Chess World Champion Magnus Carlsen abruptly quit an online chess match against Grandmaster Hans Niemann Monday, sending shockwaves throughout the chess community. Commentators are speculating that Carlsen believes Niemann cheated during their previous match.
Both chess grandmasters were playing in the Julius Baer Generation Cup on the online chess platform Chess24. Carlsen made his first move after Niemann made his. Niemann made his second move, and then Carlsen resigned on air without explanation.
Earlier this month, 31-year-old Carlsen withdrew from the $500,000 Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis after 19-year-old Niemann defeated him. It was the first time that Carlsen withdrew from a tournament in his entire career. The resignation came on the heels of a stunning 53 consecutive wins coming to an end for Carlsen.
Shortly after, Carlsen took to Twitter to announce that he had withdrawn from the tournament. In the tweet, Carlsen also attached a video meme of soccer manager Jose Mourinho saying, “if I speak, I am in big trouble.”
The chess community took this as a subtle hint at potential misconduct that occurred during the match in St. Louis. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura also suggested that Carlsen suspected Niemann had outside help.
Another competitor and chess grandmaster, Levon Aronian, spoke to Chess24 about his thoughts about the situation.
“I understand the frustration of Magnus. You know, I really didn’t know much about a lot of things. Now I am somewhere in the middle. I do believe that Hans hasn’t been the cleanest person when it comes to online chess. But he is a young guy and hopefully, this will be a lesson to him and he will not do any of the bad things online. But generally, I think that this is a problem that requires a solution and there are solutions.”
Shortly after Carlsen’s tweet, Chess.com banned Niemann. Soon after the Sinquefield Cup, Niemann publicly defended himself against cheating allegations. In an interview with the Chess Club earlier this month, Niemann admitted to cheating at the ages of 12 and 16 in online games but said in an interview that he had never cheated in over-the-board games.
Niemann said that he learned from his mistakes and had since “sacrificed everything for chess,” doing everything he could to improve. After Carlsen’s tweet, Niemann alleged that the insinuations stirred the public to pile onto him in online spaces.
Niemann told KSDK-TV that he was disappointed his “hero” was speaking ill of him. Niemann said he spent his entire life looking up to Carlsen and dreamed of one day beating him.
“To see my absolute hero try to target, try to ruin my reputation, ruin my chess career and to do it in such a frivolous way is really, really disappointing.”
In the wake of the tournament in St. Louis, Chess.com’s chief officer Danny Rensch released a statement suggesting that there may have been some weight behind the insinuations.
After Niemann was removed from Chess.com, Rensch said the site had “shared detailed evidence with [Niemann] concerning our decision, including information that contradicts his statements regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating.”
Rensch said that the team had offered Niemann a chance to “provide an explanation and response” so he could participate on the website again.
The tournament at the Julius Baer Generation Cup was the first since St. Louis, where Carlsen and Niemann competed against one another. Carlsen and Niemann still stayed in the tournament after Carlsen’s exit from their game Monday.
Another competitor and grandmaster, Anish Giri, told chess24 what he thought about the situation.
“It looks like he (Carlsen) is clearly insinuating something, but until you catch someone, you cannot do anything.”
University of Buffalo professor and chess expert Kenneth Regan spoke about the game’s larger trajectory on Chess24’s Twitch channel.
“I have other measurements that suggest the quality [of young, modern chess players] has become a little higher. There has not been rating inflation or deflation, but with computerized opening prep, this could be the case as Lewis Carrol wrote in his book Alice in Wonderland of having to ‘run faster just to stay in the same place.”
The Atlantic wrote a piece on the game of chess in the wake of the scandal. With the advent of better game AI machines, it is much easier for players to cheat. All they have to do is “figure out a way to channel the machine’s advice.” A rumor surfaced online that Niemann may have used anything from vibrating devices in his shoes to something outlandish as sex toys.
Since players can now train using AI chess engines, some experts believe the game has become much more psychological, similar to poker.
Many chess engines are accessible online for free, turning the game into a combination of memorization, strategy and psychological battle. Access to a computerized opponent has been a great equalizer in training, leading players to look for alternative methods to outsmart their opponents.
Moumita Basuroychowdhury is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest. After earning an economics degree at Cornell University, she moved to NYC to pursue her MFA in creative writing. She enjoys reporting on science, business and culture news. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.