Halloween Chess

Halloween Chesscake

Every year, as close as possible to the actual day of Halloween, our club holds The Monmouth Chess School and Club “Horrible Halloween Bughouse” tournament. Bughouse (aka Crazy House, aka Bug) is one of the few chess variants that we recommend, although in small, controlled doses.  In fact, playing Bughouse without special permission is against Club Rules.

This year, because of Hurricane Sandy, we postponed the Bug tournament until November 18.  Nonetheless, most of the 20+ participants still had their Halloween costumes, which they were disappointed not to have worn on October 31 in the midst of our east coast power outages. Here are some photos from the event (including cheerful Bug Tournament Director):


How do you run a bughouse tournament? First, arm yourself … with a copy of the Official Bughouse Rules.  Conduct a brief training session then ask the players to form two-player teams. Any unpaired players then get assigned a partner according to “top rated player teams with bottom rated player, etc.  This is essentially a Halloween Party open to Students, Parents and brave Members of your club.

Next, and this is a VERY important preparatory step, make sure that all participants have access to large quantities of sugary drinks, cookies and candy – of course served in a room separate from the playing room, as sticky spills are all too frequent. The steady infusion of sugar will ensure that noise decibel levels are at an absolute maximum, both during play and between rounds. And I’m talking about  just the parents and the Tournament Director.

What is the best strategy for playing Bughouse? First, recognize that the values of the pieces are not the same as in normal chess – long-range pieces are worth relatively less (they can be unexpectedly blocked by dropped pieces) while knights and pawns are worth relatively more (knights can’t be blocked and their “mobility” is good since they can be dropped on an empty square within a critical battle scene.. A good rule of thumb is Pawn = 1, Knight, Bishop and Rook = 2, and Queen = 4.

Having the initiative is worth a lot. I would recommend moving no pawns other than the e- and d- pawns (you don’t want undefended vacant squares on your second rank). A case in point is the Alekhine Four Pawns Attack – it seems strong but White is usually positionally lost as Black starts dropping pieces on c2, f2, e3 and d3. Other than that, feel free to use your imagination – and that’s largely what the game is about, feeling free to use your imagination!

No discussion of Halloween Chess would be complete without the Halloween Gambit and, of course, the famous game played between the Frankenstein Monster and Count Dracula, the Frankenstein-Dracula variation of the Vienna.