The elite world of international chess competition is in turmoil amid suspicions that the top player’s long-running undefeated streak ended when his opponent cheated.
Magnus Carlsen, who had won 53 straight matches and is the reigning world champion, lost last week to Hans Moke Niemann, a 19-year-old American grandmaster, in the prestigious Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, then promptly withdrew from the ongoing tournament. The startling move by Carlsen, a Norwegian, spurred speculation among other top players.
“I think Magnus believes that Hans probably is cheating,” said Hikaru Nakamura, an American grandmaster ranked No. 6 in the world, told The Wall Street Journal.
Emil Sutovsky, the general director of FIDE, the international chess governing body, hinted that something was afoot in the tourney, which has a $350,000 purse.
“No matter how his tournaments went, Magnus Carlsen never quit,” Sutovsky tweeted, “He must have had a compelling reason, or at least he believes he has it.”
Carlsen, 31, has not addressed his withdrawal other than to tweet a quote from soccer manager Jose Mourinho, who once protested the result of a match by saying: “If I speak, I am in big trouble.”
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) September 5, 2022
Chess legend Garry Kasparov said the bizarre situation must be explained.
“I will not delve into the ugly insinuations of the matter now, but must remark on what we do know: World chess champion Magnus Carlsen withdrew from the world’s premier tournament in St. Louis, an act with no precedent in the past 50 years, and his explanation is required,” Kasparov tweeted.
Niemann, for his part, denied ever cheating at face-to-face chess, but admitted he has cheated online. It is not clear how Niemann may have cheated – if he did – but players have been caught hiding buzzers of other electronic devices on their person, from which they can get guidance from a confederate watching on video from afar.
Elon Musk, the Tesla CEO and chess fan, made a similar remark in a since-deleted tweet last week in which he replied to speculation that a “vibrating anal bead” could help a player cheat.
“You can almost hear that snap of the rubber glove before chess match cavity searches,” Musk wrote.
Niemann, who beat Carlsen despite playing with the black pieces, which is a disadvantage, said he would play naked if ordered to.
“It must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose to me,” said Niemann, who was the lowest-rated player in the field and later lost to Fabiano Caruana. “I feel bad for him.”
Tournament organizers commissioned a “chess detective” to screen Niemann’s moves against Carlsen, but he found no evidence of cheating, according to The Wall Street Journal. The day after Carlsen quit, the tournament imposed several security measures, including a 15-minute broadcast delay of matches, scans for suspicious radio frequencies, and forcing players to go through a metal detector.
Some grandmasters are backing Carlsen, while others believe Niemann is being unfairly smeared. Acclaimed Russian player Ian Nepomniachtchi told the newspaper preventing the possibility of cheating would require competitors “playing naked in a locked room.”
Chess competitions moved online during the COVID pandemic, but have since returned to over-the-board play. In defending himself, Niemann, who had previously been banned from online host chess.com, acknowledged that he had cheated in online play.
“I’m telling the world because I do not want any misrepresentation, and I do not want rumors,” he said. “I have never cheated in an over-the-board game.”