Luke McShane

Everybody must get stoned

Have you ever played the Frankenstein-Dracula variation? The Monkey’s Bum? The Nescafé Frappé Attack? These are all real chess openings, and each has some merit. That is more than can be said for the Bongcloud, which begins with the moves 1 e4 e5 2 Ke2.

This daft opening exploded in popularity last year when it was championed (in jest) by grandmaster and Twitch streamer Hikaru Nakamura. In fact the Bongcloud has hung in the air for much longer than that. According to one origin story (which appears genuine, but who knows?) an online persona named Lenny_Bongcloud was already playing it more than a decade ago.

The Bongcloud has impeccable memetic credentials. Besides the evocative name (you’d have to be high to want to play it), it is similarly (in)effective against any of Black’s first moves. Advancing the king so early is ostentatiously awful, but it doesn’t quite lose by force, so playing it amounts to a kind of highwire act with some taunting and teasing thrown in.

In the spirit of a prank, Magnus Carlsen played the Bongcloud against Nakamura in the latest Magnus Carlsen Invitational online tournament. There were giggles all round, but Nakamura had the good sense not to become a stooge for his own joke. After 1 e4 e5 2 Ke2, he shot back the equally silly 2… Ke7, soon to be christened the ‘Double Bongcloud’. After the moves 3 Ke1 Ke8 4 Ke2 Ke7 5 Ke1 Ke8 6 Ke2 Ke7 the game ended in a draw by repetition.

The game was played right at the end of the preliminary stage, in which both Carlsen and Nakamura had already made the cut, so its competitive significance was minimal. All the same, some viewers (including Fide officials) felt that this display from the players deserved a verbal stoning.

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