Iit should have been simple for Magnus Carlsen, or at least as simple as a top-notch game of chess can be. When the world chess champion sat opposite 19-year-old American Hans Niemann in the Sinquefield Cup earlier this month, he had the benefit of playing with the white pieces, he was on a 53-game undefeated streak, and he was up against someone who entered the tournament as the lowest ranked player.
Few expected a turnaround, but that’s exactly what happened.
Carlsen’s loss to Niemann in that game was unusual, but what followed was even more so. The next day, the world’s number one chess star withdrew from the tournament without explanation; just a brief statement posted on Twitter and a meme.
“I withdrew from the tournament. I always liked to play @STLChessClub, and hope to be back in the future,” he wrote in a tweet, accompanied by a video clip of José Mourinho, saying, “I’d really rather not talk. If I talk, I’m in trouble.”
Carlsen did not say this explicitly, but his withdrawal and the cryptic video were interpreted as a thinly veiled accusation of cheating against Neimann.
Niemann has vehemently denied the allegations against him, but the chess world – which is its own ecosystem of players and teachers, YouTubers, streamers and fans – has been consumed by drama ever since.
“Basically, it looks like Magnus Carlsen thinks something isn’t right with Hans Niemann,” Levy Rozman, an international master and host of a popular YouTube chess channel, said in a post. video. He described it as “probably the biggest chess scandal in history”.
Cheating in chess is as old as the game itself. But the rise of online gaming, coupled with the invention of artificial intelligence-powered chess engines that can calculate millions of possible moves in seconds, has led to an explosion of cheating in recent years. Chess.com, the internet’s most popular chess platform, calls cheating “the dirty and not-so-secret chess game,” the one that “has plagued online chess sites.” The website says it suspends around 500 accounts per day for cheating.
So how could Niemann, who played Carlsen personally, have cheated? This is where things get weird. A theory supposedly from the depths of Reddit, which suggested that Neimann used vibrating anal beads to receive movement commands from an outside helper, was discussed as if it were a serious probability by grandmaster Eric Hansen. on a live stream. Other theory suggested that Niemann could be using a “tiny laser” that “draws an ultraviolet line in the frame visible only through social media. [sic] Contacts.”
Niemann had his own theory, postulating in your post-game interview that Carlsen “was so demoralized because he’s losing to an idiot like me. It must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose to me. I feel bad for him.”
What followed was something akin to a true crime drama. Niemann’s story has been fiercely scrutinized online, his previous games studied for anomalies and patterns.
Hikaru Nakamura, a chess grandmaster, former world number two and popular chess YouTuber, replayed the game between Carlsen and Niemann to look for moves that didn’t make sense. In other words, he looked for moves that could only have been prompted by artificial intelligence. “I’m really suss actually,” he said.
Greg Keener, a FIDE referee and assistant manager of The Marshall Chess Club, wrote in a review for the New York Timesthat Neimann’s Elo rating, based on a player’s game record, has risen more than 500 points since January 2021, describing it as “an increase so steep that many people don’t believe it’s possible.”
In other words, Niemann’s meteoric rise was an underlying reason for many people’s suspicions.
The scandal only deepened when it came to light that Niemann, in an interview he gave to explain his game against Carlsen and defend himself against the accusations, admitted to cheating in online games when he was younger.
“I cheated in random games in Chess.with. I was confronted. I confessed. And this is the biggest mistake of my life. And I’m completely embarrassed. I’m telling the world because I don’t want misrepresentations and I don’t want rumours. I’ve never cheated in an over-the-board game. And, except when I was 12, I never cheated in a tournament with prize money,” he said in a statement. interview with the St Louis Chess Club.
“For context, I was 16 years old and living alone in New York in the heart of the pandemic and I was willing to do anything to increase my flow,” he added. “What I want people to know about this is that I am deeply, deeply sorry for my mistake. I know my actions have consequences and I have suffered those consequences.”
Niemann went on to say that he would play nude to prove his innocence against accusations of him using devices on his body.
“If they want me to be totally naked, I’ll do it. I don’t mind. Because I know I’m clean. You want me to play it in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don’t mind. I’m here to win and that’s my goal anyway,” he said.
Neimann could not be found for comment. The Independent.
Two days after that interview, Chess.com said in a statement that it had banned Neimann from the site, without going into more detail.
Still, the drama continued. Neimann and Carlsen met in another game, this time online, in a tournament called the Generation Cup. After one move, Carlsen resigned from the game and turned off your webcam.
“This is a bigger statement than the tweet I think,” said the commentator.
The furor threatened to derail the career of a young chess grandmaster before it had even begun. However, no one has yet been able to provide any concrete proof of his cheating.
After days of speculation, Chris Bird, the head referee of the Sinquefield Cup, where the scandal began, said there was no evidence of cheating.
“In response to recent rumors circulating in the chess world, I can confirm that we currently have no indication that any player played unfairly in the 2022 Sinquefield Cup,” Bird said in a statement, according to the newspaper. Reuters.
O New York Times informed that he was invited to come back for the next tournament at the club.
Keener, in his analysis for the times, also pointed out comments from Levon Aronian, an Armenian grandmaster who played in the same tournament and who defended Niemann post-game interview.
“Well, I think it often happens when young players play really well. There are all these accusations against them. All my colleagues are practically paranoid,” he said in the interview.
There was even more in-depth analysis from Professor Ken Regan, described as “the world’s leading expert on chess cheat detection” by ChessBase, who analyzed all of Niemann’s games over the past two years, online and offline.
“Niemann played well. But not very well,” he said. in your verdictwho concluded that he does not cheat.
That may have been the end of the controversy. But Carlsen got into it again this week. in an interview.
“Unfortunately, I can’t speak particularly about it,” Carlsen said when asked why he forfeited his last game with Neimann. “But, you know, people can draw their own conclusions and they certainly have.
He then hinted that he cannot remain enigmatic much longer.
“I hope to say a little more after the tournament,” he said.