American chess prodigy Hans Niemann cheated during more than 100 games conducted over the internet between the ages of 12 and 17, according to a 72-page report from Chess.com provided to the Wall Street Journal a month after Niemann beat the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, in a face-to-face game on September 4 at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis (USA). Chess.com, which claims to have more than 90 million users, is in the process of acquiring Play Magnus, a web portal group whose majority shareholder is Carlsen, for $83 million.
Carlsen withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup, the first time he had ever done so, and insinuated without providing any evidence that Niemann had beaten him by cheating. A few days later, in an emotional interview with Chess24 (one of the companies owned by the Play Magnus group), Niemann admitted that he had employed unsportsmanlike methods to win games between the ages of 12 and 16, without specifying how many and stressing that none of them were competitive contests. The Chess.com report places the number of games in question at over 100, some of which were played at tournaments with cash prizes, and even provided a detailed table listing each tournament in which the website claims Niemann committed the infractions. Chess.com also accuses Niemann of being 17 on the final occasion he cheated in a game, when he allegedly used a second screen on his computer to consult a chess program capable of calculating millions of moves per second.
Chess.com says that its lengthy list of chess cheats includes dozens of grandmasters “and four of the best 100 players in the world, who have admitted it.” The website, which is used by many of the world’s finest players, has always operated a policy of complete discretion when uncovering cases of cheating, as it did in 2020 in another case involving Niemann. Now, following Carlsen’s accusation, it has completely altered its criteria, arguing that Niemann published parts of the correspondence between the two parties a few weeks ago after the platform took the decision to expel him over multiple cases of cheating.
In a statement on social media, Carlsen accused Niemann of further infractions: “I believe that Niemann has cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted,” the grandmaster said, without revealing how he came by this knowledge. Chess.com said in its report that it did not share “any list of cheats or the algorithm used to detect them” with Carlsen. However, the latest report is not the first that Chess.com has issued in relation to the Niemann case. A few days ago, the website said that grandmaster Max Dlugy, at whose academy Niemann was a student, had also cheated on the platform.
No elite grandmaster has provided any form of solid evidence that Niemann cheated over the table during his match against Carlsen, who had not been beaten in 53 games before losing to the American teenager. On the other hand, several top players including Fabiano Caruana, who was runner-up to Carlsen at the 2018 World Chess Championship, have said that there was “nothing strange” about the contest or the Sinquefield Cup tournament as a whole, other than Niemann initially catching Carlsen off-guard with his meticulous preparation. The only argument offered by the Norwegian to support his accusation is very subjective: that Niemann was too relaxed at such a critical moment.
Grandmasters dispute Niemann cheating claims
Since the disputed match, social media has been overflowing with analysis, speculation and opinion of every known match throughout Niemann’s career, suggesting that some of them were “too brilliant,” noting that he moved very swiftly up the world ranking and that a large percentage of his moves match those preferred by machines in the same position. In spite of the fact that the commercial interests of Chess.com are limited to the playing of the game online, the report issued on Tuesday also includes a graph showing that Niemann’s progression in face-to-face games between the ages of 11 and 19 is the best in history, although the website stresses that it is not accusing Niemann of cheating in those matches.
In reality, what really stands out about Niemann’s career is the last three years, during which he passed the barrier of 2,500 on the Elo rating system (the benchmark for grandmasters) before reaching a current rating of just under 2,700 now, a mark only the very best players achieve and which carries the informal title of super grandmaster. A gifted child and a brilliant chess player from an early age, Niemann required two years to move from 2,300 to 2,400 on the Elo rating, and another two to reach 2,500, which can be considered slower than normal progression for a prodigy. The world’s foremost expert on chess cheating, Ken Reagan, has found nothing untoward in Niemann’s trajectory. Two other grandmasters, Jonathan Rowson and Jacob Aagard (who coached Niemann for two years), have also reached the same conclusion after analyzing his career in depth. Both say that Niemann has incredible talent, but is inconsistent. The International Chess Federation has opened an investigation into the case, in which the accusations against Niemann will be delved into, along with the behavior of Carlsen, who resigned during a subsequent game against Niemann in an online rapid chess tournament organized by Chess.com after making a single move.
Niemann is expected to compete at the prestigious US Chess Championship this week. Since his admission that he has cheated previously in online games, the American has maintained absolute silence, but he emphasized that he has never cheated over the table. “I learned the biggest lesson of my life,” he said.