The greatest chess player of all time takes part in the opening of the “Double Bongcloud”

While it’s a dumb game to compare players from different eras, current world chess champion Magnus Carlsen has good reason to be the greatest player to ever live. He’s been a Grandmaster since 2004, became world champion in 2013 (a title he has successfully defended in three league games since), and his maximum classic score of 2,882 is the highest in history (his rating Current FIDE is 2847). And last week, during the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, he and Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura decided to take a look at memes by playing an opening that has now been dubbed the Double Bongcloud.

There are various explanations for the origin of the Bongcloud nomenclature, but it has been around since at least the 90s and seems inextricably linked with the rise of internet chess. There were rumors that former World Champion Bobby Fischer was playing online in the ’90s and would use that opening to demonstrate his superiority (thanks, Guardian). As it suggests, the joke with the Bongcloud is that it’s such a bad move that you’d have to be head screwed to even try it.

The move follows the standard opening of white pushing their king pawn to e4, black responding with their king pawn to e5, after which white’s king moves to e2. Which looks like this:

The opening of Bongcloud.

(Image credit: Chess)

Let’s not get into the weeds too much on chess theory but it’s as bad as that: exposes the king, blocks the development of other pieces, prevents castling … it’s a stench. It can be played as a kind of disrespect to his opponent, but the sheer silliness of Bongcloud in a game where players memorize openings called things like the Sicilian Dragon, the Nimzo-Indian Defense or the Ruy Lopez means that it It also became a good-humored joke, confusing the occasional trend in the chess world to emphasis.

Carlsen’s opponent in this game, Hikaru Nakamura, is himself a wonderful player and known for his humorous chess-based internet shenanigans including playing Bongcloud and winning big matches. What is the context needed for Carlsen to choose to open against Nakamura with the move, which sees Nakamura instantly cracking up, before choosing to respond in kind. After which neither player can contain their laughter as they shuffle the pieces on the way to the draw.

Here we are, in the Year of Our Lord 2021, with two of the greatest players on the planet opening up against each other with a Double Bongcloud. Some chess greats don’t quite like what’s going on in the game of kings: British grandmaster Nigel Short suggests here that “some openings of the Twitch generation” are “an insult to chess”.

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To quote the Dude: it’s just, like, your opinion man.

Most of the great chess masters when I was learning the game were indeed very serious characters, but it was also chess at a time when it was moving into the computer age. Gaming has now been almost unrecognizable from the ’80s and’ 90s, and the number of formats and interest online gaming has garnered is surely something of a golden age. If the price for this is the current generation of grandmasters making a few jokes in minor tournaments, I’m pretty sure chess can stand up to this.

Certainly passing by the reaction of the great Hungarian master Peter Leko, who was in the post of commentator, and could not suppress his own laughter at the end. “Is it called Bongcloud yeah? It was something like a Bongcloud business,” he chuckled in disbelief.

As if to say it, this match was draw: the two players had already qualified for the next stage of the tournament. When Leko refers to the Berlin stuff, he’s talking about a top-level game that seeks to ensure an early draw, which is the kind of game one would expect.

Instead, Carlsen and Nakamura laugh, shift their kings a bit, and essentially go for a toss. They both got a hit from the Bongcloud, made fun of their asses and calmed down. It’s a far cry from Bobby Fischer against the world but every now and then it’s not a bad thing.

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