I would like to know what are the formal rules for two-player bughouse without a clock. I'd like to think of each team as a single player.

It seems to me that bughouse chess works primarily because of the time limit imposed by the clock. If one should remove the clock, then it is easy to imagine a position where both teams are at a disadvantage to move first. Perhaps it is one team's turn to move on board 1 and the other team's turn on board 2, but whoever moves first will be put at a disadvantage on the other board because of a resulting capture. In such a case, neither player wants to go first, and the game enters a deadlock, with no team specifically to blame for not having moved.

Are there formal rule sets for bughouse chess that eliminate the possibility of such a deadlock?

I suppose that if one insists that play proceeds on each board in turn (white on board 1, black on board 2, white on board 2, black on board 1, repeat), then it would resolve this issue, since it would at any stage be a certain player's obligation to move, just as in any game. But in practice, bughouse chess does not obey such a convention, and I wonder whether there is a way to set up the rules to more closely follow the practice, but while avoiding the problematic kind of deadlock where neither team wants to move, but nobody is obliged to move.

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    I've never seen bughouse played without a clock. As you point out, there would be a big problem with "stalling" in losing positions. And a chaotic, fast-paced atmosphere is closely associated with the game. – Nate Mar 29 '17 at 13:01

In bughouse there are no formal rules, since bughouse isn't exactly a formal game :)

But from my experience, the two most common ways to deal with this are:

  • A player counts to 10 after moving, and his opponent has to move before he reaches 10.

  • You are only obligated to move once the person sitting diagonally from you (your opponent's partner) moves.

Other than these, I don't know of any other effective rules that would work. I've played with some very strong bughouse players (borderline professionals), and even they often just resort to counting :)

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    I think the counting-to-ten procedure is effectively introducing a clock. What I am looking for is a purely game-theoretic way to eliminate the clock. Your diagonal-moving partner rule would work, and this is in the same style as the rule I mentioned in the question. But is bughouse ever played this way? – JDH Mar 29 '17 at 11:07
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    In my experience, it has either been the counting to 10 rule, or the diagonal-moving partner rule. I've found the more effective one to be the diagonal-partner rule, due to some obvious issues with counting (someone counting too fast, forgetting to count, etc). When I've played casually, these rules are always used when there is no clock. In an official bughouse tournament, clocks are always used... which is probably why there aren't any official rules when there are no clocks. Similar to there being no official rules related to time in chess when there are no clocks being used. – Inertial Ignorance Mar 29 '17 at 19:53
  • @JDH: The diagonal-moving rule fails in the situation in your question... – user21820 May 18 at 13:04

The way I've played it is an alternative. The rule is that you can't stall for more than three moves of your teammate (so if your teammate has made his third move since your last you must move before he can move again).

Of course this still isn't a good role for serious competition because you do need a kind of gentlemans agreement so that you don't have one player on each side stalling. But for playing with friends I think it's an OK compromise (even though just like in zh, time pressure for me is part of the fun in bughouse).


Here is a rule that I think works:

Every piece you capture can be dropped by your partner only after his/her next move.

This prevents the situation you mentioned. Of course, it is still possible to reach a situation where each team has the turn at one board but does not want to move, but the specific problem you ask about would be mostly eliminated.

  • I don't think this solves the issue, since the situation I describe could still occur, namely, where neither team wants to play first. – JDH May 18 at 13:39
  • @JDH: Do you have a concrete example? As I said, it is still possible, but in my estimation the specific issue where both sides do not want to allow the opponent's partner to obtain captured pieces should become much rarer. For example, it is still clearly possible that both White players know they are much weaker than their opponent and hence do not even want to make the first move (or continue playing after some point), but this has nothing to do with the bughouse piece-dropping mechanic but rather with the unsuitable team-play mechanic. What do you think? – user21820 May 18 at 13:52

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