Fresh from his Fischer Random World Championship victory last weekend, Hikaru Nakamura’s confidence had to be at an all-time high as the back-in-form American made the Atlantic crossing from Iceland to Canada for the Chess.com Global Championship Finals this week. And it showed, as he continued his winning-ways with a perfect 4-0 sweep of Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Buoyed up by finally winning a world title, Nakamura proved to be the big winner in the opening day of the eight-player $200,000 hybrid event taking place at the 1 Hotel in Downtown Toronto. And such was his dominance over the Pole that – in pure desperation, by being 3-0 down heading into the final game four of the day – that he was now “on tilt” by using the unsound Bongloud Attack (1.e3 e5 2.Ke2) against arguably one of its biggest champions!
The Bongcloud has become a part of folklore in chess circles since the dawn of the internet, fuelled by Bobby Fischer’s rumoured deployment of the opening in his alleged series of games with Nigel Short on the Internet Chess Club (ICC) back in 2000. It did have a cult following on the ICC, and one of the many apocryphal stories to its nomenclature is that a member with an online nom de plume of “Lenny_Bongcloud” played it when he was, well, stoned, man!
The Bongcloud has impeccable memetic credentials. Besides the evocative name (you’d have to be high to want to play it), it was through the ICC that the younger Nakamura developed and honed his game and early – and provocative – style of play in, so it comes as no surprise that he championed it from time to time, with it being his “party piece” in order to entertain the online masses.
But everybody must get stoned, as the legendary Bob Dylan would have it, and it is always entertaining value when someone has the chutzpah to play it against Nakamura himself. Previously, Magnus Carlsen, back in March 2021, in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational online tournament, was the last occasion, and now the latest being Duda in clear frustration, and the expression caught on Nakamura’s face when confronted with the Bongcloud made for quiet the picture!
Can Nakamura now go on to win a second major title in as many weeks? You can tune in to the official tournament site with full live commentary action of the semifinals and final over the weekend.
Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 5-2 Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland); Wesley So (USA) 4.5-1.5 Dmitry Andreikin (Russia); Anish Giri (Netherlands) 5-4 Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan); Nihal Sarin* (India) 4.5-3.5 Sam Sevian (USA). *Sarin replaces Levon Aronian.
Nakamura v So and Giri v Sarin
Photo: Nakamura’s expression when faced with the Bongcloud! | © Chess.com Global Championship
GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda – GM Hikaru Nakamura
CGC KO 2022, (4.4)
1.e3 e5 2.Ke2?!? [see diagram] The Bongcloud also has a similarity to a “fun” opening I witnessed in my formative tournament years in Scotland, with a couple of nameless “entertainers” who liked to dabble in the “Fred”, which would start off innocently enough as a French Defence with 1.e4 e6 2.d4 only to see 2…Ke7??! followed by 3…Qe8 and 4…Kd8! 2…d5 3.d4 Nc6 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.f3 Bd6 6.Kf2 0-0 7.Nge2 Qe7 8.Nb5 If not this, then Black really does have the makings of a ready-made attack on the early wandering White king. 8…Bb4 9.c3 Ba5 10.a4 Bb6 Of course, despite the little chase around, the bishop is clearly better off on the a7-g1 diagonal. 11.h3 Objectively, Black is clearly better with the big lead in development and king safety – but nevertheless I think best for White is 11.dxe5 Qxe5 12.Nbd4 where at least the knight is solid on d4 unlike what happens in the game – but where’s the fun in that? 11…a6 12.Na3 Ne8 A multi-facetted move from Nakamura, giving him the option of springing a brutal kingside assault with f5 or perhaps even …Nd6 looking to swing into f5 or even c4. 13.b4 Nd6 The knight here also stops for now any idea Duda might have had of playing b5. 14.g3 Re8 15.Ra2 Qf6 Forcing Duda into moving his king again, otherwise there might be a nasty …Ne4+ moment. 16.Kg2 Bf5 Rather than looking for a brutal “Caveman attack”, Nakamura just stays calm and gets on with the day job of developing his pieces on natural squares – a salient lesson for everyone who comes face to face with an obscure opening, as often the knee-jerk reaction of going for a quick killing attack can backfire. 17.g4 Bg6 18.Ng3 h5!? Nakamura clearly has had enough of the patient approach! There comes a time though when you have to start making use of your clear lead in development and let your opponent worry about the position opening up in front of his wandering king. 19.Rg1 Mr Engine, with its decimal wisdom will tell you that you can grab the h-pawn with 19.gxh5 Bh7 and follow up with 20.a5 Ba7 where White is “only” worse – but any human would worry about lines opening up here. Then again, that might have been more preferable for Duda than what he now faces in the game. 19…h4! White’s pieces basically have no prospects, as Duda is now resigned to sitting in Death’s Waiting Room for Nakamura to crash open the position. 20.Ne2 Rad8 21.Bd2 Nc4 An easy call for Nakamura with his rooks bossing the central files. 22.Nxc4 dxc4 23.a5 Ba7 24.Qe1 Bd3! Duda’s position is just a mess here, and he rightly gets “stoned” for his provocative opening choice! 25.Qf2 Ne7 Nakamura clearly has his opponent on the ropes, and now he’s coming in with …Nd5 to look for the haymaker – but faced with so many options, he missed the clean kill with 25…Bxe2! 26.Bxe2 exd4 27.cxd4 (No better was 27.exd4 Nxd4! 28.cxd4 Bxd4 and Black is close to winning.) 27…Qe6! 28.Rc2 Nxd4! 29.Bxc4 Qg6 30.Rc3 Nxf3 31.Kxf3 Qf6+ and White’s position is set to collapse. 26.Nc1 Bxf1+ 27.Rxf1 Nd5 Better was 27…exd4! 28.exd4 Bb8 switching to the stronger b8-h2 diagonal, and following up with …c6 and …Nd5. 28.Ne2 Qe7 29.Re1 c6 It’s worse for White, but not so much terminal now – but the “awkwardness” proves too much of a hurdle for Duda. 30.Rb2 exd4 31.Nxd4 Qf6 32.Rbb1 g6 33.Kh1 Rd7 34.Re2 Bxd4! Nakamura has found a way to crash Duda’s fragile position. 35.exd4 Rxe2 36.Qxe2 Re7 37.Qf2 It’s bad, but it could have been much worse with 37.Qf1? Nxc3!! 38.Bxc3 Re3! 39.Be1 Rxf3 40.Qe2 Qf4 and White won’t survive for long with multiple threats of …Rxh3+ and …c3 or even …Re3 and …Qe4+. 37…Nf4 38.Bxf4 Qxf4 Duda has made it to an endgame of sorts, but there’s been long-term damage to his position with a number of loose pawns not to mention being saddled with a passive queen and rook. 39.Rf1 Re3! The end comes swiftly now. 40.Qxh4 Rxc3 41.Qd8+ Kg7 42.Kg2 There’s no hope even of a Hail Mary queen perpetual with 42.g5, as Black has 42…Rc2! forcing a hopelessly lost R+P ending after 43.Qf6+ Qxf6 44.gxf6+ Kxf6 etc. 42…Rc2+ 43.Rf2 Rxf2+ 44.Kxf2 c3 0-1