Norwegian chess master, 31-year-old Magnus Carlsen, withdrew from the high-stakes Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, United States on September 4, hours after his loss to Hans Niemann, a 19-year-old American newcomer. This was followed by allegations of cheating against the American teenager, triggering a scandal.
As the drama over the accusations against Neimann unfolds, we take a look at what the cheating scandal is all about and the allegations faced by Niemann.
Magnus Carlsen's Withdrawing From Sinquefield Cup
Soon after his defeat in the third round against Niemann, Magnus Carlsen - ranked number one by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) withdrew from the tournament abruptly. Carlsen took to Twitter a day later and tweeted a video of football coach José Mourinho saying, "If I speak, I'm in big trouble". Carlsen wrote, "I've withdrawn from the tournament. I've always enjoyed playing in the @STLChessClub, and hope to be back in the future."
His withdrawal from the tournament, followed by the tweet featuring Mourinho was quick to raise suspicions. Carlsen's defeat against Neimann broke his 53-game winning streak.
Accusations against Neimann
Carlsen's exit from the tournament was followed by Niemann facing a series of cheating allegations of his victory against Carlsen, starting from streamers to online observers. This also became a topic of gossip for users on Reddit, r/chess.
One of the accusations came from Hikaru Nakamura, an American grandmaster on his Twitch stream. The New York Times quoted Nakamura as saying, "There was a period of over six months where Hans did not play any prize-money tournaments on Chess.com. That is the one thing that I'm going to say and that is the only thing I'm going to say on this topic."
Neimann claimed he was clean in the face of allegations. The Guardian quoted Niemann as saying, "If they want me to strip fully naked, I will do it. 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."
But the report also pointed out how Niemann had admitted to cheating in the past, for achieving a higher rating that can help him compete against some stronger players.
He said, "I cheated on random games on Chess.com. I was confronted. I confessed. And this is the single biggest mistake of my life. And I am completely ashamed. I am telling the world because I don't want misrepresentations and I don't want rumours. I have never cheated in an over-the-board game. And other than when I was 12 years old I have never cheated in a tournament with prize money."
Niemann admitted how he cheated when he was 16 years old, just to grow his streaming channel during the pandemic while being in New York.
In light of the scandal, Chess.com, a global chess community, put out a statement saying they had reached out to Neimann informing him that his account had been privately removed. The statement said that the body had shared with him details of his cheating for which they were awaiting a response.
Is There Proof?
There is no proven evidence yet of foul play. According to The Guardian, Niemann was frisked by security before the match but did not find anything. The American youngster said, "I have never cheated in an over-the-board game. That is the worst thing I could do: cheat in a tournament with prize money."
The Sinquefield Cup has got a cash prize of $350,000. Carlsen immediately withdrawing from the tournament after his defeat led to various speculations against Niemann, accusing the youngster of cheating.
After Carlsen opted out of the Sinquefield Cup, Niemann said, "I think [he] was just so demoralized because he's losing to an idiot like me. It must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose to me. I feel bad for him," while speaking to the St. Louis Chess Club's YouTube channel.
Tony Rich, executive director of the St. Louis Chess Club that hosts the Sinquefield Cup, said in a statement, "A player's decision to withdraw from a tournament is a personal decision, and we respect Magnus' choice. We look forward to hosting Magnus at a future event in Saint Louis."
He later told The New York Times that the organisers had not received any formal complaints against Neimann. Rich told The New York Times, "We try to make sure that any fair-play mechanism that we can implement, we do. If I did find that someone had been cheating, it would certainly be a blow, and I would take it very personally."
According to FIDE's ratings, Hans Niemann was ranked number 49 in the world with a 2688 rating. Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen continues to remain the world number one in the FIDE rankings with a 2861 rating.
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