How To Get Better at Bullet Chess

What is Bullet Chess?

Bullet chess is played with a time limit between 1-3 minutes for each player as opposed to longer time controls.

The rules of chess are the same, but the style of play differs drastically with bullet chess vs blitz or classical times.

With no time to calculate each move, each player enters a race against the clock while still vying for an advantage.

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What Bullet is and what is isn’t

A lot of chess players will say bullet chess isn’t real chess.  And they’re right. Bullet is its own game.

Traditional ideas go out the window and instead you want to play for cheap tricks.

Leaving a queen enprise, trying the four move checkmate, and making pointless king moves are all tactics you would never want to try in a regularly timed chess game.

Does Bullet make your chess worse?

Bullet chess can hurt your regular chess games because you rush and put less thought into the moves.  

It is not recommended for novice players who want to improve.  I highly recommend players below 1600 not play bullet chess if they’re trying to get better.  

If you want to play to have fun, then of course I won’t say not to play, but it will do more harm than good if you’re trying to reach 2000 elo or higher.

The reason it makes you worse is you focus on the wrong things.  Bullet chess can take a lot of time to play, even though each game is just one minute.  The “one more game” mentality kicks in quick and suddenly an hour can be gone.

If you’re trying to improve, that hour could be spent reading a book, playing a longer, classically timed game, or reading one of my improvement articles

I believe blitz can make you better if you study each game you play.  With bullet, there’s no reason to study each game because there will be so many blunders that it’s hard to improve from it.

Are there any advantages to playing bullet chess

If you’re rated below 2000, bullet is a great way to try out some new openings to learn some of the ideas.  You won’t learn 20 move theory, but you’ll get a sense of what styles you like and don’t like.

You should always mix up your strategies and try not to play the same games over and over.  While that’s great for repetition, learning how to approach different openings can help keep you prepared in all time limits.

That being said, in bullet openings can get crazy and way out of book really quick.  Unless you’re playing a 2000+, your openings won’t follow any main lines. You’ll fall for tons of traps and so will your opponent.  Rather elementary traps too that you’ll sit there and shake your head at.

Bullet Chess Tips and Strategies

1. Don’t Calculate Entire Lines. Trust your intuition

Bullet is all about moving as quickly as possible.  You don’t have time to think about “if he moves here, then I move there” while it’s your turn.  Sometimes you just have to move a piece, or sacrifice a pawn to open things up rather than think about what is the BEST move.

2. Bank time early if possible

A hopeless position for your opponent can easily turn into a win if you have have less than 10 seconds left on your clock. 

If you can bank time early by choosing an opening that’s easier for you and gives you a nice game, then you’ll have less chances to lose on time, or make serious blunders because of time.

3. Play the clock, not the board

The most important part of the game is the clock.  Unless you lose a queen on move 5 (it definitely happens) or you lose 3 minor pieces and still have 45 seconds left, you won’t be resigning.

Most bullet games go down to the wire with both players having approximately 0.4 seconds left.

When this happens, you can use a technique of just moving a piece back and forth and draw out the last few seconds to win on time.

It may not be glamorous, but it’s the game.  Remember, bullet chess is a different type of game entirely.  If this style of dirty play doesn’t appeal to you, stick to longer timed games.

Moving back and forth can hurt you though.  See the next tip for why.

4. Draw out a drawn endgame

Endgame chess theory goes out the window with bullet.  You’re playing the clock not the board. I have easily won and lost this theoretically drawn rook endgame.

rook vs rook endgame bullet

Often in this endgame you DON’T want to move back and forth.  You want to be as unpredictable as possible. If I were to move my rook back and forth, your opponent can be sneaky and put their rook on a square that leaves your rook enprise.

The black rook moves back and forth from g6-c6 while white moves from d4-e4.  Without thinking, white can put their rook on c4, challenging the rook and black may just continue premoving to c6 and lose the rook.

rook en prise

Your opponent can also play out this endgame, while avoiding threefold repetition, for as long as it takes if you’re low on time.  I suggest you do the same if you have the chance.

5. Change your settings for Bullet to auto promote into a queen

99% of the time you’ll want a queen and not a knight.  It saves a second each time you promote so you don’t have to select which piece you’d like.

On Lichess, you can change this in preferences – game behavior – promote to queen automatically.

auto queen on lichess

I recommend taking this off for longer games when you may need to underpromote to a knight.

6. Premoves in general

My friend Camden (ivarcode) (check out his YouTube and Twitch channel) offers the following advice

“If you don’t have a way to make a really scary threat, premove, even if it’s not the best premove.  Just try to make a piece better. My mouse is often already hovering on the next piece and that often becomes my premove.”

7. Get to a position where you can premove

Let’s say you’re up 2 pawns and a rook vs just a king and you have 3 seconds left.  By getting to a position you can premove, this becomes an easy win.

bullet premove

First, get your rook protected by a pawn so you don’t have to worry about the king taking it.  Block off the king from your pawn being promoted, then push the pawn. Once you have your queen (ideally preselected from your options) then you can create a staircase mate.  As always, be careful of stalemate.

8. Throw in intermezzos and checks as often as you can to take time off your opponent’s clock

This gives you more time to think on their time while they’re seeing where the check is.

9. Play on a desktop and not a mobile device

According to ivarcode, desktop is the superior choice.  For me, I’m way better on a mobile device.  Practice what works best for you, but if you’re playing on a desktop, get a great mouse for precision.  Nanoseconds will make the difference in your game.

Also, you’ll want to always make sure you have a great internet connection.  You’ll just get frustrated if you try to play and you keep dropping out of games or losing 10 seconds because of the internet here and there.  Your time is better spent doing something else if you don’t have a great connection.

10. Don’t play bullet too much

Like anything, you should create variety.  Bullet is a lot of fun and can waste time if you’re waiting for the bus. However, I’ve found myself ignoring the people around me and if you don’t want this to happen, try to keep yourself to a limit.

Especially if you’re trying to improve, only play in moderation.  

Let me know in the comments if you had any other tips!