19-year-old chess grandmaster Hans Niemann has filed a lawsuit against several parties at the centre of the ongoing cheating scandal rocking the professional chess scene and is seeking $100 million in damages from several parties.
The lawsuit, filed in Missouri’s Eastern District Court, names as defendants fellow grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, online platform Chess.com - along with its chief chess officer Danny Rensch - and popular streamer Hikaru Nakamura.
Niemann is suing all named parties for slander, libel and civil conspiracy, among other charges, claiming “devastating damages [...] initiated upon his reputation, career and life by egregiously defaming him and unlawfully colluding to blacklist him from the profession to which he has dedicated his life”.
This is but the latest chapter in an ongoing spectacle that began when Carlsen abruptly withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis after losing against Niemann. Less than a month later, Carlsen resigned from a match against Niemann after making a single move. He later tweeted that he believed Niemann had cheated in their first match, which motivated his ostensible protest at the Julius Baer Generation Cup. The scene immediately erupted into discussion and speculation.
Officials at both competitions later claimed they could not find any evidence that Niemann cheated. A Wall Street Journal piece from October 7th reported that Chess.com had published an investigation into Niemann and discovered more indications of cheating during matches than the player had previously admitted to during interviews. Chess.com banned Niemann from its platform, which is commonly used to host online tournaments, on September 8th and published its reasoning to Twitter.
Niemann boldly claimed during the aforementioned interview that he would compete naked if it would prove his innocence, spawning assertions (read: internet forum theories) that he must be using Bluetooth-enabled vibrating anal beads to circumvent normal measures to curtail cheating online and during “over the board”, or in-person, chess matches. The designer of tabletop RPG Fake Chess seized the opportunity to create a themed expansion involving, er, tool assistance.
Niemann’s lawsuit hinges on the belief that Carlsen’s actions have been motivated by a great wound to his pride suffered after losing to Niemann: “Enraged that the young Niemann, fully 12 years his junior, dared to disrespect the ‘King of Chess,’ and fearful that the young prodigy would further blemish his multi-million dollar brand by beating him again, Carlsen viciously and maliciously retaliated against Niemann.”
It later claims Carlsen “unleashed his media empire” (read: fans online and the Play Magnus chess mobile app) to disseminate lies, slander and hit pieces against Niemann’s character, referring to Chess.com’s investigation and the consistent analysis and commentary performed on livestreams by Nakamura, who is currently partnered with Chess.com.
The lawsuit alleges that the fallout includes tournament blacklists and loss of contact with competitions such as the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, along with professional ostracising by Niemann’s peers and fellow grandmasters, such as Vincent Keymer, and an inability to be hired as a chess teacher at “a reputable school”.
Dicebreaker has reached out to Niemann, Carlsen and Chess.com for comment but did not hear back before publication. Polygon reported a statement from Chess.com’s legal team, who said “there is no merit to Hans’ allegations”. They further added that “Hans confessed publicly to cheating online in the wake of the Sinquefield Cup, and the resulting fallout is of his own making”.