Under usual circumstances, even the wildest stories in the chess world fail to surface the breaking news citizens around the world read daily. However, an incident involving the World Chess Champion, claimed by some to be the greatest chess player to ever live, unexpectedly dropping out of a prestigious tournament after a loss, has truly taken the world by storm.
Magnus Carlsen is undoubtedly one of the most superb grandmasters to move a chess piece. He currently holds multiple world records, including one for the most consecutive undefeated rounds ever. In mid-September, 2022, it seemed as if one of the greatest strategic minds had finally reached his match; Hans Niemann, a 19 year old grandmaster who just barely qualified for the Sinquefield Cup and was the lowest ranked player in the tournament. What would otherwise be considered as a shocking dark horse story, perhaps symbolizing a passing of the torch, has garnered one of the biggest controversies in chess since the Toiletgate incident.
Following this historic match, Magnus Carlsen tweeted on his official Twitter account, “I've withdrawn from the tournament. I've always enjoyed playing in the @STLChessClub, and hope to be back in the future” followed by an unrelated video clip titled, “If I speak I am in big trouble.” No further comments were given at the moment.
Speculation immediately circulated among chess circles and other people. Former World Champion Garry Kasparov, Entrepreneur Elon Musk, and Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura each weighed in on their own perspectives. Several prominent chess figures analyzed supposed irregularities in the game, claiming that some moves were computer generated. Other experts on the issue, including professor Ken Regan argued that no conclusive evidence was presented for the allegation. In later interviews, Niemann admitted to cheating previously in online tournaments in an attempt to argue that he has learned from his mistakes. After further investigation on this issue, it was revealed that one of Niemann’s mentors, Grandmaster Maxim Dlugy, has cheated on multiple occasions during online games. Both grandmasters(Niemann and Dlugy) have previously been suspended on chess.com, a premier online chess platform, with Niemann suspended again following the recent aforementioned events.
Magnus Carlsen remained largely silent following his tweet, until the Julius Baer Generation Cup in which he participated in another match against Niemann. Carlsen resigned following the first move and issued a statement on Twitter formally acknowledging his suspicions of cheating, citing Niemann’s apparent calmness and lack of concentration during the “most critical positions.” Others have further speculated that Niemann could be using a hidden earpiece in order to relay chess engine moves during the match. No evidence for or against this claim has been openly accepted yet.
Regardless of whether more evidence for or against Niemann is uncovered, this story will certainly shake the chess world for generations to come. If the cheating is proven to be real, the chess community will face the reality that it is woefully unprepared to combat the ever developing mechanisms for dishonesty throughout tournaments, both over-the-board and online. If the cheating allegations are found to be baseless, the chess world will not only be forced to recognized that a new generation of chess talent is ready to take the stage, but also that fair victories could be easily undermined by powerful influencers.