What if you played the worst move in Chess? Moving your King out into the center right in the opening. Sounds insane doesn’t it? As crazy as it sounds, Grandmasters have been playing it for a while now.
Read it and weap.
Viable Opening or a Joke?
Before getting into the fundamentals of the Bongcloud, is this really an opening or just a joke?
The Bongcloud is a legitimate opening that can be played. However, it should only be played by Grandmasters since they know the game so well. This opening won’t be advantageous for an amateur to play. You also won’t see Grandmaster play the Bongcloud in legitimate Chess Tournaments either which says a lot about the strength of this opening.
I think of the Bongcloud as an opening that is unlocked at the Grandmaster level the same way you would “unlock” a special weapon or transmogrification in a video game.
Hikaru and Magnus played the Bongcloud against each other and had quite the chuckle.
The Bongcloud opening has been utilized as a joke opening on occasion for the past decade or so and is intended to give your opponent a chance. We all know how memes start in the modern era, and the name was given after a chess.com user named Lenny Bongcloud used it with little success. He then claimed that you would have to be high to even consider it in tournament play. Nigel short was famous for playing the opening against an opponent who he suspected to be Bobby Fischer. From there, it started to gain traction as a cult following in the mainstream chess humor circles and continues to cause many smiles.
It’s outlandish and seemingly unwise, but if you lose to it then you might question reality. Some players don’t take it seriously and see it as a chance to easily seize the game and others simply smile as it is basically an inside joke in chess. Still, other higher-ranking players might take offense to someone playing this and interpret it as a silly and unrealistic opening that should never be played in chess.
Despite the various interpretations, the Bongcloud in the hands of an experienced player can yield some interesting results and in some cases a very surprising and satisfying victory. Still, the joke behind it is that it blatantly violates every sound chess principle and is commonly viewed as perhaps the worst opening possible. It shows what can happen to an overconfident king, and historically pride has come before the fall.
The opening starts off with the common e4 move which is seen as a great option for gaining central control and placing a piece on a central square. Nothing wrong so far because it also opens up for the development of the queen or bishop. E4 is a great opening move.
E4 is met with e5 in the center by black in this opening. There isn’t anything out of the ordinary going on yet, but brace yourself.
White then responds with the highly questionable move Ke2, and yes you read that correctly. The king boldly steps onto the battlefield and it’s important to note that once the king moves he cannot castle to safety. The king is now in a supportive role in the center and this means that he’s wide open for an attack. You can see why this would be considered a joke, but for the sake of the memes, we see grandmasters using it against each other anyway.
From here, whites will generally respond with another standard move like developing one of the knights to influence the center. There is no bolder opening move than for the king to step outside his court with his army behind him. It’s more of a statement than a serious opening that says white isn’t taking things seriously. Either that, or the player using it just came back from the legal recreational cannabis dispensary.
Nakamura vs Xiong
This is a game between a Super Grandmaster and frequent user of the Bongcloud opening, Hikaru Nakamura and Grandmaster player Jeffery Xiong.
Hikaru is a big fan of playing the Bongcloud, especially during his famous Scrub Stomping speedruns on his Youtube channel.
He also teaches the basics of the Bongcloud.
Now that the king is exposed and can’t get into safety, he is essentially forced to support the center and build around that. There are many creative ways you can go about this, but despite how silly it looks, you must remember that the King still has influence and is the only piece that can move any square in one direction besides the queen.
The king blocks the development opportunities of your bishop and queen so you may have to move him further or move other pieces to get them moving. If you’re going to try to play this opening seriously then the grandmaster to ask would be Hikaru Nakamura. It shouldn’t be taken lightly in the hands of a high-ranking player like him and he enjoys comically destroying people with it.
There isn’t much strategy to this opening except to maybe disarm your opponent psychologically because there is more pressure on them to win given the fact that you are also reduced in an important tempo. Your main strategy is to do your best to play around with this poor opening move and see if it’s possible to come out victorious, and this can be thrilling if you do. It is used appropriately as a handicap or a chance to win against a grandmaster throwing you a bone.
If you want to see how this opening is done by none other than the current #1 Chess player in the world, Magnus Carlsen has a tutorial on the Bongcloud.
To be honest, the only thing this opening has going for it when it comes to strengths is the fact that people will scratch their heads and might underestimate your abilities. Theoretically, it can help you build a fortified center, but it just isn’t worth it at the beginner level. A more experienced player will be able to build around the idea and still strategize to keep the king safe and use his central influence to the best of their ability. In the hands of an amateur, it’s essentially worthless and will result in your opponent getting the last laugh.
Typically, we think of the king as being strong, and he is, but his strength comes out in the end game, not in the critical stage of development which is intended to situate your minor pieces and influencee the center.
There are many weaknesses to using the bong cloud opening and its evidence that you shouldn’t do drugs. First of all, one of your main priorities in chess is to get the king to safety because the way to win is to attack and checkmate the king. Putting him out in the open is an invitation for an attack.
Do you think a king in real life would step outside his castle when there are flaming archers and enemy soldiers waiting to gut him? Definitely not. The king also blocks development in this opening which means you lose a tempo and have to struggle to figure out how to properly move your army.
A00 Bongcloud Opening: Extended Variation
1.e4 e5 2. e2 d5 3. e3!?
In this extended variation, we see the king treading forward even more boldly to e3 after another hit off the bong. As you can see, this is very fool-hearty and you should only play this in good fun.
A00: Bongcloud Opening; Tal-Lengyel Gambit
1.e4 e5 2. e2 d5 3. b3 dxe4 4. h4 !!
This is a more viable option but that’s generous because you will most likely get harassed by the queen early on and get into a sticky situation. You also basically completely sacrifice the center for the sake of silliness and humor, or in some cases, disgrace. It’s like the king forgot to wear his royal robes.
1. e3 e5 2. f3 d5 3. f2!?
Out of all the variations, this is probably the more sound approach because you at least have some pawns in front of the king. It is often criticized as being too reserved and doesn’t follow the basic boisterous nature of the bong cloud. This variation opens up the door for a hypermodern approach that is actually rather viable.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Bongcloud opening appropriate for tournament play?
The short answer is no, but we still see it used among the grandmasters as a joke practice. There’s nothing wrong with perpetuating a loose and fun opening instead of taking chess so seriously all the time. It’s more appropriate for high-level players though because you would be wise to learn other lucrative openings before you joke around on the chess board.
Why is this opening a joke?
It is a joke because it breaks almost every single fundamental rule for playing good chess, and it’s almost guaranteed you’ll never see this played in a match where there’s money on the line. It was named after a player who didn’t have any success with it, and the results are comical.
Are some people serious when they play this?
Indeed, some people are seriously trying to beat you with this opening like Hikaru Nakamura. It’s done in a light-hearted manner, but when you have mastered everything else in the game, it’s fun to explore the less viable options and see what can be done. Clearly, he has had extended success against players using his grandmaster status to develop a hypermodern approach.
The Bongcloud opening is an anomaly is Chess. It shouldn’t be played seriously if you’re an amateur. Grandmasters will play this opening in casual play, but it’s not used in tournaments where the stakes are high. There are simply better openings to play.
In closing, or you could play this opening against Grandmasters to have a nice chuckle.