

Why impose your priorities on them and claim "it's a terrible game" and suggest they need a "solution."

It'd be like Lebron James telling you not to play H-O-R-S-E because it won't help you become competitive with him at basketball. If you like playing H-O-R-S-E, it doesn't matter that it won't help you beat him.

I think it's because when one of them figures out he can win almost every game by simply moving very fast, the game won't be enjoyable any more. And that is bound to happen sooner or later.

I'm not imposing anything on anyone. Rulesets have a logic of their own.

I find it amusing that because of your self-imposed slavery to The Rules, you could never have come up with the game of bughouse in the first place. Two boards? Chess is played with one! That's the rules! Dropping pieces on the board? That's a terrible idea! Once a piece is captured, it's captured! Four players? What heresy! Chess is the purest form of mind to mind combat!

Besides, this article has very little to do with bughouse per se and everything to do with relaxing the mind in between work sprints. Seymour Cray used to do it by digging tunnels. I doubt that his tunnels conformed to the Rules of Tunnels but he did get quite a bit of work done in his lifetime, which is the point here.

His self-imposed slavery is to logic, not to The Rules.

I've noticed something similar. Playing strategy games (like Age of Empires) works great for me during downtime. They require your 100% full attention if you want to win, so they're very effective at wiping away whatever you were working on.

Also, they're normally very goal-oriented, making you motivated to "do" things after playing.

I do something similar with Alpha Centrauri. Especially if you play University or the Cybernetics, the idea of advancing tech to restart civilization on a barren planet, the writing and the speculative technologies motivate me to want to go make something.

Isn't Alpha Centrauri one of those "one more move" games where you stop at 4 am in the morning, if only because you are hungry and thirsty and need to go to a washroom? Not very good productivity-wise...

I LOVE alpha centauri, but yeah, I don't see how this would be a good "15-minute-break" game.

hah yes, you're both right, although I've played it enough that certain states of the CPU of my old computer started to get worn out. So I can now stop after a small number of 1 more turns. But no, I don't play on 15 minute breaks - I did not read the article so was not aware it was about short breaks. I only play when I have 2 or 3 hours min to spare.

I'm not sure they're that relaxing though; e.g. laddering in StarCraft is more of a stress-creator than a stress-reducer.

That said, it does require your entire focus.

If I lose, my logic is: "oh, I can't be good at this? Fine, I'll be good at this! <goes back to work>"

I haven't played bughouse in over a decade, so I've got to ask: what's with the openings in this video? Is bughouse strategy so different that there's a whole new opening book, are there some openings I'm completely ignorant of, or am I just overthinking things?

I haven't played in over a decade as well, but when I did play strategies usually consisted of very quick attacks on the f-pawn, usually sacrificing a knight(sometimes a bishop, but you would have to "waste" a move getting a pawn out first) on the square as quick as possible. Very common for the first 3 moves to be a knight sacrifice on f7.

And trash talking anybody who dared castle.

FYI castling is standard in lots of bughouse openings and good in general, early f-pawn sacs are bad. This is at higher levels of play though. If you don't know what you're doing then you're better off with a move like Qe2 or Qe7 than castling.

Early sacrifices are bad because they put both you and your partner down material. Against top players, they will not let you have the pieces you need to win, and they will defend all squares, and if you spend any time waiting for pieces you'll get down on time and definitely never get what you want at the right time. Bughouse requires very fast, very solid play at the top levels.

But defending in bughouse is hard, and piece flow control is hard (requires watching partner's board while still moving super fast), so the newer the players the more that just sacrificing stuff can work.

Opening theory in Bughouse is indeed totally distinct from classical chess. It behooves white to be hyper aggressive and black to be hyper defensive or the game typically ends quickly.

That said, the openings played in the video are not traditional Bughouse openings.

FYI you're wrong. Standard play in bughouse is neither hyper aggresive for white nor hyper defensive for black. Building piece sacrifices into your white opening is a normally a sign of a new player.

The most standard opens in bughouse are e4/e5 and d4/d5 now.

In the past, standard was e4/d4 vs e6 setups with black either playing d6, d5, or bringing our 2 knights and a bishop next. This turned out to be overly defensive by black as far as pawn structure, while Bc4-f7 sacrifice vs 1...e5 isn't actually very good (but seems good when players are newer).

Note that in e6/nf6/nc6/bb4 openings, or 1...nf6, or various others, it's pretty common for black to play aggressively and sacrifice material (especially if white is over extending). White isn't necessarily the aggressor and has no easy to to quickly punish e6 openings. White normally would get a good position with center control then apply pressure and try to win more slowly.

What sources are you drawing on for your Bughouse theory?

The best players (who are on FICS).

There are significantly fewer bughouse openings than there are chess openings. Many chess openings create weaknesses which can be easily exploited in bughouse. It is for instance not recommended to move pawns other than the d- and e-pawns. Bughouse openings are generally geared towards dominating vital squares and fast development. Captured pieces become available after the first few moves and it is important to develop at this stage as there is often not enough time to do so later. Development also helps to defend against early piece drop attacks.


Where I used to play, we mostly played standard chess openings. Bughouse is different enough that one can have expert chess players playing against novices and since it is team-vs-team, the novice doesn't get totally stomped flat.

Something rather common was for most of the pieces to end up on one board, so my guess is that these strange openings are intended to block off places you'd normally use to drop in a piece that your team-mate captured. So it becomes more like Go,

Me and and three other PhD students in sharing an office used to play a few quick rounds of Unreal Tournament before starting the nightly coding sessions, from our own UT server we had set up. Those were the days...

I haven't played bughouse since college. Spent way too much time during freshman and sophomore years playing chess and bughouse.

Those guys wasted too much time pushing pawns. When you play with/against good players, you learn not to move that f pawn. The way we played, the objective was to attack the king as soon as possible, so if you move that f pawn, I start getting pawns from the other board that I can drop for check that forces the king out to the middle of the board. That eliminates castling, and I can use the pieces on the board and higher-point pieces from the other board to bring about mate quickly.

The thing to worry about most, is getting addicted to bughouse. One more game quickly becomes several more games. You might even start to draw a crowd. Then the day's productivity is shot.

At my startup we prefer Fischer Random (aka Chess 960) blitz, where the opening positions are randomized (with a few limiting rules). Read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess960

Bullet chess (where each side has only 1 minute on their clocks) is also a great head clearer and adrenalin booster. Video: http://socialcam.com/v/kBzSWTQk?autostart=true

You can also just play on one board, swapping your opponents pieces for pieces of your color when you take them (obviously you need two sets of pieces). This is called crazyhouse.

"Better than ping-pong"

Careful now, that's a pretty strong statement.

I think the benefit to mindless breaks is your subconscious works on problems for you in the background.

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is walk away from it.

So I don't think this is good in instances where you need to give your brain time to reorganize.

Wow, haven't played this since the CS lounge 7 years ago. We used to play all sorts of chess variations just to see how they'd work out. One of the most fun for us was reverse chess. First person with 0 pieces wins, and if you can take a piece you must. Some surprisingly complex strategies in that, at first you think that losing at chess is easy, but then you realize that losing at chess is only easy if the other player wants you to lose.

I guess it helped that the only game we could play was chess, as our tabletop was painted with a chessboard and there were 2 sets of free pieces.

Here's something that easily woke me up after a day of coding:

It's a card game called SET - here are the rules: http://www.setgame.com/set/rules_set.htm

It's for 2+ players, and it's all about how quickly you can find the set in 12 cards on the table. Finding set is not so easy, read about it in the rules.

It can be fun single player too. There's no concept on "winning" then, but it's still challenging to find sets.

So as someone who has played A LOT of bughouse in his day... Bughouse is awesome. Never thought of playing Singles.

I tend to play a few games of Go throughout the day for the same reason. A great game of go is like a street fight, it gets you totally amped up for everything else.

Rengo is fun too, it gives you sort of the feeling of being a crazy artistic genius. Extremely inspiring, but it's a pain to get four people to play it.

gokgs.com was a great place to hang out in to play some games, if you can make online friends. Rengo is also easier to get set up online. ^_^ But it certainly is crazy!

Bughouse is the greatest variant ever, closely followed by Kriegspiel - the other extreme. I would play constantly and had a fairly high bughouse rating (in New York state at least) back in mid 1990's.

Did I miss something? on 2:04 the player on the right takes a piece that has been removed and returns it to the end of the board. Is that legit?

Our office has been on a big Banagrams kick, I get pretty similar mind recharging benefits.

Why not regular chess?

Bughouse lets you have experts and novices playing without the novices getting totally stomped. Because you can always move a piece, or place a piece that your team-mate captured, you have a lot more options. This also makes it far more fun for lesser skilled players than regular chess.

But the people who are good at Bughouse here have all said you have to move in 0.5 seconds or it's not even worth playing. I can play chess quickly, but not that quickly.

Play with a time increment per move. I play casually at work with 2 minutes on the clock and 5 seconds per move.

I've never heard of BugHouse until just now, but I love it.

I don't play chess but what does Jason do at the 2:02 mark?

I'm not sure which one is Jason but it looks to me like both of them opt to add a captured piece to the board (which is a rule only present in Bughouse and not regular chess).

Thanks, that explains it.

sounds like a fun game.

recently i have been using a desktop widget from stretchclock.com to remind me to get up every hour and stretch.

What is this "breaks" you speak of?

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