World chess champion Magnus Carlsen on Monday officially accused young American grandmaster Hans Niemann of cheating. A new escalation in one of the biggest scandals that has shaken the medium. For some, Magnus Carlsen is right to sound the alarm, while others accuse him of destroying the career of a young talent without solid evidence.
There is something rotten in the kingdom of chess. The world champion, the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen came out of the silence, Monday September 26, to officially accuse another player, the American Hans Moke Niemann, of cheating. These accusations come to relaunch a scandal that has shaken the chess world for almost a month, and seems to fascinate the media around the world. far beyond experts since 64 boxes.
“I think that Hans Niemann has cheated more often, and more recently, than he himself admitted. […] During our game, I got the impression that he wasn’t really focused at critical moments, while dominating me like only a very small number of players can,” said Magnus Carlsen, who has five world champion titles. I want to play Hans Niemann again.” added in his press release.
David against Goliath or simple trap?
A development of Magnus Carlsen eagerly awaited by the gaming community, shocked by the unprecedented behavior of the world champion towards the young 19-year-old American grandmaster, who had the misfortune to beat him on the occasion of a tournament at the beginning. of September
It all started in St. Louis, USA, where the prestigious Sinquefield Cup tournament took place from September 1 to 13. On the third day of this competition, which brought together the cream of the international grandmasters (GM), Hans Niemann, the lowest ranked in the tournament in the Elo system that allows estimating the level of the players, defeated the undisputed champion . in the world since 2013. And, in the opinion of many observers, he was not even hanging the game: the American outsider just took a bite of the Norwegian giant.
A David vs. Goliath feat that had something to turn chess fans on. After all, Magnus Carlsen hadn’t lost a game in over two years. But from a mythical triumph, this victory became the “ground zero” of the biggest chess scandal in decades.
The day after his loss, Magnus Carlsen announced his retirement from the tournament. An unprecedented decision for the world champion, who does not deign to justify. he just adds to his retirement tweet a video of football coach José Mourinho declaring, in 2014, “if I speak I will have problems”. A well understood implication in the world of chess.
Very soon, the commentators suspect that the king of the board made this drastic decision because he considers himself to have been the victim of Hans Niemann “the cheater”. The organizers have also tightened anti-cheating measures, establishing, for example, a more extensive search with a metal detector.
And tongues are also beginning to loosen. Hikaru Nakamura, one of the most popular personalities among the chess elite (he has close to 1.5 million subscribers on his Twitch channel where he plays live), implies that Hans Niemann has a history of cheating.
Niemann, repentant cheater
It would have been “more than impressive [contre Magnus Carlsen]”, adds Ian Nepomniachtchi, the world champion’s last unlucky challenger, with a knowing smile, the day after the young American’s performance. The Russian player will specify, a few days later, that he had requested additional security measures upon learning of Hans Niemann’s participation. The latter, in fact, had been retained at the last minute to replace another player who had withdrawn.
One way of suggesting that Hans Niemann’s use of cheating was an open secret in the world of chess. The latter does not dispute it… Except that he claims to have only cheated online – Internet chess has skyrocketed in recent years – and only twice, at 12 and 16 years old.
Since then it would be “clean”. He even offered to come play naked to show that he wasn’t hiding any cheating gear, like a microphone or a handheld.
But nothing helps. Two weeks later, Magnus Carlsen does it again. During a new face-to-face with the young American, this time over the Internet, he makes a first move… then he gives up.
For Hans Niemann it is too much. The player claims that his illustrious opponent is looking to ruin his budding career. He fears becoming persona non grata among the chess elite when no evidence of his alleged cheating has been presented.
Other illustrious voices of this medium go in the same direction. This is the case of the Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, current world champion in rapid games of 5 minutes, who finds it a little easy to leave thus casting doubt on a player without presenting the slightest proof. The organizers of the Sinquefield Cup have also assured that they have not discovered any element that suggests that Hans Niemann could have cheated.
Hence the importance of Magnus Carlsen’s approach. Except his press release is far from the expected checkmate. The world champion is only basing himself on “an impression” as he states that he does not want to play against rivals with a history of cheating because “you never know what to expect”.
Statements that probably won’t stop the rumor mill around the “high-tech” methods Hans Niemann might have used to cheat in Saint-Louis.
Connected sole or anal plug…
Cheating is, in fact, a recurring problem in the world of chess. In 2006, world title contender Veselin Topalov accused defending champion Vladimir Kramnik of cheating when he went to the bathroom during his match. In France, the Grand Master Sébastien Feller was found guilty in 2010 of having set up a whole network of traps that had allowed him to make an extraordinary performance during the Chess Olympiad.
But with the advent of the computer king, gamers fear that cheating will only get more sophisticated. In the case of Hans Niemann, the craziest theories circulated. Some have argued that he had connected soles that allowed his receiving shots to be played by pulse, transmitted by an acolyte sitting behind a computer.
Another rumor, even more preposterous and taken up by billionaire Elon Musk (which is definitely controversial), claims that Hans Niemann was equipped with an anal plug that would work a bit like the connected soles… but placed in another part of the body.
It is this detail that has led to this scandal. extensive media coveragealthough the rumor is not based on anything concrete.
However, this case illustrates one of the most important challenges for a millennial game, or a sport for some, that is in a process of profound change. The power of computers has changed practices, from computer-assisted pre-match preparation to post-game analysis, greatly facilitated by the computing power of machines.
Magnus Carlsen’s hack is also symptomatic of a generation of gamers realizing their world may not be ready for cheating in 2.0. The measures in place have not changed much since the days when the main threat to fair play was a player isolating himself in the bathroom with a laptop.
The world champion also describes cheating, in his press release, as “an existential threat” to chess. He calls on the community to get up to speed on modern cheating techniques as quickly as possible.
A cry of warning that can be understood. Peter Svidler, a living legend of Russian chess, had already mentioned it during the Sinquefield Cup that he had commented on live. He assured that it was time to have a discussion on the subject… While he wondered if that justified sacrificing the career of a young talent, without formal tests.