The Chess World Has Been Rocked By A Major Cheating Scandal
(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
— 8 September 2022

The Chess World Has Been Rocked By A Major Cheating Scandal

— 8 September 2022
Garry Lu
Garry Lu

At age 13, Magnus Carlsen was already destined for greatness. At a time when most tweens would be primarily concerned about high school, the Norwegian child prodigy had become a bona fide chess grandmaster.

In the years since, Carlsen has also become a five-time World Chess Champion, earned the position of #1 in the FIDE rankings (which he has held since 2011), as well as achieved the highest ELO rating in chess history with 2882. Magnus Carlsen wasn’t meant to lose to someone like Hans Niemann — until he did.

After a stunning upset defeat at the hands of 19-year-old American chess grandmaster, who has admitted to previous instances of cheating in online chess (to the point of being blacklisted from, Carlsen abruptly withdrew from the ongoing 2022 Sinquefield Cup tournament hosted in St Louis, Missouri.

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“Stunning upset” actually doesn’t even begin to describe it. Given Carlsen had played 53 classical matches without a single loss – plus the sheer gulf in ratings and accomplishments between he and Niemann; the fact Niemann had a statistical disadvantage by opting to play the black side – this would be like watching Jake Paul KO Canelo Alvarez.

“I’ve withdrawn from the tournament. I’ve always enjoyed playing in the St Louis Chess Club and hope to be back in the future,” tweeted Magnus Carlsen, attached to a video clip football manager Jose Mourinho, wherein the latter says, “If I speak, I am in big trouble.”

Widespread speculation ensued. And not just from your everyday armchair spectator. Journalists… pundits… fellow grandmasters… even casuals who wouldn’t otherwise give a damn about chess (present company included). As noted by FIDE Director-General Emil Sutovsky, Carlsen isn’t one to ever rage quit out of ego or petty spite.

“He must have had a compelling reason, or at least he believes he has it,” Sutovsky wrote on Twitter.

“Don’t call him a sore loser or disrespectful. I shall not speculate on the reasons for his withdrawal, but probably would expect a tournament director to air them.”

Something was definitely up. Reddit’s r/chess was sent into a whirlwind. Rumours even suggested someone from Carlsen’s camp had leaked his closely-guarded opening preparation. Everyone – literally everyone – came up with their own conspiracy theories.

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While Carlsen himself has still yet to elaborate on the meaning behind his cryptic tweet, the general consensus is that something was rotten in St Louis.

“Magnus would never [withdraw] in a million years,” said grandmaster and world’s highest-rated blitz player Hikaru Nakamura.

“He just doesn’t do that. He’s the ultimate competitor, he’s a world champion.”

“He wouldn’t do this unless he really strongly believes Hans is cheating with a very strong conviction. I think he just thinks Hans is just cheating, straight out.”

So how would someone cheat in professional over-the-board (OTB) chess? Short of learning your opponent’s exact move as several believe Nieman has, according to Vice, elaborate but very plausible tech:

One recent proof of concept involved using vibration-based buttons in a player’s shoes to communicate with a Raspberry Pi Zero running the open source Stockfish chess engine hidden somewhere in the player’s clothing. In a writeup of that proof-of-concept, the device’s designer wrote that “I was planning to recruit a ‘plausibly-good’ chess player to use the shoes to win the world championship,” and that he was planning on creating an updated version of the cheating device: ‘This proof-of-concept only needed to fool my mates, in a pub, for the duration of two games. To win the world championships we’re going to have to get much more serious.’ That post has gone viral on Hacker News, though there is no evidence that this device or any other was used by Nieman.

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On Monday, Sinquefield Cup organisers announced additional anti-cheating precautions, including a 15-minute delay in the broadcast of the moves, increased radio-frequency identification checks, as well as metal scanners. Because this isn’t just about reputation. There’s also US$500,000 in prize money at stake here. But is it too little too late? Or is everyone simply overreacting to a freak occurrence.

Hans Niemann, of course, has dismissed all accusations, and even offered to “strip naked” before a proposed rematch against Magnus Carlsen. But at this stage, it’s beyond convincing the chess world’s Tiger Woods, and fast becoming about surviving the court of public opinion.

“Do any fair play checking you want, I don’t care because I know that I’m clean,” Neimann told chess commentator Alejandro Ramirez.

“They want me to strip fully naked? I’ll do it. I don’t care because I know I know that I’m clean and I’m willing to subject myself to what you want me to play.”

“It must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose to an idiot like me… I feel bad for him.”

Godspeed, you crazy zoomer.

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Garry Lu
After stretching his legs with companies such as The Motley Fool and the odd marketing agency, Garry joined Boss Hunting in 2019 as a fully-fledged Content Specialist. In 2021, he was promoted to News Editor. Garry proudly retains a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black bruises from Muay Thai, as well as a black belt in all things pop culture. Drop him a line at [email protected]


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