Chess is had its biggest drama since 1960s. In this article I’m going to go through what is happened in the chess world, why and what will this mean to the chess.
Introduction and background
First thing first, I am going to introduce myself a bit. My name is Joshua, and I am third year student from national line, you might have seen me walking around the chess boards, or not. I usually write in Finnish, about pesäpallo, go check out those texts too. Here is my latest. There are two main reasons why I decided to write this one in English.
First one is that I thought that this could be good practice for my English matriculation examination coming in spring 2023. Second one is that I watch chess 99% in English, and it felt natural to write this article in English too. (I am sorry for my grammar errors and typos)
So, without further to do let’s talk about the chess drama 2022.
Events of Sinquefield cup 2022 (1.9.2022—13.9.2022)
The actual drama starts at Sinquefield cup in September 2022. Sinquefield cup is annual invitation-only chess tournament. Here is the Wikipedia page if you are interested in additional information. Usually in the Sinquefield cup there are competing only very high-ranked chess players from the top of the ranking list.
First two round looked very normal and nothing too interesting happened, beside Magnus Carlsen beating Ian Nepomniachtchi “Nepo” it was their first game after the world championship match. Other games were draws. In second round tournament underdog Hans Niemann won his first match and other matches of the day were draws. Things get interesting in the third round. In the third round Hans Niemann, 19-year-old teenager, the underdog of the tournament, with black pieces, beat Magnus Carlsen. 5-time world chess champion and the world number one. The very next day, Magnus Carlsen withdrew the tournament. And put out tweet about the withdrawing, with a quote of football couch Jose Mourinho “If I speak, I am in big trouble” Link to the tweet here.
This wasn’t the first time this year that Hans Niemann beat Magnus Carlsen this year. The last time it happened was in August 2022. The event was FTX crypto cup.
What is cheating in chess?
FTX crypto cup 2022
What happened here is not that important regarding the drama, but it’s still something I want to share. In this interesting tournament, they sit across each other, in the same room and played chess in computers. Anyway, that’s not important. Players played one match against each other, that match consisted of four matches with less time than in the classical chess game. Hans beat Magnus in the first mini match in their match. After-game interview he was asked about the first match against Magnus and said “Chess speaks for itself” which sounds so arrogant. He also went on and lose rest of the matches against Magnus and for the rest of the tournament, he didn’t win a single match, only one mini match, but that wasn’t enough to win a whole match.
Before doing anything else, let me quickly tell you who is this Magnus Carlsen. He is chess grandmaster, he is 5-time Chess World champion, reigning world champion, although he isn’t going to defend his title in next World champion match, highest rated player ever, he have been number 1 in classical chess for ages. He has earned more money by winning chess tournaments than anyone else. Before he lose to Hans Niemann, he had played fifty-three classical chess games, without losing a single one of them, there were draws, but he did not lose a single match in that period. You can find more about him for example here.
It is also good to introduce our second protagonist. Hans Niemann, he is a 19-old chess grandmaster. He is not very well-known or anything. He had rating just below 2700, compared to Magnus Carlsen’s 2850. After beating Magnus Carlsen and playing more, his rating has gone up and he reached 2700 rating.
Flow of the events and reactions of the chess world
Immediately after the news of Magnus withdrawing, the speculations started. The speculations about Hans Niemann’s cheating. Officially, Magnus did not say that yet, but it was one of the most popular theories that people had. Some of Magnus Carlsen’s adversaries also accused Magnus of being sore loser, but that’s just stupid, because Magnus is known for having a good sportsmanship and Magnus have lose games earlier, against young prodigies and against many others too. He was never happy after those defeats, but always showed a good sportsmanship. Personally, I found it very odd for Magnus to withdrew just like this, and I do believe that he has to have a reason for that, he wouldn’t start this circus just because he was salty after defeat.
The most enthusiastic fans of Magnus of course believed the theory of Hans’s cheating and tried their best to prove it. Some even went through all of Hans Niemann’s games for the last couple of years with computers in order to prove his cheating. Before we go any further, it’s important to know, what is cheating in chess?
Cheating in chess means using computer or other technical device to assist you in your games or receiving any outside assistance, in any kind of way. Nowadays, chess computers are so strong that they can easily beat any human player and technology is so advanced that you could fit that kind of device in your pocket. Quite literally, you can go to Lichess.org or Chess.com with your phone and find analysis board and use it to overpower even the best chess players, maybe not the strongest players, you might need stronger computer against them, but you get the point.
In their level, it is extremely hard to prove that someone is cheating. Unless you literally catch them looking their phone, receiving signals from the audience or something like that. Reason for that is the fact that all chess players use computers to study, and they prepare opening with computers and are just so good players, that if they play good games, it is not suspicious. In online games, it’s easy to cheat, but in over the board events, it is much harder to cheat, but it is possible.
Continuation of the Sinquefield cup (6.9.2022—13.9.2022)
After the information, the tournament continued normally, but unusual number of games ended in draw in fourth round and after that. In addition, Hans gave us post-game interview, where he was asked to evaluate certain position and its possible variations that weren’t played in the game. Hans didn’t understand the position at all, like he was saying that he was winning, or that this certain move was good. Even the American chess grandmaster and most popular chess streamer Hikaru Nakamura said in his video that Hans evaluated the position wrong, and Hans would be worse after or even losing after the moves Hans suggested. Here is the video, time stamp around 14:10 onwards, they also turn on the engine
The evaluation wasn’t particularly good and if you have beaten Magnus Carlsen himself, you should understand chess better. At least that interview didn’t made things any better, if something it just made Hans look even more suspicious.
One thing chanced in the tournament though. Anti-cheating measurements get tightened up. If I remember correctly, more metal detectors and players were searched more closely after Magnus left. Games were so far showed in internet in real-time, but that also changed to 15-minute delay. Point of that is to make cheating harder, if the person helping you can’t see the board real-time, you can’t get the information so quickly.
Hans Niemann’s response (During Sinquefield cup, 7.9.2022)
So, how did Hans respond? First, he said that he was pure and did not cheat. He said that he could for example play naked or play in a closed box with no electricity, everything to prove that he won fairly. In fifth round post-game interview Hans admitted that he has cheated (go watch here, time: around15:50), but not against Magnus, not in over the board tournaments. He admitted that the has cheated in the past, when he was 12-year-old and 16-year-old, in online tournaments, he also said that he it was dark time of his life, but he said that he is trying to forget that and reform. After this, Hans’s chess.com account got closed, not the first time by the way.
Reactions of the chess world
After the news of Magnus withdrawing and people realising what was this all about, there were generally speaking three reactions. Team Magnus, Team Hans and rest of the people who didn’t know what to think. You could also add that there were people who didn’t know about the situation at all, but more the situation developed, more get to know about this and formed at least some kind of opinion.
People who supported Magnus basically believed that Hans cheated. At first, they had two main arguments why they believed that Hans cheated. Reason one, Magnus believed so. It’s sounds stupid, but for real, if Magnus Carlsen felt like he was playing against computer, it is very possible that he played against computer. Magnus Carlsen is, after all number 1 in the world and perhaps the greatest chess player of all time. I mean he is not some average chess player who just got salty and claims that his opponent was cheating, he wouldn’t do that for no reason. At least that’s what people said, and it sounds fairly reasonable. Second argument was much more concrete. It was based on two things. Hans’s past and the interview. Hans’s past refers first of all to cheating, they said that Hans’s have cheated more than he had admitted, and he also cheated now. Hans’s chess.com account has been closed due to fair play reasons. Second of all it refers Hans unusual progress. Before 2020 Hans’s growth in ELO has been mediocre at best, and he was far behind prodigies like Alireza Firouzja (19), with that growth it’s very suspicious that he was able to beat Magnus Carlsen, with black pieces. In addition, after Covid-protocols allowed over the board tournaments, Hans ELO growth has been suspiciously high, greater than most of his peers and greater than even Magnus had when he was in that ELO-rating. ELO means rating system that is used in chess. Magnus Carlsen’s ELO is around 2855-2865 and Hans’s under 2750. Magnus had the highest ELO, and he is world number one, been that for years.
They had other theories, but those weren’t so important and some of those were meant to be just jokes and then people took it too seriously. Hans’s accent for example. People said that Hans was faking his accent or something like that. I don’t understand it either.
People who supported Hans Niemann had two main arguments. 1. Magnus Carlsen was just a sore loser, not much of an argument, but in that kind of case, it is fairly easy to claim the opponent a sore loser. Of course, in this case it’s not just average opponent. Second one is also something that is extremely easy to say. Innocent until proven otherwise. There were no concrete evidence, other that Magnus Carlsen’s doubts, given that he’s world chess champion etc. that’s still not concrete evidence. Of course, Hans’s behaviour in interview was questionable, but not concrete evidence. There was also a third argument, something like, “Hans admitted that he has cheated on the past, that doesn’t mean he cheated now.” They said something like that, it was never their main argument, but they said something like that also, it’s a good point, but doesn’t mean that Hans could not cheat now.
Arbiter’s statement (10.9.2022)
Sinquefield cup’s arbiter released a statement that said that he didn’t notice any fair-play violations. Arbiter is person who observes the tournament and games. This also was also used as an argument by Hans’s supporters. You can read it here.
People who didn’t take sides
Last group included people who didn’t took sides, but rather just wanted to know the truth. This group had no argument for neither side. Many of the chess grandmasters belonged to this group. Some of them took Hans’s side and others Carlsen’s side, but most of them didn’t take any sides.
Anal beads and other wild theories/rumours
If you are wondering what anal beads or Elon Musk has to do with this, I am going to tell you that next. After the news of Carlsen withdrawing from the tournament, rumours started to spear. Rumours of Magnus Carlsen suspecting that Hans Niemann cheated. I actually don’t know who started the rumours of Hans Niemann cheating by using anal beads and I am not even sure did it start as a joke or was it serious theory, but after Elon Musk retweeting or tweeting (I don’t use Twitter, so I don’t know the terms) This next phrase “Talents hits a target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one can see (cause it’s in ur butt)”
I couldn’t find the original tweet, but you can find article where is screenshot of the tweet here.
The theories of Hans Niemann cheating just get bigger and didn’t quiet down. In fact, people started their own investigations about Hans Niemann’s games.
Investigations made by individuals
Basically, people went through Hans Niemann’s recent over the board games and found suspiciously amount of so-called perfect games and other games that were played with high accuracy. Accuracy in this context means how good moves has he been played in a chess game. Moves are compared to the suggestions of the computer and more often you play top engine moves, the higher your accuracy will be. Magnus’ average accuracy is around 70%. Every chess player has some good games and better players have more, but it is very suspicious that Hans have so many games with so high accuracy. It is suspicious, but it doesn’t mean that he cheated against Magnus, also there are no evidence that he cheated on those games.
For next couple of days, nothing significant happened. Not until the Julius Baer Generation cup. Before I am going to tell you what happened there, remember that Magnus Carlsen had not made an official statement. Not yet, there were speculation that he would never, but it’s obvious that he had to at some point say officially something.
Julius Baer Generation cup 2022 (18.9.2022—25.9.2022)
First a bit of background about this tournament. This tournament is an online tournament. Generation cup refers to fact that in this tournament, there are playing older chess grandmasters, like former Chess World champions like Viswanathan Anand and 54-year-old Boris Gelfand. There were also playing young and rising chess stars, like Vincent Keymer or Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa. Both of them are 17 years old. Magnus Carlsen was also playing in the tournament.
In a first two days everything looked normal, nothing spectacular. Third day, nothing special, but then, fourth the matchup between Hans Niemann and Magnus Carlsen. Hans begins the game with white pieces and Magnus plays one move, only one move, and resigns the game.
This showed that Magnus Carlsen hadn’t forget and was still doubting Hans Niemann, but Magnus Carlsen did not yet make an official statement. The tournament continued normally and by that, I mean that Magnus Carlsen destroyed everyone, he literally didn’t lose any matchups and won the tournament.
Magnus Carlsen’s statement (26.9.2022)
Finally, after destroying everyone in the Julius Baer Generation cup, Magnus Carlsen published a statement. You can read the whole statement here. I am going to point out few things.
In the statement, Carlsen claims that he believes that Hans has cheated “more than he had admitted and more recently.” Carlsen also says that cheating is a problem in a professional chess, and it should be taken more seriously.
Some people said that Hans cheated, and others said that he didn’t, but I think that everyone liked the fact that Carlsen released an official statement.
Chess.com is by far the largest online platform for chess, I also play there. It’s also a multi-billion company etc. more information here. Hans Niemann has played in Chess.com and his accounts have been closed due to fair play violations. When this drama broke out, Hans Niemann’s account got closed again and he couldn’t continue in Chess.com’s Global Championship or CGC
Chess.com bought Play Magnus Company just few days before the drama, and some people have theorized that it had something to do with Hans Niemann getting kicked of the CGC. In addition, some people think that Magnus Carlsen or his team had pressured Chess.com or the purchase at least influenced the statements and decisions of Chess.com’s people.
Chess.com’s report about Hans Niemann (5.10.2022)
Chess.com constructed a study about Hans Niemann and events following the resignation of Magnus Carlsen’s. There are few things I want point out, but you can read the whole report here. The report starts with introducing how Chess.com’s anti-cheating measurements work. The reports says that Hans Niemann has cheated in over one hundred online games in the platform, including some tournaments with prize money involved. According to the report, Hans Niemann has also cheated when he was seventeen years old. The findings directly contradict Hans Niemann’s statements during the interview.
Although the report says that Hans Niemann has cheated in online games, multiple times. The report also says that there are no evidence of Hans Niemann cheating in his game against Magnus Carlsen, but they don’t say that Hans Niemann could not have cheated, they say he is suspicious, but no evidence.
Hans Niemann’s lawsuit (21.10.2022)
The drama got a new twist when Hans Niemann filed a lawsuit against Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Chess.com and few other parties. He was accusing them of unlawful colliding, defamation and few other things that I am not going to list here, but you can check the whole lawsuit here. Hans Niemann is demanding over one hundred million dollars. Because Magnus Carlsen’s actions Hans have had a tough time getting to play in prize money tournaments, basically Magnus Carlsen just said that Hans is a cheater and that’s why many of the most prestigious chess tournaments don’t want him to compete. In the lawsuit it also says that Hans was denied a job as a chess teacher.
Thing or two about the lawsuit
First of all, I am not a lawyer, but after watching some real lawyers review the lawsuit, I have understood few things. Very first thing that I understood was, that there might be some problems with jurisdiction, the lawsuit was made in Missouri. At least one of the people he is suing didn’t do any of the things that he was accused of in Missouri. There are other problems too, there is no evidence of Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura or any of the accused doing this together. It is almost impossible to prove any colliding, or civil conspiracy. Defamation is also a problem.
Because Hans can be classified as limited time public figure, or something like that. If you are public figure, even limited time, in case of defamation, you have to prove that things the person you are accusing are lies, but you also have to prove that it was malicious. Just because they were lies, doesn’t mean you can claim defamation, you also have to prove that the person who said the thing knew that the things they were saying were lies, or they were reckless when come to finding the truth.
I am not the only one who thinks that the purpose of this lawsuit is not only to get the money but also at least a little bit fix Hans Niemann’s reputation.
Effects to chess world
As a last thing in the article, I am going to talk about the affects to the chess world. Obviously, this event will have far reaching effects to the chess world. Some good and some, not so good. Let’s start with good things.
Popularity of chess grew rapidly, and I think it is still growing. The drama, news and rumours about Hans Niemann cheating, interested many people outside the chess world and I think that anal bead rumours also effected.
Anti-cheating measurements were increased in many of the chess tournaments, because before this “event” it wasn’t so hard to cheat in tournaments. In the most prestigious tournaments were some measurements, but most of the little tournaments had little measurements.
Hans Niemann’s reputations got kind of ruined. It is not a good thing, especially, because there are no concrete evidence of him cheating. This event brough chess more audience and publicity. At the same time chess got a bad reputation and to the outsiders it looked like Magnus Carlsen had power over anyone and he can say whatever he likes.
Chess world went through a lot this year, there have been no updates in this drama after the lawsuit, but it is possible that we get something next year.
If you are still reading this, thank you for reading this and I hope I see you in the chess boards!
Joshua Hietala 20A