Have you heard the terms blitz chess and bullet chess and found them a touch confusing? Don’t worry, you’re not alone, they’re both variants of “fast chess” or “speed chess” and while there is a difference, it’s not huge and it won’t matter if you get them confused unless you’re playing in a tournament. So, let’s explore the differences and see why they matter.
What’s the difference between blitz chess and bullet chess? The idea of a difference between blitz and bullet chess came about during the early days of chess when blitz games lasted between 3 to 10 minutes and bullet games lasted 3 minutes or less. These standards arose in a day before time controls could be manipulated to a much higher degree and these absolute definitions don’t always apply today.
Let’s see what this means for us nowadays.
Blitz Chess Vs Bullet Chess
We need to stress that unlike regular chess, there’s no governing body of speed chess games (that is games that are played at a fast enough rate that there’s an element of time pressure added to the game) and thus, both Blitz Chess and Bullet Chess are not the same game everywhere in the world. Each of them may have varying sets of rules.
FIDE does define rapid chess as games of more than 60 minutes and less than 10 (though they used to call it active chess) and now has a World Rapid Championship. It is possible to get a FIDE Rapid Chess rating, but this does not affect your main FIDE ranking.
FIDE acknowledges the existence of blitz chess and determines that this is games of less than 10 minutes and more than 3. They also have a World Blitz Championship, and they allow 3 minutes per game plus 2 seconds added on for each move made.
They completely ignore bullet chess and another common speed chess variant, lightning chess. There is also another version of speed chess called Armageddon Chess which may be used for tie-breaker situations as it requires a winner (if the game is drawn, black wins) and thus white is offered either 1 minute or 2 minutes more time than the player with black.
Rule variations may apply to both bullet chess and blitz chess, to either of them or neither of them depending on where you are playing. Some typical rule changes may include:
- The automatic forfeit of the game if you play an illegal move. Mistakes happen and in ordinary chess, you are required to reverse the error and play your move again. In speed chess matches this can add too much complexity to the game and thus, you might be required to resign instead. Examples of this might be moving another piece when your king is in check and failing to get them out of check.
- The automatic forfeit of a piece if you delay playing too long. This isn’t as common but some variants of speed chess require that a player who fails to make a move in a certain amount of time must surrender a piece of the lowest value on the board to their opponent – and sometimes they choose which and sometimes the opponent does.
A Brief History of Blitz And Bullet Chess
These games are not new to chess and despite the fact that chess clocks weren’t commonly adopted in tournament play until the 1950s, the blitz and bullet variations are nearly as old as competitive chess itself.
In the days before clocks, the arbiters were required to call out every 10 seconds to let players know how much time had based. Eventually, this was replaced by a single, very loud clock that would make a loud chime every ten seconds. We can imagine that everyone was quite relieved when the first chess clocks arrived.
The Demise Of The Governing Body
Despite having no official governing body, there was for a long time, a World Blitz Chess Association which also published a rather excellent magazine called Blitz Chess. Sadly, the association and the magazine went into receivership in 2003 and there is no trace of them now. Maybe this is an opportunity for a keen blitz chess player wanting to make their permanent mark in speed chess?
Tournament rules have been interesting for blitz and bullet chess tournaments too. Given the rapid nature of these games, there’s no leaving a tournament drawn when a winner could be decided in a few minutes.
So, tie breaks are common and if these are drawn, the most obvious response is to reduce the time available to each player in the next tie break. This will, of course, lead to rushed, frantic games which can be very exciting or full of the worst blunders in chess.
Despite the time controls, it’s fairly unusual for players of tournament blitz or bullet chess to lose on time though it does happen.
FIDE Rules Set The Tone
As a standard, the rules tend to follow the standard FIDE rules (the international Chess Federation known by French initials as the federation is based in Geneva, where everyone speaks French) but with some modifications to promote faster play – these modifications may vary between every tournament and it’s important for players to familiarize themselves with the changes before they play.
Oddly, bullet chess is also played as part of the sport “chess boxing” in which players batter each other senseless for 3 minutes and then play 3 minutes of chess before returning to the ring. Given the risks of boxing (it is, perhaps, the most dangerous martial art given that all blows are meant to knock the opponent out) we don’t think long-term play of chess boxing is likely to improve your chess game very much.
Is Playing Bullet Or Blitz Chess Bad For Your Chess Game?
We actually took a longer look at how playing any form of speed chess can damage your chess game when you are learning the ropes here. Players who fall in love with speed chess early in their chess career can get too hung up on basic tactical play and not thinking enough.
However, if you want a conclusive ruling on this then the World Chess Number One Magnus Carlsen also currently holds the world Blitz Chess and the world Rapid Chess titles too. In the case of Blitz Chess, he’s been world champion since 2016 but he has only been world champion of Rapid Chess since 2019.
This suggests that once you have fully developed your chess playing skills and become a world champion then you probably won’t find that your game suffers too much for playing some speed chess every now and again and that your skills on the board are good enough that you can cope with additional time constraints.
A Track Record Of Top Players
In fact, Bobby Fischer was the first ever world men’s Blitz Chess champion in 1970 and Susan Polgar the first women’s champion in 1992. Neither player is considered to be anything other than a legend of the game.
Rapid chess is a more recent competitive sport, but Anatoly Karpov won the first ever world championship in 1988 and Susan Polgar picked up the women’s title for the first time in 1992.
In short, no, Blitz Chess, Bullet Chess, etc. are not bad for your game if you’re good enough at chess to begin with.
Blitz chess vs Bullet chess: what’s the difference? The rules for speed chess games may vary from place to place even if they are called “Blitz Chess” or “Bullet Chess” as they are where you normally play, so, it’s important to get the lowdown on any variations from ordinary chess (common variants may include the automatic loss of the game if you fail to move out of check or the removal of a piece from the board if a move is not made quickly enough).
However, in general terms, they are defined around the length of the game you will play. Bullet chess is the fastest form of the game and, typically, that means a game of 3 minutes or less (though if using a sophisticated chess clock – there may be time added per move, which means that the game may run more than 3 minutes) and Blitz chess is more than 3 minutes and less than 10.