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 kind of stalemate, 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 kind of stalemate?

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 stalemate where neither team wants to move, but nobody is obligated to move.

  • I am not aware of the existence of such formal rules. – Cleveland Mar 29 '17 at 1:42
  • I suppose you don't want to introduce random choice to resolve deadlock? (Toss a coin to determine who goes first.) – Andrej Bauer Mar 29 '17 at 6:50
  • Alternative: Forced mate in n no matter what the other board plays, then the player being mated loses – Ariana Mar 29 '17 at 10:12
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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
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    If you ask what the rules should be then from the game theoretic point of view it is simple. If one team prefers to wait for the opponent team to make a move then this is their best response. If both teams prefer to wait then you have got a best response to best response, ie Nash equilibrium. Everyone is happy thus a draw is a natural outcome. In other words if you do not want a draw then make a move. If you do not want to make a move then you must be happy with a draw. Simple. – IA Petr Harasimovic Mar 29 '17 at 15:54

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
  • 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

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).

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