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.
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:
- King’s pawn to e4 (two squares towards opponent)
- King to e2 (one square towards opponent)
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.
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.
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.
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. ,