What Is the Bongcloud Opening? Magnus Carlsen Plays Meme Chess Move Against Hikaru Nakamura

An unorthodox chess move known as the "Bongcloud" has surged in popularity after reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen used it in a competitive match on March 15, amusing spectators and his opponent.

The match in question featured Carlsen versus American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura as part of the 2021 Magnus Carlsen Invitational tournament. Nakamura has played a part in popularizing the move himself and has also used it in professional games.

The Bongcloud has become known as something of a meme in chess circles because it immediately places the player who uses it at a disadvantage from the beginning. It is known as an "opening" because it is the first move a player makes.

The name "Bongcloud" refers to cannabis use, with the implication that someone would have to be under the influence of drugs in order to make such a bad move.

The Bongcloud can also be seen as a taunt, with the implication that the user does not consider their opponent to be up to their level of skill, and so they balance the game out with an act of self-sabotage.

The Bongcloud involves three steps. First, a player moves their pawn from E2 to E4, or two squares forward. This will theoretically be countered by the opponent, who will move their pawn forward to E5 from the opening player's perspective.

Both of these moves are natural so far and allow both players to free up their bishop and queen at an early stage of the game.

The final move of the Bongcloud is less natural. The opening player will then move their king forward to E2, where their pawn was initially.

This final step is the main part and is harmful to the player who uses it in two ways. First, it makes the king unnecessarily vulnerable right at the start of the game. Second, it removes the player's ability to "castle".

Castling involves jumping the king and rook (castle) over one another to exchange their places, and can be used as a defensive move because it tucks the king away behind other pieces.

However, castling can only be performed if neither the king nor rook have moved at any point beforehand. As such, playing the this opening move immediately removes the player's ability to castle for the rest of the game.

The video of Carlsen's use of the Bongcloud against Nakamura has been widely shared online since it was uploaded on March 15. Both players begin laughing after Carlsen makes the move.

In it, match commentator Tania Sachdev says: "I have to say, it's kind of nice to see these two players having a laugh like this… we've seen some epic battles between the two; this one is just a joke.

On reddit the footage gained over 10,000 upvotes. Explaining the significance, user Hubblesphere said in a comment: "The Bongcloud was popularized by chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura who has been streaming chess on Twitch for the past year and gathered a bit of a following.

"It's known on Twitch and for those who follow the chess streamers but isn't something you'd ever see at an international chess tournament."

Correction 18/03/2021, 10:50am EDT: This article has been updated to correct the name of the chess tournament.

Chess board
A stock image of a chess board shows two pawns next to one another. The video of Carlsen vs. Nakamura has been seen over 200,000 times. ffikretow/iStock