What is bullet chess?

One of the fastest chess variants in the world.

Bullet chess is a game mode where you have extremely limited time to complete all the moves in your game. Its most popular iteration is 1+0, meaning you have just a single minute and no added time to play out the game. Though many in the chess elite see it as “not real chess” and coaches often frown upon pupils with excessive playtime in the mode, it is a viable tiebreaker option in online chess events and a real spectacle when two great players duke it out with no time on the clock.

Bullet chess is one of the fastest chess variants out there. FIDE defines blitz chess as anything that features less than 10 minutes per player: in online play, 5+0, 5+3 (five minutes plus three seconds per move), 3+0 or 3+2 are the most common versions. Bullet chess is, however, most commonly either played 1+0 or 2+1. There are even ultrabullet and hyperbullet variants where the players have 30 or 15 seconds to make every move.

Though it may seem like aimless fun (and bullet chess is indeed very popular among amateur players), even some of the best players in the world are known to enjoy a bit of hyper-fast chess. In fact, one of the spiciest storylines of the recent Candidates Tournament was when Alireza Firouzja, an enterprising youngster and world No. 4 at the time of writing, decided that the best cure for a set of poor performances would be a late-night multi-hour bullet chess binge. It wasn’t. He’s not the only world-class player playing like this, either: here’s world champion Magnus Carlsen playing a bit of ultrabullet.

And here are the grand finals of Chess.com’s recent Bullet Chess Championship:

As you can expect, all makes for a very different gameplay experience than traditional chess. A winning position means nothing if you are 20 seconds behind on the clock—unless you can quickly checkmate your opponent. Pre-moves and super-fast, instinct-based decisions are the names of the game here, you don’t have the time to actually calculate anything. This means you can set a wide variety of traps, sometimes even by just unexpectedly moving a piece in the line of fire, expecting your opponent to make a rapid response that just doesn’t take into account what you’ve done.

If you haven’t yet tried bullet chess, it is a very interesting chess experience that is definitely worth trying out. But keep in mind that it’s mostly for fun, an expression of your existing skill level rather than something that will help you improve your understanding of the game.