Expert Intuition under Time Pressure: Insights from Bullet Chess


  • Patrick Burns University of Vienna


Research on expert decision-making often cites intuition as a defining feature. Intuition, in this sense, is the rapid and effortless recognition and solving of a problem [1]. This has been exemplified in research that found that firefighters often generate one intuitive action in critical situations [2]. Similarly, expert nurses often report instinctively being able to diagnose patients without formal diagnostics [3]. Amongst the various fields studied, chess stands out as the most widely discussed domain in the literature surrounding intuition and expertise as it has a high complexity, strong ecological validity, and quantifiable level of skill. Several theories about the mechanisms behind expert intuition have been formulated from investigations into chess, however there is still no leading consensus on what drives this phenomenon. The goal of this master’s thesis is to give a summary of the theories linking expert intuition and chess, while also implementing a new look at the issue through the lens of bullet chess.

Bullet chess is a fast paced variant of classical chess in which players have one minute to play a full game. The average chess game lasts around 40 moves which leaves players with approximately 1.2 seconds for each move. Therefore, intuitive decision-making is crucial to success in this time pressured scenario. Time pressure is often implemented in chess studies, however, not to this extreme extent. This provides an opportunity to critically examine proposed theories on intuition under time pressure using bullet chess as a reference point.

Expert level bullet chess games will be collected and analyzed from online databases and information from this data set will be used to supplement theoretical discussions on insights that might be gained from this domain. Results from this discussion can be used to further support or contradict proposed theories of intuition. Likewise, a novel theory can be proposed from these insights that takes a radical embodied stance towards expert intuition under time pressure, as current models fail to implement these concepts.


[1] Fernand Gobet, The Psychology of Chess. Routledge, 2018.

[2] G. A. Klein, R. Calderwood, and A. Clinton-Cirocco, “Rapid Decision Making on the Fire Ground,” Proceedings of the Human Factors Society Annual Meeting, vol. 30, no. 6, pp. 576–580, Sep. 1986, doi:

[3] Benner, P., & Tanner, C. (1987). Clinical judgment: How expert nurses use intuition. The American Journal of Nursing87(1), 23.