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Bughouse and Tandem Chess


Bughouse Chess, and its close relative Tandem Chess, are played around the world under a number of different names: Exchange Chess, Pass-On Chess, Double Bughouse, New England Double Bughouse Chess, Siamese Chess (for Tandem Chess), and Tandem Put-Back. In the Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, Pritchard estimates that Bughouse was created in the 1960s. (I remember having played Bughouse in a Dutch chess club at around 1970.) The game has since became quite popular, with tournaments being heald consistantly up to the present time. There is even a Bughouse Newsletter, but I do not know the address. (Perhaps a reader can supply this information.)

We will begin with the more popular Bughouse Chess and then discuss the rule changes that distinguish the older Tandem Chess variant.


Two Orthodox Chess boards are set up for four players as follows:

Team B
Player 3

Team A
Player 1


Team B
Player 4

Team A
Player 2

    Player 1 forms a team with player 2
player 3 forms a team with player 4.


The pieces are the same as those used in Orthodox Chess.


The game is played by two teams of two players each. This requires that two chessboards be placed side by side with partners sitting on the same side of the table (see above). For each team, one player plays with white pieces and the other plays with black.

Each pair of contestants plays an Orthodox Chess game which has a special feature: All captured pieces are given to ones partner. Once received they become reserve pieces which can be dropped onto an empty square on the board to be used as ones own. This is done in lieu of a board move. (Compare Shogi.)

There is one restriction on drops: A captured Pawn may not be placed on the 1st or the 8th rank.

A Rook dropped onto either Rook home square is considered not to have moved; so one may castle with such a Rook. A similar rule applies to a Pawn dropped onto the second rank: The Pawn inherits the two-step-move option along with the risk of en passant capture.

You may not advise your partner, but you can ask him to capture a certain piece that you need: 'Partner, I really need a Knight'.

A gentleman's rule: In an unclocked game, a player may not delay his move beyond the time that it takes for his partner to make three moves. (This rule discourages the practice of perpetually delaying one's move in the hope that one's partner will capture a much needed piece. The rule is unnecessary, however, in a clocked game, as stalling in the presence of a clock is self-defeating.)

The game may be scored in either of two ways, depending on prior agreement:

  1. The first mate or overtime (when using clocks) decides the match.
  2. The first mate or overtime (when using clocks) does not decide the match, and play continues on the remaining board. Captives in hand may still be dropped, but there is no way to acquire new captives. Once the remaining game is completed, points are counted as follows: 1 for a win, 1/2 for a draw, and 0 for a loss. The team with the most points wins. If teams score 1-1, the match is a draw.
Note: A check by a line piece can be voided by dropping a captive between the checking piece and the King, whereas a check by a Knight cannot.

Clock-play rules

Bughouse is best played with clocks and with little time per player (e.g., 5 minutes). Clocks should be positioned so that all four players can see them clearly.

One may not inform one's partner that his opponent's time is up (flag has fallen).

There is no proscription on exactly when you must hand your partner the captured piece; it may be done before or after you hit the clock.

Tandem Chess rules

Rules are the same as for Bughouse Chess, except for the following ammendments:

  1. One is not allowed to give check or mate with a drop.
  2. The match continues until both games are completed.

Bughouse per e-mail

E-mail Bughouse requires only two players (North and South), as each assumes the role of a single set of partners. The game is played as follows:

  1. South begins by moving a white piece.
  2. North replies by moving a black piece followed by a white piece.
  3. South replies by moving a white piece followed by a black piece.
  4. Etc.

This type of play gives the e-mail game a kind of 'synchronous' effect which the face-to-face version lacks. This serves to makes it yet another chess variant.

Written by Hans Bodlaender using information and text by Jay Scott for additional information and links, and by Cristobal Joseevich Junta for the `gentleman's rule'.
Edited by John William Brown for the occasion of Bughouse being selected Recognized Variant of the Month.
WWW page created: September 3, 1996. Last Modified: March 18, 2002.