On Sept. 3, 2022, the No. 1 rated chess player Magnus Carlsen lost to Hans Niemann in the Sinquefield Cup. While the victory was shocking, as Carlsen had won 53 consecutive matches, the victory is not being talked about as a massive upset. Instead, it’s gaining traction due to the allegations from Carlsen that Niemann cheated during the game. Niemann ended up finishing seventh out of 10 in the cup, while Carlsen automatically came in last due to his withdrawal.
After he withdrew from the match, Carlsen went online to explain himself.
“If I speak, I’m in big trouble, and I don’t want to be in big trouble,” Carlsen tweeted.
Carlsen’s cryptic message set the stage for their rematch on Sept. 19. In the first minutes of the game, Carlsen resigned after one move, sparking even more speculation associated with the cheating allegations. Niemann has denied cheating in any form and maintains he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
For those unfamiliar with chess history, Carlsen is one of the greats. At just 13 years old he became a chess grandmaster. Then at age 15, he won the Norwegian Chess Championship, and at 17 he finished joint first in the top group of Corus. At just 18, he surpassed the rating of 2800, the youngest person ever to do so. Just one year later, he became the youngest grandmaster to become number ranked in the International Chess Federation, commonly referred to by its French acronym (FIDE) world rankings; and in 2019, he scored a 2882 record, the highest score ever recorded in the history of chess and surpassing the previous record of 2851 in 1999, set by Garry Kasparov.
In comparison, Niemann’s rise to grandmaster is very different from Carlsen’s. In 2014, at the age of 10, Niemann became the youngest winner of the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club Tuesday Night Marathon, which is the oldest chess club in the United States. After his successful first year, he continued to play well, and on Jan. 21, 2021, he officially became a grandmaster after placing third in the Vergani Cap. In May 2022, Niemann won the TePe Siegman and Co. chess tournament, a monumental achievement in his budding career.
What isn’t helping Niemann’s case is the fact that it was reported that he cheated on matches online as recently as 2020, with the number of accusations reaching up to 100. Niemann went on record saying that he cheated online in the past, although the actual number of times is unknown. According to chess.com, they allowed Niemann to close his online account and take a year-long suspension.
While there are plenty of people that believe that Niemann cheated, there are many people that also believe that Niemann won fair and square and that Carlsen is just a sore loser. Anti-cheating expert Ken Regan found no evidence of Niemann cheating since 2020. Kasparov even called out Carlsen for his attitude.
“I think that his behavior was unacceptable and it creates some sort of precedence. There are many things you could do without violating your contractual obligations”, Kasparov was quoted as saying.
As it stands right now, there is no proof that Niemann cheated during his match with Carlsen, but we will have to wait and see what comes out in the following months. Niemann’s punishment if he cheated in the match is unknown, but if he did, it could cause a major upset in the world of chess.