A timelapse of half the chess board showing the white pieces first two moves. The first move is King's pawn moves up two squares. The opponent does any move in response, then the white king moves foward one square.

The Bongcloud Attack- A Chess Meme Explained

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The Guardian newspaper describes the Bongcloud Attack as “a move so bad you’d have to be stoned to think it was a good idea“, so the world was shocked to see two of the world’s top-ranked chess players play the Bongcloud Attack at the the $200,000 Magnus Carlsen Invitational in 2021. The origin of this chess meme is pretty entertaining and a clever example of how meta-gaming can bring creative new life to one of the world’s oldest games.

A screenshot from Magnus Carlsen v Hikaru Nakamura. It shows the chess board after Magnus pushed his king forward one square on his second move. Both players can be seen laughing at how terrible the move is.

The Bongcloud Attack can best be described as a chess variation where a player tries to push their king to the opponent’s side. This variation isn’t usually something both players have agreed to in advance, in fact most players don’t know when their opponent is trying to achieve a Bongcloud victory. A Bongcloud victory, when a player is the first to get their king to the other side, is not an actual victory in the rules of chess. It is only done for personal gratification.

The typical Bongcloud Attack opening is:

  1. King’s pawn to e4 (two squares towards opponent)
  2. King to e2 (one square towards opponent)
A timelapse of half the chess board showing the white pieces first two moves. The first move is King's pawn moves up two squares. The opponent does any move in response, then the white king moves foward one square.
An example of the Bongcloud Attack opening as played by Lenny_Bongcloud in 2008

Pushing the king forward this early makes sense if your only goal is to be the first player to push their king to the opponent’s side, but is a terrible move in any other context. This move is so terrible that it has become a chess meme. As mentioned before, it was even used in a match between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura at a chess tournament in 2021.

Lenny Bongcloud

Although the Guardian credits the name of this opening to the fact that you’d have to be “stoned to the gills to think it was a good idea”, the name’s real origin comes from a legendary Chess.com player known as Lenny_Bongcloud.

A screenshot from Chess.com of Lenny_Bongcloud's profile. It shows a black and white drawing of a man with a long beard and a headband that says "bongcloud!". The man looks like Tommy Chong from Cheech and Chong.

Since setting up his account in 2008, Lenny’s sole ambition as a player has been to get his king to his opponent’s side. Or as Lenny puts it, “King to the oetheir side, man!“. As far as I can tell, Lenny never communicated this goal to his opponent. They probably thought he was just a shitty player.

A screenshot of a game between Zerqa (playing white) and Lenny Bongcloud (playing black). In a simple description, it shows Lenny slowly pushing his king all the way to his opponent's side. Lenny trades his queen for a bishop and a pawn, and has a terrible position, but he does manage to get to the other side. Here are the moves:
Zerqa vs. Lenny_Bongcloud
Chess.com: Live Chess: 2020.06.25
1. f3 e5
2. d3 Ke7
3. Bg5+ Ke6
4. Bh4 Qxh4+
5. g3 Qxg3+
6. hxg3 Kf5
7. Nc3 d5
8. e4+ dxe4
9. fxe4+ Kg5
10. Nf3+ Kg4
11. Nh2+ Kxg3
12. Rg1+ Kxh2
13. Qd2+ Kxg1
14. Bh31-0
Lenny then cedes the game to Zerqa.
Zerqa V Lenny Bongcloud match from June of 2020.

According to Chess.com’s stats, Lenny has lost 279 of the 301 games he’s played. Sometimes Lenny’s king is captured before it reaches the other side, but even if Lenny does make it to the other side, he usually quits the game on the next move, thus ceding the game to his opponent. It’s possible he’s one of the lowest-ranked players on Chess.com. It looks like the only time Lenny has won a game on Chess.com was due to his opponents quitting out of frustration, ceding the victory to Lenny, who probably didn’t want it.

Though Lenny Bongcloud may not be a famous chess player, it’s fun to see his unique style of playing chess turn into a meme. Though the meme is blowing up recently, it’s been a bit of a chess joke since the early days of Lenny’s career. In fact, Andrew Fabbro wrote “Winning With The Bongcloud: Complete Repertoire For White“, a satirical deep-dive into the Bongcloud Attack, in 2010. It’s pretty entertaining, too!

All-in-all. I think it’s really cool that Lenny created his own meta-game for chess, just to make it fun for himself. And that other players have found appreciation in that meta game. And, you know, maybe they think they’re making fun of them, but it’s cool to see them thinking about chess in new ways. ,



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