Lichess categorizes all games below the 2 +1 time control as Bullet Chess. Bullet chess refers to the ultrarapid games of chess played with minimal thought. The emphasis here is on memory, reaction time and speed.
Most chess coaches dislike blitz, which refers to games with time controls of about 3 to 5 minutes for each player. But they utterly detest Bullet. But this hasn’t stopped chess players from playing it or loving it.
The highest-rated Bullet players on Lichess have ratings of above 3000 elo and they are all grandmasters. This shows that Bullet is often a mirror of one’s true chess ability. It also shows that you can play Bullet and be good at Classical chess.
In an ideal world, we would all be able to take weeks off and play long beautiful games of classical chess. Using the alluring time controls of up to 8 hours per game, we would give deep thought into every pawn push and agonize over every knight move.
But in this world, very few people have the time for that. Most people who desire some fun or fame from chess are forced to play shorter time controls. Sometimes as short as a quarter of a minute for all the moves.
So how can you play bullet and escape the temptation to bury your game in wood pushing and dirty tricks?
How can you play and improve your classical chess too?
- Look over all your games, especially the losses.
Most players hate looking over their losses. The easiest thing to do is to rush it aside and go ahead to the next (hopefully more successful) game. But in every lost game, there is enough information to make you a better chess player. By simply studying all the positions where you couldn’t come up with a plan or the blind spots you had, you can improve. Maybe not by a mile but enough not to make the same mistake again.
- Play stronger players
Most Bullet players just want to win and because of that, they have developed a habit I call ghosting. Once a player finds out they have been paired with a higher rated fellow, they simply refuse to start the game or leave the app altogether; they ‘ghost.’ This is ill-advised.
The only way to improve is to challenge yourself and you can’t do that when you keep playing with people that you can win.
Be brave. Play stronger players. You might lose but you will certainly improve.
- Play the upper limits of the Bullet time control.
It would be super amazing to have a rating for every subdivision of Bullet. But for now, all games belong 2 +1 are regarded as the same thing. That means your performance in 25 seconds bullet and 2 minutes bullet are grouped together.
To get the best out of Bullet, I recommend playing the highest time controls. On Lichess, that is 2 +1 (2 minutes with a one-second increment for every move). While it is nowhere near a classical time control, it rewards brilliant moves and clear plans and punishes thoughtless wood pushing.
While shorter time controls are more entertaining they often degenerate into a frenzy of clock stomping and removes and nerves. Messy stuff. Not the sort of stuff you want if you are trying to spot weaknesses in your strategy and positional play.
- Support your play with study
While playing Bullet is fun, it cannot be the foundation of your chess improvement plan. Find time to study endings. Build tactics training into your daily routine. Note the openings that leave you clueless and do some more reading on them. Get a coach or a trainer if you can afford one. Play longer time controls as much as possible.
And that is it, folks. As the world gets busier and busier, I foresee shorter time controls becoming more and more popular. But shorter doesn’t have to be dumber. Build these suggestions into your game and I am sure you will see steady improvement while you get your chess fix, two minutes at a time. Good luck and may Caissa is with you.