The first chess scandal in over a decade
Two grandmasters go head-to-head, battling it out over lies and truth
The year is 2020. The month is October. Netflix has just released their new limited series The Queen’s Gambit. It follows Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy, as she climbs the ladder of chess success. The show sparks an interest in chess for many viewers and the game finds hundreds, if not thousands, of new players.
The year is 2022. The month is September. Chess is bigger online than it has been ever before, and it’s about to get even bigger because a scandal is on its way to rock the chess world.
There are two main people to know surrounding the 2022 chess cheating scandal. The first is Magnus Carlsen, a 31-year-old chess grandmaster from Norway. He’s won the World Chess Championship five times. Many consider him to be the world’s best chess player. The second is Hans Niemann, a 19-year-old chess grandmaster from San Francisco, California. He streams chess on Twitch frequently. He is currently ranked the 12th best American chess player, and the 98th best worldwide.
On September 4, 2022, Niemann beat Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup Grand Chess Tour. Prior to losing to Niemann, Carlsen was on a 53 classical game winning streak. It had been two years since Carlsen had lost while playing white. This win skyrocketed Niemann’s chess rating.
Following his loss, Carlsen quit the tournament. He withdrew and didn’t play any more matches. It was suspicious to say the least, and got even more suspicious when Jose Mourinho, a manager for football, made a statement about Carlsen saying “If I speak, I will be in big trouble.”
The combination of Mourinho’s words and Carlsen’s withdrawal got the internet theorizing. The internet started to believe that the only reason Niemann won against Carlsen was because he cheated.
Fellow grandmaster and Twitch streamer Hikaru Nakamura commented on the situation on his stream, agreeing with suspicions that Niemann cheated and insinuating that Niemann had done it before. He claimed that Niemann had previously been suspended from Chess.com, the popular chess website, because of past cheating.
The thing is, Niemann admitted to cheating – on online games when he was a kid. He stated he’s never cheated in a tournament, never cheated in person, and that he hasn’t cheated in many years.
On September 8, Chess.com released a statement saying that Niemann would be removed from the website and all future events. They claimed they had evidence shown to Niemann, and that in the future Niemann may be welcomed back depending on the circumstances. They also disagreed with Niemann’s statement about online cheating, saying that they had “information that contradicts his statement regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com.”
Two weeks after Niemann’s defeat of Carlsen, he said that he just happened to study the opening that Carlsen used in the match. He claims that it was a miracle that he checked the opening before the match. The problem with preparing for this opening is that it wasn’t one of Carlsen’s regular openings. In fact, Carlsen had never played that opening before, ever.
A theory about Niemann’s cheating emerged from the depths of the internet. Not only was Niemann cheating, he was cheating by using anal beads. Yes, anal beads. People believed that Niemann had acquired and was using anal beads that vibrated to tell him what moves to make while playing. Reddit user XiTro came up with the theory that Carlsen had originally started using anal beads to win and had been for over a decade and when Niemann decided to use the same idea. His anal beads made Carlsen’s work incorrectly and caused Carlsen to play poorly. There’s no actual proof of the anal bead theory and it seems to be something Reddit came up with as a joke, but people took the idea and ran with it.
Carlsen and Niemann would play each other again shortly after at the Julius Baer Generation Cup. Instead of playing the full match, something unprecedented happened. Carlsen resigned from the match. After one move played, Carlsen stood up from his desk, shut off his camera, and simply left. Carlsen leaving the game only added fuel to the fire of the Niemann cheating debacle.
As a response to all of the allegations, Niemann decided to move things from the board to the court, and sued a lot of people. He announced this in a statement on Twitter where he said “my lawsuit speaks for itself,” and included court documents. His statement is a reference to his previous statement where he said “my chess speaks for itself” shortly after his victory against Carlsen.
One strange thing about the lawsuit is that Niemann is suing from Missouri. Niemann is not from Missouri, nor is anyone he’s suing.
The three main people getting sued by Niemann are the website Chess.com for a document they released about Niemann, Magnus Carlsen for defamation, and Hikaru Nakamura who talked about the scandals online. He’s suing all three people for $100,000,000 each.
Chess.com’s document was 72 pages, and delved into Niemann’s potential cheating on their website. They claim that Niemann cheated in over 100 chess games, including games for money. The cheating was as recent as 2020 according to the document. The document discusses Niemann’s “statistically extraordinary” growth in the game.
Niemann believes that his reputation was destroyed by the cheating allegations and that it was a planned attack against him by Carlsen, Chess.com, and Nakamura. Every statement in the court case is based on statements made against Niemann by Carlsen, Chess.com, and Nakamura, yet it’s very difficult for a public figure to sue for defamation because there needs to be proof of malice. The statements need to be made by people knowing they are false, or showing ‘reckless disregard’ for whether or not the statements are false. In order for this lawsuit to succeed, Niemann’s lawyer would need to prove that Carlsen lied about the cheating in order to ruin Niemann’s chess career.
The lawsuit was filed on October 20 and the most recent update was on November 16. On November 16, a judge ordered Niemann to amend his lawsuit to fit the Missouri court’s jurisdiction within the case. There hasn’t been much since then, but this was the first chess scandal in over a decade and the entire chess world was rocked by Carlsen v Niemann. Maybe if we see the lawsuit go to court, the chess world will be rocked again.
Checkmate… I think. I don’t play chess.