The latest bombshell in the scandal that has rocked the chess world fell on Tuesday when an investigation into Hans Niemann’s games revealed that the American grandmaster was cheating far more often than previously revealed.
The 72-page report, conducted by Chess.com and initially reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, found that as late as 2020, Niemann was “probably receiving illegal assistance in more than 100 online games,” including at events where prize money was at stake.
Suspicions surrounding Niemann, a 19-year-old who has made a rapid climb to the top 50 in the world over the past four years, were initially reinforced last month when world champion Magnus Carlsen first suggested and then outright stated that the American was winning was through illegal means.
Niemann has vehemently denied the allegations, although in the past he has admitted to breaking the rules of fair play using chess engines at least twice: first as a 12-year-old in an online tournament, and then as a 16-year-old playing chess. unrated games while streaming.
But the Chess.com report, which used cheat-detection tools, including comparing a player’s moves with those recommended by powerful supercomputers, provided compelling, data-driven evidence that dramatically contradicts these claims. The investigation yielded no conclusions regarding Niemann’s over-the-board games, but highlighted matches from six of his stronger personal events, stating that they “deserve further investigation based on the data.”
The full investigation, made public Tuesday night, said Niemann confessed to the allegations privately and was subsequently banned from Chess.com, the world’s most popular chess platform, for a period of time.
The scandal erupted in September when Niemann defeated Carlsen while playing with the black pieces at the $500,000 (£433,000) Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, ending the current world champion’s 53-match undefeated run in classic overs. the board games. Carlsen’s shocking defeat and withdrawal sparked a flurry of comments and accusations that Niemann was cheating, including from Hikaru Nakamura, the American grandmaster who was once the world’s No. 2.
Unhappy with Niemann’s explanation that he had somehow guessed which opening the Norwegian would play, Carlsen abruptly withdrew from the tournament, a virtually unprecedented decision for a sitting world champion that was interpreted as an act of protest. “When I speak I have big problems,” Carlsen tweeted, strongly alluding to impropriety on his opponent’s side.
The controversy doubled two weeks later when Carlsen and Niemann met again in the sixth round of the online Julius Baer Generation Cup and the world No. 1 sensationally resigned after making just one move. Carlsen finally clarified his cryptic innuendo with an official statement a week later, saying that he was unwilling “to play against people who have cheated repeatedly in the past” and that he believed Niemann had “cheated more than he did.” admitted”.
“When Niemann was invited to the Sinquefield Cup in 2022 at the last minute, I strongly considered withdrawing ahead of the event,” said Carlsen. “In the end I chose to play. I believe Niemann has cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted.
“His progress across the board was unusual and during our Sinquefield Cup game I had the impression that he was not tense or even fully focused on the game in critical positions, while he outplayed me as black in a way that I think only that a handful of players can. This game has helped change my perspective.”
The Chess.com report backed up Carlsen’s assessment of Niemann’s unusually rapid climb to Fide’s world ratings – a gain of 350 Elo points in four years and an astonishing increase from 2,500 to 2,600 in just three months – and describes his rise as “statistically extraordinary” , while stopping concluding that he has been cheated in all over-the-board games.
“Outside his online game, Hans is the fastest rising top player in Classical [over-the-board] chess in modern history,” the report said. “Purely looking at rating, Hans should be counted among this group of young top players. While we have no doubt that Hans is a talented player, we note that his results are statistically extraordinary.”
The report further explains the methodology behind Chess.com’s cheat-detection tools, including: “analysis that compares moves to those recommended by chess engines; studies of a player’s past performance and strength profile; monitoring behavior such as players opening other browsers while playing; and input from grandmaster fair play analysts”. Notably, it revealed that “dozens” of grandmasters have been caught cheating on Chess.com, including one of the world’s current top 100, all of whom confessed.
It also touched on Niemann’s curious post-game analysis of his stunning victory over Carlsen in St. Louis, which top players at the time characterized as “contrary to the level of preparation Hans felt was involved and the level of analysis needed.” to beat the world chess champion”.
Carlsen’s statement made a similar observation of Niemann’s attitude, saying: “During our play in the Sinquefield Cup, I had the impression that he was not tense or even fully focused on the play in critical positions, while he outplayed me as black on a way that I think only a handful of players can.”
Niemann has steadfastly denied in recent years that he did anything wrong, stating a day after his win over Carlsen in the Sinquefield Cup that he had only cheated twice in the past.
“I cheated on random games on Chess.com,” Niemann said. I was confronted. I confessed. And this is the biggest mistake of my life. And I’m completely ashamed. I’m telling the world because I don’t want any misrepresentations and no rumours. I’ve never cheated in an over-the-board game. And except when I was 12 years old, I’ve never cheated in a tournament with prize money.”
Niemann admitted that he had once again illegally used computers to play in “random and unclassified games” when he started streaming during the pandemic.
“To give context, I was 16 years old living alone in New York City in the heart of the pandemic and I was willing to do anything to grow my stream,” he said. “What I want people to know about this is that I deeply, deeply regret my mistake. I know that my actions have consequences and I have experienced those consequences. At that time, I got out of a very lucrative streaming career, stopped playing in all events and lost a lot of close friendships and relationships.
“I decided the only way to make up for my mistake was to prove that I could win the board events,” he added. “That has been my mission. And that’s why I’ve lived in a suitcase and played 260 games in one year, trained 12 hours a day, because I have something to prove.”
It also addressed Niemann’s post-game analysis of his stunning victory over Carlsen in St. Louis, which top players have characterized as “contrary to the level of preparation that Hans said was involved and the level of analysis needed to become the World Chess Champion.” defeat.” ”.
Fide, the sport’s global governing body, released a statement last week saying it will convene its own three-member panel to investigate the allegations.
“The focus of the investigation would be twofold: to verify the world champion’s claims of alleged cheating by Niemann and Niemann’s self-declaration regarding online cheating,” it read. “The panel will ensure a fair ruling and protect the rights of both parties during the investigation.”