Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann: The cheating row that's blowing up the chess world

1 week ago 9

By Alex Therrien
BBC News writer and Fide Master chess player

Magnus Carlsen, pictured successful  2018. has been the fig   1  ranked subordinate    for much  than a decadeImage source, Reuters

Image caption,

Magnus Carlsen, pictured successful 2018, has been the fig 1 ranked subordinate for much than a decade

When Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann sat down to play each different earlier this period successful the 3rd circular of chess's Sinquefield Cup, fewer could person predicted the chaos that would unfold.

Niemann, a 19-year-old American and the lowest-ranked subordinate successful the tournament, was facing a antheral who had dominated chess for much than a decade.

Carlsen, 31 and from Norway, was undefeated successful 53 games successful classical chess, and had the vantage of playing achromatic - thereby moving first.

But if Niemann appeared daunted, helium didn't amusement it. After confidently nullifying the vantage of the archetypal move, helium gradually took implicit the game. Facing a hard defence successful the endgame, Carlsen faltered and soon resigned successful a hopeless position.

The effect was shocking - but thing compared to what was to follow.

Soon aft the game, Carlsen withdrew from the tourney without explanation, contempt determination being different six rounds near - a virtually unprecedented determination astatine the apical level of chess.

As commentators, players and fans tried to recognize wherefore helium had quit, Carlsen posted a tweet that included a video of shot manager Jose Mourinho saying: "If I talk I americium successful large trouble."

The connection was wide seen arsenic raising suspicions of cheating. No grounds was provided, nor had Niemann been named, but the inference seemed clear.

Then connected 8 September, Chess.com, the game's biggest online platform, confirmed it had removed Niemann for cheating connected the site.

As allegations swirled, Niemann admitted to cheating online connected 2 abstracted occasions aged 12 and 16 by utilizing machine assistance, but denied ever cheating implicit the committee - wide regarded arsenic a overmuch much superior offence - saying helium was adjacent prepared to play bare to beryllium his innocence.

He went connected to impeach Carlsen, Chess.com and the world's astir followed chess streamer, Hikaru Nakamura, of trying to ruin his career.

"If they privation maine to portion afloat naked, I volition bash it," said Niemann.

"I don't care, due to the fact that I cognize I americium clean. You privation maine to play successful a closed container with zero physics transmission, I don't care. I'm present to triumph and that is my extremity regardless."

The thought of cheating successful chess is not caller - but the invention of the smartphone has made it overmuch easier.

The champion chess apps, galore of them disposable for free, are present importantly stronger than adjacent the apical players.

By inputting games into an app, the machine volition rapidly amusement near-perfect moves. For that crushed the usage of phones successful over-the-board games is banned.

Grandmaster Susan Polgar, 1 of the strongest women players ever, told the BBC the contented of cheating successful chess had been a "serious problem" for galore years, including astatine scholastic level, wherever parents and coaches person sometimes been banned from watching.

"Even erstwhile I bash immoderate simuls (playing against aggregate opponents successful 1 go) erstwhile successful a portion - an unimportant, unrated lawsuit - I've seen a person stood determination with a telephone and the position, and past arsenic I determination distant they sermon what the motor suggests."

While cheating is overmuch little apt astatine the highest levels of the crippled - successful portion due to the fact that of overmuch much stringent anti-cheating measures - she notes that it's inactive possible.

"At the GM (grandmaster) level, they don't request a machine to archer them each azygous move… determination are a fewer captious moments successful the game."

Still, it's highly antithetic for a apical subordinate similar Niemann to beryllium accused of cheating.

Not since 2006's "Toiletgate" has elite chess faced a comparable scandal. Back then, satellite title challenger Veselin Topalov's squad accused the champion Vladimir Kramnik of cheating during his "strange, if not suspicious" trips to the bathroom.

A statistical investigation by Prof Kenneth Regan, wide regarded arsenic the world's starring adept connected cheating successful chess, recovered nary grounds Kramnik had cheated.

At different times allegations person bordered connected the absurd.

In 1978, satellite title challenger Viktor Korchnoi's entourage accused champion Anatoly Karpov's squad of cheating by sending their subordinate a blueberry yoghurt. Team Korchnoi argued it could person been a awesome to marque a peculiar move.

The lucifer was notable for the hostility and paranoia betwixt some sides. Karpov's squad included a hypnotist seated successful the beforehand rows staring astatine Korchnoi, who successful crook wore mirrored sunglasses, seemingly to support himself.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Viktor Korchnoi, left, donned mirrored glasses for his satellite title lucifer against Anatoly Karpov successful 1978

In the lack of immoderate factual allegations from Carlsen, the chess satellite has pored implicit games and interviews of Niemann for grounds of immoderate cheating implicit the board.

Some person pointed to Niemann's meteoric emergence implicit the past 20 months, during which helium surged from the comparative obscurity of being ranked astir 800 successful the satellite to wrong the apical 50.

Nakamura has described the emergence arsenic "unprecedented", though others person argued that Niemann's progress, portion fast, is comparable to different apical inferior players.

Still, for galore successful the chess satellite determination is sympathy for the teenage Niemann - whose estimation has been tarnished contempt nary grounds of cheating successful over-the-board games being presented.

Prof Regan, who is besides an planetary master, analysed Niemann's games and found nary grounds of cheating.

Grandmaster Nigel Short, the lone British subordinate to vie successful the last of the satellite championships, is besides sceptical, saying determination was nary grounds Niemann cheated successful his triumph implicit Carlsen.

He told the BBC: "I deliberation successful the lack of immoderate evidence, connection oregon anything, past this is simply a precise unfortunate mode to spell astir things. It's decease by innuendo."

Short said different crushed cheating astatine the apical levels of chess was uncommon was that a proven allegation could extremity a player's career. Cheating was much emblematic among players who were struggling to marque a surviving competing successful lesser tournaments with smaller prizes, helium said.

For Short, Carlsen's actions whitethorn beryllium a reflection of the unit helium has been nether arsenic the world's champion player.

The Norwegian has been satellite champion since 2013 and has topped the satellite rankings for adjacent longer. Earlier this year, helium shocked the chess satellite erstwhile helium said helium would not support his satellite title crown again, citing a deficiency of motivation.

The determination was each the much astonishing due to the fact that astatine 31, Carlsen is inactive successful his premier and could person been expected to support the title galore times more.

"It's not a determination that astir radical would make," Short said. "You usually spell on, you fight, you instrumentality the money, yet idiosyncratic is going to bushed you."

He added: "My feeling is that there's immoderate benignant of interior turmoil with Magnus, possibly I'm wrong, but that is my content looking from the outside… possibly it is altering his judgement."

But portion Susan Polgar said she wouldn't speculate connected the claims against Niemann, she said it was retired of quality for Carlsen to propulsion astir accusations.

"He is not the benignant of feline who volition bash immoderate random thing. I'm definite helium was alert earlier helium said what helium said and did what helium did that this volition disturbance a large commotion successful the chess world."

The saga took different crook connected Monday, erstwhile the brace were re-matched successful a large online tournament, which person go much communal since the Covid pandemic.

Any thoughts that the contented of cheating mightiness beryllium enactment to furniture were rapidly dashed erstwhile Carlsen resigned aft making lone 1 determination - an evident protestation astatine Niemann's participation.

Despite taking the loss, Carlsen easy topped the qualifying radical and revealed successful an interrogation that helium plans to contented a fuller connection connected the ungraded aft the tourney ends. Niemann was knocked retired successful the quarter-finals.

For Polgar, the ungraded is an unwelcome signifier of attention, detracting from the tone of competition. Short, meanwhile, said Carlsen's actions person arguably brought the crippled into disrepute.

But helium sees an upside successful the affair, which has been picked up by the world's media, including US presenters Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert.

"So the aged adage that there's nary specified happening arsenic atrocious publicity," helium said. "Well, I don't subscribe to it 100% - but determination is ever thing successful that."

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