Magnus Carlsen Accuses Hans Niemann of Cheating

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It was a totally normal Labor Day until Magnus Carlsen tweeted this:

magnus carlsen cheating tweet

Magnus has never withdrawn from a tournament in his life. It is clear he senses something is off. Magnus is a huge futbol fan and linked a video of legendary coach Jose Mourinho, who was speaking of a cheating scandal.

The allegations against Hans Niemann are very serious and potentially career-ending. We understand the weight these allegations hold and we will report what we currently know. We strongly hold that Hans is innocent until proven guilty. We will note edits and changes as the story develops.

Hans Niemann Beats Magnus in Round 3

The drama started when Hans beat Magnus in round 3. Hans is the first sub-2700 player to beat Magnus in 7 years, breaking Magnus’s 53-game unbeaten streak in classical chess. It was Magnus’s second loss with the white pieces since 2018. Thank you to Tarjei Svensen for these statistics.

Following the game, Hans Niemann tweeted:

hans neimann victory tweet

After the game, the St. Louis Chess Club, who is hosting the event, interviewed Hans. Hans stated he looked at the exact line they played the morning of the game. See the video below for the full interview, and see 1:20 for his discussion on the opening.

GM Alejandro Ramirez asked why Hans prepared this opening. Hans said that Magnus has played it in the 2018 London Chess Classic against Wesley So. @64Podcast on Twitter points out that neither Magnus nor Wesley So played in the 2018 London Chess Classic. Furthermore, Magnus has only played this opening once, in 2006.

It is important to note that Hans said that it wasn’t in this exact variation.

Hikaru Nakamura points out that if Hans really had looked at the opening, he wouldn’t have spent as much time as he did.

“If you’re super prepared, and you looked at something that morning, you blitz out the first 20 moves….You don’t pretend, you don’t use 12 minutes, you use like 3-4 minutes one specific move. That’s how it works.”

Nigel Short has found another game in 2019 where Magnus played the g3 Nimzo (the line played in the game)

This game is Magnus against Wesley So in 2019. Recall that Hans said this was played between the two at the London Chess Classic in 2018. This game happened in round 9 of the blitz tournament.

Since this is a blitz game, it would not turn up in many game databases. Which explains why Hikaru couldn’t find it in Chessbase, and why @64Podcast came up empty as well.

To me, it is not suspicious that Hans is booked up in this line in particular, or even that he looked at this specific line before the tournament. Citing the wrong tournament that Magnus played this line is a slight red flag to me. It’s nothing would give much thought to.

Hikaru, Levon, Ian and Others Weigh In

Magnus is not the only person to weigh in on Hans’s tournament thus far. Hikaru was very outspoken while streaming live on his twitch channel.

Naka’s Allegations

Hikaru was not shy to allege cheating against Hans on chess.com. “There was a period of time where Hans was not allowed to play tournaments with prize money on chess.com” he says in one clip, adding “I think you guys know what that means.”

Chess.com never said anything publicly about these cheating allegations and have made no comment on the issue. It is worth it to note that chess.com’s policy is cheaters get one free pass with impunity.

Later in the stream, the charges became stronger.”I had no idea that Hans got caught [cheating]. That is not up for debate, that is a known fact.” Nakamura said.

Naka also stated that these allegations are not new. “This is not a new rumor. I’ve heard this rumor going back as far as one year. I’ve always assumed it was complete nonsense, but I have heard this rumor going back at least a year.”

I want to point out that there is no official word on this. Hikaru is stating what he believes based on what others have told him. Whether it is based in fact or hyperbole is up to you to decide.

There is, however, a video of Hans getting banned from chess.com while on stream. Thank you to @ChessRumors for the video.

Ian Nepomniatchi

After his round 4 draw, Ian stated that Hans’s play was “more than impressive”. The body language of Ian lead many to believe that Ians suspects Hans as well.

An old clip of Nepo streaming on twitch also surfaced where he suggested that Hans was using assistance while playing.

Peter Svidler

After Magnus resigned against Hans, Peter Svidler says “Your first game against Magnus shouldn’t go like this, but things are different in the Hans universe.” Hard to know exactly what Peter is implying here.

Levon Aronian

Levon came to Hans’s defense in his round 4 post-game interview (skip to 3:17:30 for his response).

I think it quite often happens when a young player plays very well there is a lot of exaggeration towards them. All of my colleagues are paranoid. I was the one telling them ‘come on guys.’ I always thing that young players can play very well. There is no reason for him not to play well. I’ve never had the feeling that my opponent is overperforming.

Levon Aronian

Online vs OTB

Cheating in online play is not so uncommon. Chess.com has said that over 300 titled players have confessed to cheating online.

While cheating at chess under any circumstance is abhorrent and unacceptable, cheating online is a different category than cheating OTB. Very few cases of OTB cheating have come to light over the past many years. The only player I can think of is Igors Rausis.

Even if these unconfirmed allegations are true, it does not mean Hans Niemann cheated OTB.

The Case for Hans

Hans is a very talented up-and-coming player with a ton of talent. Nobody will deny this. He has gained over 200 points of rating since January of 2022, breaking through to 2700 in this very tournament.

We’ve seen other huge breakouts from Junior players in the very recent past. Alireza’s rise to world #2 before the candidates, as well as D Gukesh and Nodirbek Abdusattorov’s performances during the Olympiad come to mind. Junior players making huge runs are not an unheard of phenomenon.

Hans was very carefully checked for any devices before round 4.

The STL Chess Club announced heightened player security and had a 15-minute delay on their official tournament stream. Despite these precautions, Hans played a very good game against Alireza, but eventually it settled down into a draw.

Hans is playing very, very good chess.

There is no hard evidence of Hans cheating, there is only speculation. Nobody has come forward with video or any type of evidence to give an account of how Hans may potentially be pulling this off.

Possible Explanations

There are a few potential explanations to the days events.

  1. Hans is cheating
  2. Hans’s skill is much higher than his current rating, and this is his public delcaration.
  3. Magnus’s wasn’t actually implying Hans was cheating, and we blew it all up.
  4. Hans was tipped of Magnus’s opening, prepared it deeply and won the game without engine assistance.

Resolution

The chess community needs a resolution to these events. GothamChess says it best.

The longer we go living in tension of these cheating allegations, the worse it is for all parties. Hans deserves to be cleared if he is innocent, and also deserves a long ban if not. Carlsen deserves closure on his allegations. The chess community is owed an explanation from the STL Chess Club.