A young chess player, Hans Niemann, beat the top champion, Magnus Carlsen, in September. All hell broke loose when in a rematch within weeks Carlsen forfeited the game against Niemann after making just one move.

A highly-anticipated chess match pit world champion Magnus Carlsen against Hans Niemann on September 19, 2022, at the Julius Baer Generation Cup.

But Carlsen, after Niemann opened the game as white and made his move, made one counter-move, then left the game, turning off his camera and going offline.

Spectators and commentators were left in the dark as they tried to fathom what had happened. Speculation and gossip followed.

Let’s rewind

The Julius Baer Generation Cup game took place two weeks after Niemann, 19, defeated Carlsen, 31, at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis on September 4, 2022.

To put things into perspective, let’s look at the two players’ stature in the chess world.

To quote Chris Karnadi writing for Polygon, “Carlsen is a five-time world champion and arguably the best chess player ever,” who has been ranked “number one for over a decade, and his peak Elo rating (a scale used to determine relative strength of players) of 2882 is the best in history.”

Karnadi also analysed Niemann’s Elo rating, which “has exploded since the pandemic from 2484 in January 2021 to 2688 at the beginning of September. His meteoric rise has surprised and impressed the chess world, and in turn added to the suspicion of foul play.”

Carlsen withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup the day after his defeat, and tweeted a cryptic video of Portuguese football coach Jose Mourinho saying “I prefer not to speak. If I speak, I am in big trouble."

Fans took Carlsen’s tweet as a suggestion that Niemann was cheating, even though there was no direct accusation from the world champion, nor any proof that Niemann was acting unethically.

The plot thickens

Polygon also reported that popular chess streamer Hikaru Nakamura cast doubt on Niemann’s integrity, who explained that there was a period of six months when Niemann was not able to compete for prize money tournaments in Chess.com, that his inexplicable rise over the past year and a half suggested that something was amiss, and that Carlsen had probably mistrusted the young player’s honesty.

“Am I suggesting that something happened? I’m saying that Magnus is suspicious,” Nakamura said.

Once a cheater?

Feeling under pressure from all the rumours surrounding him, Niemann defended himself on September 6, 2022, saying that he had cheated on Chess.com only twice, at the age of 12 and 16.

He said he was “just a child” when he cheated as a 12-year-old, and that the second time he cheated was “an absolutely ridiculous mistake”. He categorically denied he ever cheated in an over-the-board tournament.

On September 8, 2022, Chess.com, the biggest online platform for the strategy game, announced that it had removed Niemann’s account for cheating on the site. Chess.com’s tweet noted that “We have shared detailed evidence with him concerning our decision, including information that contradicts the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com.”

Niemann, in his video appearance, also said: “it's very ridiculous…  the main thing that I want to say is that I'm not going to let Chess.com, I'm not going to let Magnus Carlsen, I'm not going to let Hikaru Nakamura  –– the three arguably biggest entities in chess –– simply slander my reputation”.

Niemann, appearing flustered and upset, offered a drastic challenge to the “thousands of tweets” from chess fans accusing him, as well as Chess.com, Carlsen and Nakamura.

"If they want me to strip fully naked, I will do it," he said.

"I don't care, because I know I am clean. You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don't care. I'm here to win and that is my goal regardless."

HEADLINE AND THUMBNAIL PHOTOS: Wikimedia Commons/ Dietmar Rabich

Source: TRTWorld and agencies