By rook or by crook: Magnus Carlsen vs Hans Niemann, the chess cheating controversy explained

World champion Magnus Carlsen has accused Hans Niemann of cheating, rocking the chess world. We take a look at the whole drama.

FP Explainers September 28, 2022 12:34:35 IST
By rook or by crook: Magnus Carlsen vs Hans Niemann, the chess cheating controversy explained

World chess champion Magnus Carlsen has directly accused Hans Niemann of cheating. AP

A cheating scandal has rocked the chess world and at the centre of the controversy are two players — World Champion Magnus Carlsen, the accuser, and American teenager Hans Niemann, the defendant. Carlsen had indirectly hinted at being irked by the presence of Niemann at tournaments and with cryptic messages. On Tuesday, he spoke openly on the matter.

“I believe that Niemann has cheated more—and more recently—than he has publicly admitted,” Carlsen said in his statement on Twitter. The world champion’s accusation has opened pandora’s box with other elite athletes and members of the chess fraternity sharing fear over cheating in chess.

How did it all begin?

Early this month, at the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis (USA), Carlsen, who has been the Chess No 1 for over a decade, lost in a shocking manner to Niemann. The defeat was considered even more surprising because Niemann was playing with black pieces, considered a disadvantage in chess.

Even in the match, Carsen employed an unusual sequence of moves to get the better of Niemann but it went in vain. The American said later that he had prepared for the unusual move coincidentally earlier in the day.

Niemann also said: “I think he was just so demoralised, because he’s losing to such an idiot like me. It must be embarrassing for the World Champion to lose to me. I feel bad for him.”

The five-time defending World Champion then withdrew from the tournament posting a cryptic tweet, that fuelled the rumours that Niemann cheated in the Sinquefield Cup.

What happened after that?

One of the rumours was that Niemann was using wireless anal beads that vibrates him the right moves with the help of a computer chess engine. This theory was popularlised on Twitter by Tesla founder Elon Musk who joked about it in a since-deleted tweet.

In reply, Niemann admitted to using a chess engine to cheat at unrated (without involving money) online chess events (when he was 12 and 16) but added that he has not cheated since then. He also offered to play naked to prove innocence.

“If they want me to strip fully naked, I will do it. I don’t care. Because I know I am clean. You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don’t care,” he said in an interview.

None of this convinced Carlsen because the Norwegian resigned after one move in his next match against Niemann at the Julius Baer Generation Cup.

What is the latest?

On Tuesday, after winning the Julius Baer Generation Cup, Carlsen released a statement on Twitter directly accusing Niemann of cheating.

He said Niemann has “cheated more than he has publicly admitted” and refused to play him in the future.

“I don’t want to play against people who have repeatedly cheated in the past, because I don’t know what they are capable of doing in the future,” the statement read.

Is it possible to cheat in chess?

Carlsen is not the only one who feels cheating is happening in chess. Other grandmasters have also supported Carlsen after his statement and have suggested that cheating is an issue.

While over-the-board cheating is tough, a chess grandmaster was found cheating with a phone in the bathroom in 2019. The chess fraternity has now demanded tougher measures to tackle cheating.

What happens now?

Carlsen has accused Niemann of cheating but he doesn’t have any concrete proof and it’s highly unlikely any proof will be available anytime soon.

“Unfortunately, at this time I am limited in what I can say without explicit permission from Niemann to speak openly,” Carlsen also wrote in his statement.

Niemann for now has not responded to the accusations.

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