Fancy a game of chess? It’ll only take a minute.
Bullet chess is a variant of the classic game where each player is given 3 minutes or less total to play all of their moves.
Languid, nuanced tactics are often foregone in favor of rapid, instinctive movements that can outrun your opponent’s calculation. Failing that, just do something weird and hope it throws them off.
Some tactics, like the Fried Fox, would be nothing short of a liability in a 90-minute game, but bullet chess isn’t a rumination of tactical elegance. It’s like defending yourself from a mugger by yelling all the American state capitals in alphabetical order. Every second your opponent takes to register what you’re doing counts against them.
This might be why, in 2017, FIDE Master Jacob Chudnovsky posted a cautionary critique of the style on chess.com.
In the post, titled “How blitz and bullet rotted my brain (don’t let it rot yours)” Chudnovsky describes how habits developed while playing blitz and bullet chess affected his overall play style.
“…getting into a habit of moving fast all the time has made me worse at spending time intelligently.”
Impulsivity. Carelessness. Cognitive decline. This is your brain on rapid chess. It’s also your brain on pretty much everything else.
When the concern for ELO numbers and tournament rankings are stripped away, the core of Chudnovsky’s argument isn’t that dissimilar from cultural anxieties around television, video games, and social media.
Mike Teavee, We Hardly Knew Ye
In 1950, the United States had about 3 million television sets, mostly concentrated on the East Coast, particularly New York City. By the end of the decade, television had taken root in American society, with 55 million television sets across the country.
Not everyone was thrilled with this proliferation of accessible technology.
“The most important thing we’ve learned / So far as children are concerned / Is never, NEVER, NEVER let / Them near your television set,” sang the Oompa Loompas in Roald Dahl’s 1964 classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Mike Teavee’s swan song as nothing short of a diss track on television; the novel suggests television will make children’s brains “soft like cheese” and interfere with children’s capacity for abstract thought.
2. The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, Horkheimer and Adorno
3. Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander, 1977