Far from abating, the scandal is getting worse. Teenage chess sensation Hans Niemann has filed a $100 million libel suit after world champion Magnus Carlsen accused him of cheating (without providing evidence) following Carlsen’s defeat at the Sinquefield Cup on September 4.
The lawsuit was filed before a court in the state of Missouri one day after the end of the US Championship in the state capital, Saint Louis. Besides Carlsen, it also targets the Play Magnus group of companies, whose main shareholder is Carlsen, the virtual chess club Chess.com, its director, Daniel Rensch, and the grandmaster and streamer Hikaru Nakamura. Chess.com, which claims to have more than 90 million users, is buying Play Magnus for more than €80 million.
“Niemann is a 19-year-old self-taught chess prodigy. He is bringing this action to avenge himself for the devastating damage the defendants have inflicted on his reputation, career, and life by blatantly defaming him and unlawfully conspiring to blacklist him from the profession to which he has dedicated his life,” reads the beginning of the 44-page civil action suit, which has requested a jury trial.
Niemann’s lawyers, from the New York law firm Oved & Oved LLP and The Gartner Law Firm (Missouri), are claiming that Magnus Carlsen, Play Magnus Group, Chess.com and Danny Rensch, about to consummate a merger aimed at monopolizing the chess industry, conspired to manufacture and disseminate a range of libelous accusations against Niemann in order to marginalize him from professional chess. “This is not a game. The defendants have destroyed Niemann’s life simply because he has the talent, dedication and audacity to defeat the so-called King of Chess. We will hold the accused fully accountable and expose the truth,” reads the suit.
The legal action also targets celebrity chess streamer Nakamura, who has around 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube, for “colluding with Carlsen and Chess.com, publishing hours of video content, amplifying and reinforcing Carlsen’s false accusations against Niemann with numerous additional defamatory statements.” The lawsuit does not include any other grandmasters, although several have publicly supported Carlsen’s accusations.
The lawsuit details four specific injuries Niemann has already suffered in a month and a half: a canceled match against 17-year-old German prodigy Vincent Keymer; the withdrawal of invitations to play the Global Chess Championship (organized by Chess.com) in October and the Tata tournament in Wijk aan Zee (Netherlands) in January; and the withdrawal of an offer to be a chess teacher “in a prestigious school.”
Among the arguments in favor of their client, the plaintiffs cite a report by mathematician Ken Regan, considered the world’s leading expert in detecting cheating in chess, whose conclusion is that Niemann has not cheated in face-to-face chess for the past two years. They also stress that Carlsen has used “his great social influence” to discredit Niemann, and note Carlsen’s unsportsmanlike gesture just days after his Sinquefield Cup loss, when, in a quick online tournament, he conceded to Niemann after making a single move.
Niemann’s weakest point is that he has admitted to cheating at online speed games at the age of 12 and at 16, without specifying how many. “It was the biggest mistake of my life, I learned my lesson, I have not cheated again and I have never done it in face-to-face games,” he asserted. But Chess.com published a lengthy report assuring that Niemann cheater over 100 times. Niemann’s lawyers claim this report contains several falsehoods.
Niemann finished 7th out of 14 at the US Championship on Wednesday without dropping a single point on the international list despite suffering a tremendous digital lynching. The tournament was played under extreme measures to prevent cheating.