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Here’s why world chess champion Magnus Carlsen accuses a 19-year-old grandmaster of cheating

In the chess community, the month of September 2022 will be remembered for only one thing: Magnus Carlsen vs. Hans Niemann.

The reigning world chess champion and a top-50 ranked grandmaster have spent the past few weeks embroiled in a bizarre feud centered on Carlsen’s apparent belief that Niemann misled him in an upset loss. Chess is a surprisingly dramatic sport behind closed doors, but in this case it went public.

Carlsen turned that apparent belief into an explicit accusation Monday, when he issued a statement alleging Niemann had been cheating and saying he didn’t want to have to play Niemann in the future.

To say that this story has captivated the chess world would be an understatement. However, for the non-chess fans of the world, it’s a deeply nerdy fight with some necessary information to really understand what’s going on.

Here is our best attempt at an explanation.

Who is Magnus Carlsen?

The best chess player in the world, and you could even make the case that he’s probably the best of all time.

Carlsen is the most recognizable name in chess. Even people who don’t follow the game may have heard the name of it. He won the World Chess Championship at the age of 22 and has since defended it four times. He is also a three-time world champion in rapid chess and a five-time world champion in bounce chess. His max rating of 2882 is the highest the game has ever seen.

Carlsen will no longer be the world champion after this year because he recently relinquished his championship title, but his reason was basically, “He’s bored and he’s got better things to do.” Suffice it to say that he is extremely good at chess and anything he says about it will carry a great deal of weight.

Who is Hans Niemann?

Until recently, he was an up-and-coming 19-year-old grandmaster who still had a long way to go before he was in the Carlsen league.

Like all grandmasters these days, Niemann was a child prodigy, finally achieving grandmaster status in January 2021 at age 17. As of September, he is ranked No. 49 in the world. He is also among the many elite players who cashed in on the recent boom in chess streaming, having amassed 59,100 followers on Twitch.

Over the past year or so, Niemann’s FIDE rating, the metric that determines world chess rating, has increased rapidly, which is not often seen at the level of the world’s best grandmasters. Carlsen himself called the increase “unusual” in his statement.

Why does Magnus Carlsen accuse Hans Niemann of cheating?

It all started in St. Louis, the chess capital of the United States.

Carlsen and Niemann met in the third round of the St. Louis Chess Club’s prestigious Sinquefield Cup, where Niemann surprised Carlsen by defeating him with black pieces. In most elite chess games, black players tend to see a draw as a win, because it is extremely difficult to win a game when your opponent makes the first move.

This was actually the second time Niemann had beaten Carlsen while playing black the month before at the FTX Crypto Cup (“Chess speaks for itself,” Niemann said at the time), but it was in St. Louis that the excrement hit the fan.

Carlsen used a rather unusual opening for which Niemann was fully prepared. As Niemann said after the game via Chess24luckily he had looked up how Carlsen had previously used the tactic that morning:

I didn’t guess, but by some miracle I checked this today, and it’s such a ridiculous miracle that I don’t even remember why I checked it. I just remembered 12…h6 and everything after that, and I have no idea why something so ridiculous would happen, but I did and I even knew that 13…Be6! It’s so good. It’s so ridiculous that I checked it out.

Niemann was playful in victory, saying: “It must be embarrassing for the World Champion to lose to me, I feel bad for him!” Carlsen was less than thrilled.

The champion said in his statement on Monday that he believed Niemann was a cheat ahead of the Sinquefield Cup and actually considered withdrawing when Niemann was added to the pair at the last minute.

Carlsen withdrew from the tournament the day after the match and he cryptically tweeted a clip of soccer coach José Mourinho saying: “If I speak, I’m in big trouble and I don’t want to be in big trouble.” No one said why Carlsen pulled out, but it wasn’t hard to put two and two together when tournament organizers instituted extra security measures, especially with Niemann.

Magnus Carlsen had been very cryptic about Hans Niemann until Monday. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Hikaru Nakamura, another elite grandmaster and chess’s biggest streamer, provided the match for the gasoline-soaked situation when he speculated that Carlsen believed Niemann had cheated and revealed that Niemann had been suspended for cheating in the past.

And with that, we should probably talk about the mechanics of a modern chess trick.

How do chess players normally cheat?

These days, it’s all about computers. Chess engines outperformed elite grandmasters in the 1990s (you may have heard the name deep blue) and now the gap is abysmal. Carlsen is a terrifying chess god, but computers have risen to a higher plane, so the basic way to cheat is to have access to a computer while playing.

If you only play, for example, with a friend online, it is very easy to cheat. Simply connect your movements to the motor and then do what the motor does. If you’re playing in person or on the board, it’s a bit more complicated, as your opponent or tournament organizers won’t let you check your phone for every move. It’s not impossible, though, as you could have a friend in the crowd tell you what move to make (think Houston Astros) or, in an infamous case, check your phone in the bathroom. In that case, the grandmaster was expelled from FIDE (the world chess federation) after being photographed with his phone in the toilet.

Elite chess tournaments are hard to prevent all this. They screen players for electronic aids and generally have very tight security. If Niemann is cheating in the normal way, he has probably found a novel way to do it.

However, cheating online is not as rewarding as you think, as Chess.com and all major sites will have anti-cheat detection. Basically, if they notice a player making the perfect move every time, they’ll tag them as a cheater and ban them. Including Niemann.

Wait, has Niemann really cheated?

Yeah, that’s one of the few things in this mess that isn’t up for debate.

Niemann has admitted to cheating twice in the online game, once at age 12 and again at age 16. Suffice it to say that he no longer plays on Chess.com. Neither game was formally rated (so there were no FIDE points or prize money at stake), but Niemann called them a mistake anyway, insisting that he had stopped cheating.

Of course, there are plenty of people of the “once you cheat, always you cheat” view, so Niemann isn’t benefiting as much from the doubt as you might see in a vacuum.

What did Niemann say about the current situation?

deny deny deny

Niemann has criticized all accusations of cheating, accusing Carlsen, Nakamura and Chess.com of trying to ruin his chess career. The lack of detail in the accusations has worked in his favor, but it’s hard to beat the biggest fish even with the current on your side.

So how could Niemann cheat this time?

We really don’t know!

At this point, our main evidence that Niemann is a cheater is his past instances of cheating and the fact that Carlsen, a person who knows more about chess than you or I could ever hope to know about anything, is willing to put your reputation at stake. the line that this person has been cheating on.

Are there crazy and baseless theories about how Niemann is cheating?

sigh

Yes, that is how many people have found out about this controversy, because it is What several points of sale they have disguised a story that is ultimately a slow squabble with few obvious answers.

Note that no one of note believes that Niemann used vibrating anal beads to transmit motion from a computer. It all started when grandmaster and top streamer Eric Hansen (fun fact: Hansen and Nakamura were participants in an even stranger fight last year), joked that it might be how Niemann is cheating due to the lack of obvious answers, and the memes just followed from there.

The anal beads theory got a lot of traction. Elon Musk, the terminally richest man in the world online, tweeted about it. Late-night talk shows joked about it. a cam site offered Niemann $1 million to play naked. Virtually every story you’ll read from non-chess outlets about the immediate aftermath includes the words “anal pearls” in their headlines or headlines.

It’s one of those situations where the weirdest aspect of a story, however minor and not serious, becomes its defining feature. Hans Niemann probably didn’t use anal beads to cheat against Magnus Carlsen. Forward.

Has anything happened since the Sinquefield Cup?

It’s funny that you should ask. Because chess is such a small world, Carlsen and Niemann met just a couple of weeks later in the Julius Baer Generation Cup.

In that online-only tournament, Carlsen logged in, played a move, and then logged out in apparent protest from his opponent. it was at that time some chess players He started to get frustrated with Carlsen, who still hadn’t said directly what exactly was going on.

Carlsen went on to play the whole thing sheepishly, simply saying that he was “very impressed” with the game played by Niemann and his mentor Maxim Dlugy. This was more than a little pointy, as Dlugy himself has done it too. reportedly faced accusations of cheating on Chess.com.

Carlsen naturally still won the tournament, then fiance would post a royal statement soon.

What has FIDE said about this situation?

The world chess authority was not happy with Carlsen.

It’s not exactly good for a game when your rock star is walking out of tournaments and cryptically harassing another player, even if that player is accused of cheating. FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich issued a lengthy statement after the Julius Baer incident saying that the organization takes cheating very seriously, but believes there are better ways for Carlsen to handle the situation.

Essentially, they were telling Carlsen to either provide evidence or start playing around regarding Niemann’s alleged cheating. Carlsen has now chosen the former, and the situation only seems to escalate from here.

All of this will follow Niemann for the rest of his career (Carlsen too, to a much lesser extent), but that won’t be the end of the repercussions if FIDE receives real evidence that he has been cheating.


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