Last Man Standing: What is Sudden Death in Chess?

In chess we’ve all heard of check, checkmate, stalemates, and draws, but what is sudden death in chess?

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s actually pretty interesting.

Even more interesting is its nickname, “Armageddon chess”.

What is Sudden Death in Chess?

Sudden death in chess, or “Armageddon chess”, starts with each player randomly assigned white or black and a time frame, usually 5 minutes for white and 4 minutes for black. A draw counts as a win for black.

Even as a chess lover, I had never heard of Armageddon chess. It’s commonly used in tournaments as a tie breaker to determine a winner.

In chess, generally there is a clear winner. White or black forces checkmate and the game is over.

But there are many occasions where a draw occurs. Sometimes this happens when neither side can put the other in check.

Then there’s the often confusing stalemate that can occur when a player can’t make a legal move. This results in a draw, not a win.

So, when it comes to determining a single, undisputed winner, sudden death chess, or Armageddon chess, comes to play.

What are the Rules of Armageddon Chess?

There are 3 main rules to all Armageddon chess games:

  • Each player is randomly assigned a color (white or black)
  • White starts the game with more time on the clock than black, (most commonly 5 minutes for white and 4 minutes for black).
  • Black has draw odds. This means a draw counts as a win for black.

To start the game, a coin is flipped to determine the player’s color.

Alternatively, an outsider will place one white piece in one hand and one black piece in the other and one of the players will blindly choose.

The player who draws black has an advantage in that a draw counts as a win. To even things out for the opponent, more time is given to white.

The most common time format is 5 minutes to 4, with 6 minutes to 5 and 10 minutes to 7 being alternative, less common time formats.

In some cases, time increment can be added per move.

Which Side Has the Advantage in Armageddon Chess?

This is a question that is very subjective.

One on hand, black has draw odds. This means black has the ability to win the game outright OR win if the game ends in a draw.

That’s a sizable advantage.

However, white has more time.

Personally, I think I’d want that extra minute. An extra minute of time is a massive advantage!

Remember, if time runs out for a player it is not a draw, that player loses. So the fact that black has one minute less is a sizable advantage for white.

However, when it comes to grandmasters playing each other and games where both opponents play at a very high level, a draw is much more common.

This means black would have a tremendous advantage in a higher level game of armageddon chess because of the likelihood of a draw.

Armageddon Chess is Exciting to Watch

For most people, unless you’re addicted to chess, watching 2 players play a normal game isn’t exactly exciting to watch.

Add some speed to the game and now you’re talking! (Ever watched a crazy game of Bullet chess?)

With Armageddon chess, the excitement comes not only from the speed of the game but also the increased stakes.

Remember, Armageddon chess is played normally as a “sudden death” tiebreaker in tournaments, so each side has everything to lose.

And any time you get into high speed, high stakes chess the results can be nuts.

Notice the pieces flying, the haphazard moves, the blunders that go unchecked, the opportunities that pass by because you’re rushing against the clock.

The quicker the move, the better. Even moves like castling could potentially be skipped over simply because they take longer to make.

Many may ask, is this really chess?

But when it comes to the winner take all feel of Armageddon chess, this is the ultimate battle.

Other Types of Sudden Death Chess

By definition, the time format in which a fixed amount of time is given to each player, regardless of the amount of moves made is also called “sudden death” chess.

However, with this type of sudden death chess, the game can still end in a draw.

So in my opinion, the true “sudden death” chess clearly goes to Armageddon chess.

If you want to check out all the different time formats used commonly in chess, check this out.

Remember, it is impossible to have a draw in Armageddon chess as this would count as a win for black.

Final Thoughts

Armageddon chess is chess at its highest stakes. A winner take all version of the game used as a tie breaker to find a sole winner. With white having more time and black having draw odds, it is truly fun to watch.

How do you feel about Armageddon chess? Have you ever seen sudden death chess played in person?

Which side to you think has the advantage, white with more time or black with draw odds?

Have you ever found yourself in a precarious end game like rook vs bishop? or knights vs bishop? Were you able to come out on top?

Let me know in the questions and comments section below! I’d love to hear what you have to say and I always respond!

14 thoughts on “Last Man Standing: What is Sudden Death in Chess?”

  1. Armageddon Chess really is way more interesting to me than a normal chess play. I love it, but I only watch it, so I can’t say that I know much. You explained very good who has more advantages and I agree on your opinion, but right now if I had to play it, white would be more suitable. 

    But, I’m interested Eric, would you like to play Armageddon Chess?

    • I’ve never played Armageddon chess myself. Maybe if I did I’d become addicted, but I’m not a huge fan of playing fast, timed games. I’m more of a 10|0 game player myself. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I have played chess but not sudden death or Armageddon.
    In my opinion, I would say white has the advantage of one extra minute in a 5-minute game, but you need a lot of experience or have a very mind to keep track of everything that is going on. Otherwise, the advantage would go back to black. I know I would be smashed in any form of speed chess.

  3. Wow, I have never played this style of chess, but it sounds like an exciting way to play! Given the sudden-death play style, it seems like this would be a more intense game, as knowing that there will definitely be a winner at the end of the game does up the stakes a bit. The rules seem straightforward, and it seems like it would be fun to end up either as a white or a black player… seems each would demand a different strategy! 

  4. I had never heard of “Armageddon Chess” before but the name of it sounds cool though. After reading your post and watching a video from your post it definitely got me interested in knowing how to play the game. Have you ever watched a tournament end with this sudden death?

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. I had never heard of Armageddon chess before, but it sounds like a really exciting and intense variation of the game. It’s interesting to see how the rules of sudden death chess change the dynamics of the game adding an extra layer of strategy and pressure. I also liked how you described the excitement of watching sudden death chess, with the fast pace and high stakes making it a thrilling spectacle. Thanks for sharing your insights on this interesting variation of chess.

  6. Interesting concept and thanks for the explanation! How frequently would you guess this happens in a competitive setting? Which color do you think most people would be more excited to get – black or white – in sudden death chess? I can see how this type of chess would be more exciting and high-stakes to watch than a normal game. Thanks for sharing

    • Anytime a tie breaker is needed in a tournament this is how it’s settled. Personally, I think having more time would be crucial, but then say when both players are highly rated more often than not it ends in a draw, so black having draw odds would be better. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Wow same here, being a chess player myself, Ive never heard of Armaggedon chess. That’s interesting how white recieves extra time and that if the game comes to a draw, then white wins the game. Sounds like an interesting mode of chess. I’ve only encountered checkmates, stalemates and draws bit never sudden death , which is surprising to my understanding of the awesome game of chess. Thank you for sharing this! Happy holidays!


Leave a Comment