Courtesy of Andrew Tang ’23

Vignesh Panchanatham ’22
On the white side, the world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen (username: DrDrunkenstein). On the black, Andrew Tang ’23 (username: penguingm1). It is game 40 of what will become a 137-game online match of bullet chess — short games in which each player has one minute or less for the entire game.

The players click through the first five moves in less than six seconds, and 15 seconds in, Tang is falling behind. But after a split-second mistake by Carlsen, Tang turns the tide — and wins. The entire game lasts 30 seconds.

The February 2018 match, streamed on Twitch, an interactive livestreaming site popular among gamers, had over 500 spectators. In the chat, viewers reacted to the surprise win, typing “Magnus Blundersen” and “ANDREW YOU ABSOLUTE MADMAN.”

At the time, Tang was just happy to be sharing a screen with Carlsen. “No matter if I’m getting crushed,” he recalled, “it’s a crazy experience to play him.”

Tang, who studies operations research and financial engineering and is the president of Princeton’s chess club, has earned the title of grandmaster in classical chess — long games that can last over five hours — but he’s much stronger in bullet chess, which relies heavily on speed. He’s played online for approximately two hours a day since he was 10 and got practice with important strategies, such as pre-moving, where a player makes their move before their opponent has completed theirs.

“You should be constantly anticipating what might come and have moves ready already,” Tang said. “Occasionally, you get surprised, but in general I want to be staying ahead of whatever my opponents play.”

At 14 years old, after an online match against super grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, one of the top players in the world, Nakamura accused Tang of cheating. Partially in response, Tang began streaming his games on Twitch.

“There was a reasonable amount of people who thought I was cheating, so that was one of the motivations for me to start streaming,” Tang said.

Back then, Tang said he was shy and would only type in the chat to respond to viewers. But eventually he got more comfortable streaming. Now, he uses video and will respond to the chat via live audio. 

“I just like talking to people in chat about anything, chess or otherwise,” he said.

Tang’s Twitch account has over 50,000 followers, and in 2020, he signed a contract with the gaming team Cloud9, becoming the second chess player to join a major esports organization. (Nakamura was the first.) 

Tang credits Twitch — along with the pandemic-era search for new hobbies and pop-culture factors like The Queen’s Gambit — for a recent boom in chess’s popularity. The platform makes chess faster, more accessible, and “more interesting to watch than a classical tournament,” he said. “Even the world championship, I’ll tune in and follow the results of the games, but I’m not going to watch the entire 7-hour broadcast.” 

Watch Andrew Tang ’23 play bullet chess: