Add a new chapter to the ongoing drama that has captured the attention of the international chess community because grandmaster player Marcus Carlsen recently resigned after a single move in a rematch against 19-year-old Hans Niemann.
Carlsen, a Norwegian chess superstar currently rated as one of the best players by the International Chess Federation (FIDE), was set to play a preliminary match against relative American newcomer Niemann as part of the Julius Baer Generation Cup, which was held online using a combination of Microsoft Teams and the Chess 24 program.
As the two commentators, Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev, discuss the upcoming game, Niemann is already seated and on screen. Carlsen turns on his webcam, takes a drink of water, trades a single move with his opponent and then seems to disconnect from the match. The entire exchange takes less than a minute.
“What happened? That’s it?” Leko asks in a YouTube Video of the match. “We’re going to try to get an update on this,” Sachdev responds. “Magnus Carlsen just resigned, got up, and left. Switched off his camera, and that’s all we know right now.”
“What to say, what to say? And the story continues, yeah?” Leko adds.
That story began two weeks ago when Niemann served Carlsen, who was ranked several hundred points above the young prodigy on the chess ELO rankings, a surprising upset in the third round of the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. Carlsen withdrew from the tournament soon afterwards and further ignited speculation by posting to Twitter a clip of football manager Jose Mourinho telling a reporter he prefers not to speak because “If I speak I am in big trouble…and I don't want to be in big trouble."
Fans and the wider community immediately began developing theories and dissecting video evidence of the match. While cheating in online chess matches has become more prevalent than highly moderated physical games, direct allegations remain quite rare. Others have called Carlsen’s behaviour into question and saying his behaviour is so much sour grapes, though as Motherboard reported the director-general of FIDE, Emil Sutovsky, tweeted that Carlsen isn’t “a sore loser or disrespectful” and “must have had a compelling reason” to pull out.
Lacking any evidence as to why Carlsen believed Neimann cheated, the online chess community pivoted to discussing how he could have pulled it off undetected. Some pointed to a viral internet post explaining a pair of shoes with vibrating buttons connected to a Raspberry Pi Zero. One of the more, er… imaginative suggestions involves Niemann cribbing Carlsen’s use of wireless anal beads used to convey information (thanks, Yahoo! News) and somehow activating both sets during the most recent game, tipping Carlsen off to his opponent’s literally below-the-belt tactics.
This theory swept through social media like wildfire, reaching so far as to warrant a response from Niemann himself in a post-game interview: “If they want me to strip fully naked, I will do it. I don’t care because I know I am clean. You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don’t care. I’m here to win and that is my goal regardless.”
Neimann has previously admitted to using computer assistance in online games when he was younger, and another grandmaster speculated that Carlsen may believe the young player is still doing so. Niemann was recently banned from Chess.com, the most popular website for playing matches. A statement from the website points to “detailed evidence” of cheating shared privately with Niemann but does not publicly elaborate on any such evidence.
Carlsen’s public protest resignation during the September 19th rematch will apply more pressure to Niemann’s already shaky public reputation, regardless of actual evidence he cheated during either match. The chief arbiter of the St. Louis tournament released a statement saying an investigation found no evidence of cheating, and the Julius Baer Generation Cup has not corroborated any of the rumours swirling about online, rectal tool-assisted or otherwise.