The ongoing professional chess drama between two grandmasters, Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann, reached a new high on September 26th when World Champion player Carlsen released a public statement in which he formally accused Niemann of cheating during tournament play.
The letter, published to Carlsen’s Twitter, is the first explicit accusation he has lobbied against Niemann. Critically, though, he doesn’t mention any material evidence for his claims, mentioning only that “his over the board progress has been unusual” and that he “had the impression that he wasn’t tense or fully concentrating on the game in critical positions.”
Carlsen goes on to state that Niemann’s outplaying him in the black position (which many claim holds a slight statistical disadvantage against the prioritised white side of the board) and the behaviour cited above fueled his recent actions. He mentions more he would like to say later on, but argues that Niemann will need to grant Carlsen “explicit permission” to speak further.
As far as evidence goes, it’s not exactly damning. Carlsen first retaliated against Niemann when he withdrew from the 2022 Sinquefield Cup after the two played a match in the third round. Carlsen claims he strongly considered refusing to play at all after an 11th-hour announcement regarding Niemann’s participation in the tournament. One week later on September 19th, Carlsen forfeited his game against Niemann after making a single move in the Julius Baer Generation Cup, leaving the announcers speechless.
This event, the strongest protest Carlsen had taken prior to his open letter, sparked a discussion of events that reached far outside the usual circles of professional chess fandom. Social media and the broader internet began picking apart footage looking for clues to Niemann’s supposed deception. Wild rumours concerning shoes installed with buzzers and Wi-Fi-enabled vibrating anal beads cropped up everywhere, while other dug up Niemann’s admission of tool-assisted play during non-tournament play when he was younger.
On September 8th, Niemann was banned from the Chess.com website, which is often used in professional tournaments. The company that runs the site published the reasoning behind their decision on social media, saying it shared private evidence with Niemann that contradicts his public statements. It has yet publicly share anything incriminating Niemann, and officiants of both the Julius Baer Generation Cup and Sinquefield Cup have not come forward with any evidence favouring Carlsen’s accusations.
My statement regarding the last few weeks. pic.twitter.com/KY34DbcjLo— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) September 26, 2022
It should be noted that catching cheaters during professional chess tournament matches is reported to be extremely difficult, and instances of formal accusations remain few because of how rarely incriminating evidence is collected.
The resulting discourse online has largely broken down into folks accusing Carlsen of poor conduct following losses to a younger player (Niemann is 19), while believers claim Carlsen is protecting the sanctity of the game at its highest level of play.
“We must do something about cheating, and for my part going forward, I don’t want to play against people that have cheated repeatedly in the past because I don’t know what they are capable of in the future,” Carlsen writes.
Dicebreaker has reached out to both Niemann and Carlsen for comment but did not hear back before publication.