While comparing players across different eras is a foolish game, current world chess champion Magnus Carlsen has a good case for being the greatest player ever. He’s been a great expert since 2004, becoming world champion in 2013 (a title he has successfully defended in three championship matches since then), and his highest classic rating of 2882 is the highest in history (the current FIDE rating is 2847). And last week, on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, he and Senior Pioneer Hikaru Nakamura decided to lean into memes by playing an editorial now called Double Bongcloud.
There are various explanations for the source of the Bongcloud naming, but it has been around since at least the 1990s and seems inseparable from the rise of online chess. There were rumors that former world champ Bobby Fisher played online in the 1990s, and He will use this opening to prove his superiority (Thanks, guardian). As this suggests, the joke with Bongcloud is that it’s so bad that you’ll have to clear your mind to even try it.
This move follows the standard opening of the white by pushing their king’s pawn to e4, the black’s returning the king’s pawn to e5, after which the king of white moves to e2. Which looks like this:
Let’s not dwell on weeds in chess theory, but that’s just as bad as it gets: it exposes the king, impedes the growth of other pieces, prevents castling … it’s stinky. It can be played as a kind of disrespect for an opponent, but Bongcloud’s sheer crap in a game where players save slots called things like the Sicilian Dragon, Nimzo-Indian Defense, or Ruy Lopez means it also becomes a good joke. And The trend of the occasional chess world skewed towards ostentation.
Carlsen’s opponent in this game, Hikaru Nakamura, is a great player himself known for his internet comic chess tricks, including Play Bongcloud and already win the big matches. This is the necessary context for Carlsen to choose to open up against Nakamura with this step, which sees Nakamura immediately disintegrate, before choosing to reciprocate. And then none of the players can contain their laughter as they shuffle the pieces on their way to a tie.
Here we go, in the year of our Lord 2021, with two of the greatest players on the planet opening up against each other with Double Bongcloud. Some chess greats do not take kindly to things like this that happen in the game of kings: the great British professor Nigel Short notes here that “some chances of the Twitch generation” are “an insult to chess”.
Mike Basman used to being shocked by playing the 1.e4 g5 !? Although not quite as solid as Berlin, this at least took over the f4 box and set up an extended fianchetto. It was very provocative, but it wasn’t an insult to chess – unlike some Twitch Generation slots that I can call it.March 17, 2021
To quote the guy: That’s just a man you think.
Most of the chess masters when I was learning the game were really very serious characters, but this was also a chess game in an era when it was moving into the computer age. The game is now nearly unrecognizable since the 1980s and 1990s, and the number of formats and attention that online play has brought about is kind of a golden age. If the price for it is the current generation of greats who make some jokes in the smaller tournaments, then I’m sure chess can beat that.
It definitely goes according to the reaction of Hungarian teacher Peter Liku, who was on commentary duties, and finally couldn’t suppress his laughter. “Is that called Bongcloud, yeah? It was something like Bongcloud,” he said, with an unbelievable laugh.
As if it had to be said, this game was dead rubber: both players had already qualified for the next stage of the tournament. When Leko refers to things in Berlin, he is talking about a high-profile play aimed at securing an early draw, the kind of play one would expect to see.
Instead, Carlsen and Nakamura laughed, stir their kings a little, and basically go for a Derby tie. They both had a pong-cloud hit, laughed at their butts, and gave out. It’s a far cry from Bobby Fisher versus the world, but, once in a while, that’s not a bad thing.