Playing Bughouse
with Garry Kasparov

On a chess website I read that the world had been taken over by rapid chess and blitz. Taking over the world is no small thing, and I was reminded of disturbing science fiction films like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes from 1978. The take-over of the world by rapid and blitz was more innocent than that by the tomatoes.

It was about the Grand ChessTour, in which the best and brightest of the chess world first played rapid and blitz in the magnificent town hall of Leuven, and then a week later, for the second leg in Paris, in a spartan television studio of the media conglomerate Vivendi.

Leuven was won by Wesley So, and Paris by Hikaru Nakamura. The third American, Fabiano Caruana, did badly. He finished ninth out of ten in Leuven – alas, my compatriot Anish Giri finished last – and in Paris, Caruana did even worse, finishing in last place.

What does this tell us about his prospects in the world championship match against Magnus Carlsen? Only, I think, that if it were to come to a fast-play tiebreak, his chances would be slim. But we knew that already.

After the serious play – if you can call rapid and blitz serious – there was a day of lighthearted chess at the Château d'Asnière, close to Paris, where the top players would mix with Very Important Persons.

Garry Kasparov may be called the godfather of the Grand Tour. Occasionally he will descend to join the fun and play some games, as in last year’s St. Louis Rapid, and this year’s Day of the VIPs.

First he played some games “two against two,” in which two players form a team and alternate executing their moves. Kasparov was paired with Marc Andria Maurizzi, an 11-year old French candidate master who last year won the U-10 European championship. They won their group, and in the finals they met a mighty team: Étienne Bacrot and Dana Reiznice-Ozola, two grandmasters. Reiznice-Ozola has excellent VIP credentials as the Minister of Finance of Latvia, but she is also a woman grandmaster.

In this final, a different kind of unorthodox chess was played: bughouse. As Kasparov had never played a game of bughouse in his life, Fabiano Caruana had to explain the rules to him. A pair plays on two boards, one of them as White and the other as Black. When a player captures a piece or pawn, he passes it on to his partner, who can use it on his own board. Though the game is played on two boards, there is only one result, as both games end when one player is mated or loses on time. Communication between partners is important. “Partner, give me a rook so that I can give mate in one, but quickly, as my flag is almost falling.” Preferably this should be communicated in discreet sign language.

The team Kasparov-Maurizzi lost their game. Not being an expert, I used to think that a great deal of luck would be involved in bughouse, but I was probably wrong.

Doing some background research, I found that, according to the monumental work The Encyclopedia of Chess variants by D. B. Pritchard, bughouse was probably invented in the early 1960’s. The Dutch Wikipedia claims that Doorgeefschaak (the Dutch word for bughouse, literally meaning “pass-on chess”) was invented in the Netherlands, where the rules were written down in 1973. I tend to believe Pritchard.

Anyway, I learned from that page that the annual Dutch doorgeefschaak championship was won every year from 2009 till 2018 by the same couple, Jan Breukelman and Erik-Jan Hummel. This shows that it can’t be all luck. They must have worked out a trick or two. On the other hand, it also suggests that these two players are sharks in a very small pond.

That game between the Kasparov- Maurizzi and the Bacrot-Reiznice team can be seen here:


In the amusing video where you see the players, you’ll find that Garry Kasparov was not yet accustomed with the bizarre rules of bughouse. Several times he puts pieces that he had captured just beside him, instead of handing them to his partner, so that young Marc Andria Maurizzi, who may have been more acquainted with this kind of chess, had to ask Kasparov for his due.

There is also another video on that website page where you can see just the moves on both boards, probably synchronized. This is a bizarre experience. When you watch bughouse, not on a computer but in the flesh, you can see when pieces are handed to the other side and put on the other board. But on the computer, you are not prepared for such dramatic changes. Suddenly without warning extra pieces pop up on the board on your screen.

You really feel as if you are in the bughouse, also known as the loony bin. No wonder Kasparov felt disorientated a few times during his first bughouse game, which lasted about 6 minutes.

I am no computer wizzard, so I cannot show this bughouse double game here. The game in the viewer, Caruana-Grischuk, is from the serious tournament, the Paris Rapid.

Click here to see Caruana-Grischuk, Paris Rapid 2018