On Monday, world chess champion Magnus Carlsen made only one move against his opponent, American grandmaster Hans Niemann, and then quit, causing panic in the chess world over a seemingly unresolved growing scandal.
Carlsen’s basically refusal to play against Neiman is fueling speculation about Carlsen’s abrupt withdrawal from a tournament in St. Louis after losing to Neiman in early September, and whether he believes Neiman is cheating. Carlsen did not explain his actions, either in St. Louis or resigning this week, and as a result, tensions escalated and caused divisions in the chess world.
Carlsen is a five-time world champion and arguably the best chess player ever. The 31-year-old Norwegian has been world number one for more than a decade, and his peak Elo (a measure used to determine players’ relative strength) rating of 2882 was the best in history.
Niemann is a 19-year-old American whose Elo rating has exploded since the pandemic from 2484 in January 2021 to 2688 at the beginning of September. His meteoric rise surprised and astounded the chess world, and in turn heightened suspicion of malign play.
During the sixth round of the Julius Baer Generation Cup, Carlsen was supposed to play Neiman in their first encounter since Neiman beat him earlier this month. But instead of playing, Carlsen moved his knight and then quit and shut down his camera, shocking live commenters and sparking a storm of opinions on Twitter.
“This is unprecedented. I just can’t believe it,” said live commentator Tanya Sachdev. “Magnus just refused to play against Hans. He will play the championship, but he says: I will not play against him. This makes a very big statement.”
How did we get to this moment?
The day after Niemann defeated Carlsen in the third round at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament before Round 4 and chirp An infamous clip of Portuguese football director Jose Mourinho saying: “I really prefer not to speak. If I speak, I am in big trouble.”
In the clip, Mourinho hints that the loss was the result of wrong playing. The vague reference was taken by many as an indication that Carlsen believed Neiman cheated when he played against him. It was Carlsen’s first withdrawal from a major event and a very unusual move from an elite player.
Other chess figures took the weight, including famous chess player Hikaru Nakamura, who reacted directly and revealed that there has been a period of over six months in which Niemann has not been able to participate in any of the prize money tournaments on Chess.com. This fact, along with his extraordinary rise over the past year and a half, has led Nakamura to believe that Carlsen’s actions were related to a lack of confidence in Niemann’s competitive integrity.
“Am I suggesting something happened?” “I’m saying Magnus is suspicious,” Nakamura said.
A few days later, Neiman decided to “tell his truth” and defend himself in front of his critics. He stated that he had actually cheated in online matches on Chess.com at the age of 12 and 16, but denied cheating in tournaments at all. He was vocal in his denial of any accusation of cheating during his match with Carlsen, even offering to play naked to prove that he had no device to provide him with outside assistance during the match.
Chess.com, the largest online chess platform, made a statement Two days later on September 8, stating that they had decided to remove Niemann from Chess.com and from competing in future events on their platform because they believed Niemann’s public statement had misrepresented “the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com.”
In the absence of clear evidence, it has inspired all sorts of theories about whether Neiman cheated or whether Carlsen was paranoid after the loss. Theories flourished How Neiman could have cheated. Given Niemann’s willingness to play naked, some even joked that Niemann had discovered and stole Carlsen’s cheating method by using anal beads to receive external communications.
What does this mean for the future of chess?
Improved chess engines, far superior to human chess players, have made chess cheating easier, and there are still no clear ways to prevent or limit such cheating.
Chess Engines is an artificial intelligence program that analyzes board capabilities and relay moves that provides the best results, and since 2017, it has become incredibly complex. According to The Atlantic, chess engines became superhero, collecting Elo rankings in the 3000s. Stockfish, a publicly available chess engine often used in chess commentaries to analyze potential moves, has an Elo rating of over 3,500.
Cheating in online chess is quite simple; One has only to use the chess engine to direct the movements. However, it is much more difficult personally, in tournaments globally. Players consulted smartphones in the bathroom or carried devices on their person that transmitted the input of the chess engine.
To catch cheating in chess at a lower level, one only needs to find a player who outperforms to a statistically impossible degree. But high-level chess players already know the optimal moves and will only need to consult the chess engine once or twice to turn the game around. As a result, it is difficult to determine whether a player is cheating or not.
In this case, Niemann was not caught cheating in a team match, and there was no concrete evidence that he cheated on September 4 against Magnus Carlsen. Although much of Carlsen’s actions have been made and what they mean, he has not explicitly explained whether and why he believes Hans Niemann is currently cheating.
Even the perception that someone might betray changes the way the opponent plays. Chess engines like Stockfish will suggest moves that seem out of the ordinary for a human player, and playing against someone you think is being helped by an AI means you’re wondering why they’d made an unexpected or obviously bad move.
The scandal also points to the difficulty of accusing morals. Because Carlsen did not explain his actions and because Neiman was not caught or proven cheating, the chess world’s views on both are forgotten. Basically Carlsen’s refusal to play another high-profile player threatens both Neiman’s career as well as Carlsen’s reputation. Does Carlsen have a responsibility to say outright that he thinks Neiman is cheating and prove it? Should a track record of cheating prevent Neiman from playing against the best player in the world?
“A man’s career, a man’s mental health is at risk. The legacy of the world chess champion and perhaps the best player ever is at stake. The state of chess is in jeopardy,” said Levy “Gotham Chase” Rosman.
Due to the preposterous nature of online rhetoric, much of the chess community has already taken sides, either dismissing Carlsen as a agonizing loser intent on ruining the young man’s career or demanding Neiman stop competing due to his history of cheating.
“The truth has to be shown or not,” Roseman said. “We have to move, guys; time is running out.”
However, a resolution does not appear in sight; If anything, the scandal could only get worse with Niemann and Carlsen likely to meet again in the knockout stages of the Generation Cup or in future tournaments.
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