Earlier this year, at the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, current chess world champion Magnus Carlsen and grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura had a dead rubber match: both players needed a draw to qualify. Rather than pursuing traditional methods of drawing a match, both players decided to lean into the memes by playing an opening dubbed the Double Bongcloud.
There are various explanations for where the Bongcloud nomenclature came from, but it's been around since at least the '90s and seems inextricable from the rise of internet chess. There were rumours that former world champion Bobby Fischer played online in the '90s, and would use this opening to demonstrate his superiority (thanks, Guardian). As that suggests, the joke with the Bongcloud is that it's such a bad move you'd have to be stoned out of your mind to even try it.
At the time, grandmaster Nigel Short was somewhat disapproving of the play. PC Gamer recently interviewed former world champion Garry Kasparov who, among his many achievements, mentored the young Magnus Carlsen. I asked Kasparov about this incident, and whether he considered it disrespectful.
"I can tell you, I would have never done that," laughs Kasparov. "So as for me, it's wrong because I'm old fashioned. You know, I grew up in the Soviet Union. So 40 years ago in 1978 was the first time I qualified for the Soviet national championship, and I believe that when you go to the stage, you have to perform, an actor, so you have to be dressed. Throughout my professional career most of the games I played, I had a collar and tie.
"It's because it's not just my game. I play it in front of the public and I think respecting the public is important. I think the public wants to see something, to be entertained. And these kind of draws are not are not sending the right message."
The memes aside, however, the double bongcloud did perhaps demonstrate a more fundamental problem: a format that puts two competitors in a situation where a draw is the most desirable outcome.
"I understand this draw demonstrated the imperfection of the system on Magnus' chess," says Kasparov, "because you have these endless marathons and it's all about winning at the end. And this game had no value for two players, they risk or they could both qualify: I understand their professional inclinations to make this kind of draw.
"We had these debates in football, for instance, when during qualifiers both teams needed draws to qualify, and sometimes these matches were very painful to watch. So, again, I'd want to improve that. But I think that if you play chess for the public, especially for the internet public, you're not talking about a couple of hundred people in the audience, but you're talking about maybe a couple hundred thousand people. I think you should pay utmost respect to your viewers."
PC Gamer spoke to Garry Kasparov because of the launch of his new chess site, Kasparovchess.com. Check back soon for more from our chat.