It’s been a month since reigning World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup tournament after a shocking loss to 19-year-old grandmaster Hans Niemann, hinting in the announcement of his exit that he believed his opponent may have cheated. The scandal has only intensified since, leading to a massive reckoning over the state of unfair play — and especially how it is detected and disciplined — at the top level of professional chess.
Following revelations last week that Niemann’s coach, Maxim Dlugy, was twice temporarily banned by Chess.com, the premier online chess server, for cheating, the site has laid out a full and damning history of Niemann’s own deceptions on the platform. A 72-page internal report shared with the Wall Street Journal found that he likely violated their rules by using outside assistance in more than 100 games, some of them live-streamed to viewers or played in tournaments with cash prizes, and as recently as 2020.
Niemann, who has not tweeted in his own defense since early September and did not reply to a request for comment, has only admitted to cheating on Chess.com at ages 12 and 16, which resulted in a six-month ban in 2020. However, when the site removed him again in the wake of Sinquefield, they said they had shown him “detailed evidence” and “information that contradicts his statements regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating.” That material is evidently at the heart of the documents reviewed by the Journal.
Although a cheeky viral post on Reddit’s r/chess imagined the possibility of cheating at the game by concealing a vibrating sex toy in one’s anus — inspiring a spate of graphic jokes and memes among fans — the reality is somewhat more mundane. In his acknowledged episodes of cheating, Niemann used chess engines to calculate optimal moves. Based on their sophisticated analysis, which Niemann himself has called the “best” in the world, Chess.com decided that his play continued to bear a suspicious resemblance to that of a computer program.
The company also noted that Niemann’s ascent in the competitive field of chess pros is “statistically extraordinary,” even given his natural talent. When it comes to in-person (or “over the board”) chess, they said, he is the “fastest rising top player” in “modern history.” The site did not draw any conclusions as to whether or how he may have cheated at Sinquefield or in other OTB matches — a more difficult charge to prove — but encouraged further probes into his major wins. The International Chess Federation (FIDE) is currently investigating both Carlsen and Niemann.
Days ago, Chess.com CEO and co-founder Erik Allebest wrote on r/chess that more transparency on this issue is crucial. “I think the chess community needs to take a hard look at our policies on how we deal with cheating, especially when compared to all other sports and games,” he said. “Maybe sweeping it all under the rug privately for so long hasn’t been the right call.”
Elsewhere, Allebest admitted he’s under a lot of stress. It probably doesn’t help that Chess.com is in the process of taking over Carlsen’s chess platform and app, Play Magnus, in an $82 million merger. Allebest’s harshest critics on the subreddit have argued that he’s doing Carlsen’s “dirty work” — i.e., hanging Niemann out to dry — in order to protect a business relationship. And some contend that the investigation “hasn’t provided anything truly new.”
Either way, this latest and thorough documentation of irregularities in Niemann’s play promise to further diminish or even derail his career. For all the drama we’ve seen in the past few weeks, we might be in the endgame.