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‘Hans Niemann has likely cheated in more than 100 online chess games, including several prize money games’

Report by Chess.com has found that the scope of Niemann’s cheating is far wider and longer-lasting than what he publicly admitted.

Hans Niemann, Hans Niemann cheating, Hans Niemann Chess, MAgnus Carlsen vs Hans NiemannNiemann, who stunned the Norwegian by beating him with black pieces, also admitted that he had cheated while playing chess online, doing so when he was 12 and 16 years old. (Chess24/Twitter)

A 72-page report, filed by Chess.com, a website where top players compete, has found that American Grandmaster Hans Niemann has likely received illegal assistance in more than 100 online games, and as recently as 2020.

The entire fiasco started when Niemann, a 19-year-old who has made a meteoric ascent into the world’s top 50 over the past four years, shocked Carlsen while playing with the black pieces at the Sinquefield Cup. Carlsen then abruptly quit the tournament. Though Carlsen refused to divulge the reason he quit the tournament, apart from a cryptic Twitter post, the chess community interpreted his action as a protest. The shocking defeat and Carlsen’s withdrawal ignited a maelstrom of comments and allegations that Niemann was cheating. The most vocal voice was Hikaru Nakamura, the American grandmaster once ranked No 2 in the world.

When the pair met again in an online event weeks later, Carlsen quit the game after making just one move. Then days later, he publicly confirmed his suspicions of Niemann.

When Carlsen had quit the Sinquefield Cup and Niemann was under fire, the American launched an impassioned defense. Niemann admitted he had cheated in the past, but only at two points in his life, describing them as youthful indiscretions committed when he was 12 and 16 years old.

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Magnus Carlsen watching Hans Niemann at the 2022 edition of the Sinquefield Cup. (Photo: chessphotoshop.com)

He said he was prepared to “play naked” to prove his innocence and that he has never cheated in over-the-board chess.

However, the recent investigation into Niemann’s play has found his cheating to be far wider and longer-lasting than he publicly admitted. More importantly, the matches in which he likely cheated included contests in which prize money was on the line. The report states that Niemann privately confessed to the allegations and that he was subsequently banned from the site for a period of time, which Niemann too admitted last month.

The report, which relied on cheating-detection tools including a comparison of a player’s moves to those recommended by powerful supercomputers, has offered data-driven evidence that dramatically contradicts those statements by Niemann that he’s cheated only twice. While the investigation made no conclusions regarding Niemann’s over-the-board games, it did flag contests from six of his stronger in-person events, stating they “merit further investigation based on the data”.

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After Carlsen had resigned from the online Julius Baer Generation Cup after one move, the pressure on him to provide a reason for his withdrawals grew. He finally issued a statement saying, “When Niemann was invited last minute to the 2022 Sinquefield Cup, I strongly considered withdrawing prior to the event. I ultimately chose to play. I believe that Niemann has cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted. His over-the-board progress has been unusual, and throughout our game in the Sinquefield Cup I had the impression that he wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions, while outplaying me as black in a way I only think a handful of players can do. This game contributed to changing my perspective.”

Magnus Carlsen and Hans Hiemann. (Special illustration by Suvajit Dey)

Chess.com, which is in the process of buying Carlsen’s Play Magnus app, backed up Carlsen’s assessment of Niemann’s rapid climb up Fide’s world ratings – a gain of 350 Elo points in four years and an astonishing surge from 2,500 to 2,600 in just three months – describing his rise as “statistically extraordinary”.

“Outside his online play, Hans is the fastest rising top player in Classical (over-the-board) chess in modern history,” the report said. “Looking purely at rating, Hans should be classified as a member of this group of top young players. While we don’t doubt that Hans is a talented player, we note that his results are statistically extraordinary.”

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Fide, the sport’s world governing body, issued a statement last week saying it will convene its own three-person panel to look into the allegations.

First published on: 05-10-2022 at 08:44:36 am
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