The chess world is in turmoil after the world champion, Magnus Carlsenwho withdrew from a major tournament for the first time in his career with frantic speculation about whether one of the opponents cheated.
On Monday, organizers of the $500,000 (£433,000) Sinquefield Cup announced additional anti-fraud precautions, including a 15-minute delay in broadcasting moves and increased radiofrequency identification checks. But Carlsen has already pulled out of the event, announcing it in a tweet with a video clip of Jose Mourinho saying: “If I talk I’m in big trouble. Big problem, big.”
Carlsen offered no further explanation, but senior American manager and famous singer Hikaru Nakamura said Carlsen withdrew because he suspected his third-round opponent, Hans Niemann, was”maybe cheating“.
19-year-old Niemann, who has made a stunning progression into the world’s 50 best players list, shocked Carlsen on Sunday by defeating him with the black pieces. Neiman said that by “some absurd miracle” he had guessed what his opponent’s mysterious opening would be and prepared deeply for it that morning. “Magnus must be embarrassed to lose to me,” He said.
But while many praised Niemann’s victory, others were more skeptical. Among them was Nakamura, the world’s highest-rated blitzer, who said Carlsen would not leave an event without a good reason. “Magnus will never do this in a million years,” he said. “He just doesn’t. He’s the ultimate contender, he’s the world champion.
“He will only do this if he strongly believes that Hans is cheating with a very strong conviction. I think he only believes Hans is cheating, directly.”
Nakamura, who is closely associated with the world’s largest chess site, chess.com, noted that Neiman has been banned from playing online in the past. “This is not up for debate, this is a well-known fact,” he said.
This claim appears to be supported by another American educator, Andrew Tang, who noted that “Stop talking to Hans because of that stuff with chess.com“.
However, Daniel Rench, Chief Chess Officer at chess.comRefusal to confirm or deny the allegations. “Chess.com does not discuss fair play matters publicly, and as such, we decline to comment on events at the Sinquefield Cup and/or any speculation made by the community,” he said.
Chess cheating in team chess is very difficult to prove and there is no evidence of foul play on Neiman’s part in the event. Another Sinquefield Cup chief, Levon Aronian, appears to be giving him the benefit of the doubt, saying: “It often happens when young players play very well, and there are always accusations towards them.
“All my teammates are pretty suspicious and it was often me who told them, ‘Come on guys, I know myself, I’m an idiot and I’m a good player.'”
Neiman returned to the board of directors on Monday evening, where he tied with French player Alireza Firouzja. Neiman was asked about Carlsen’s withdrawal, but not about the allegations of cheating. He was shocked by what happened. “I was struggling to focus, I was thinking about it the whole match,” he said.
“It is very strange. I do not want to draw any conclusions, but it is very strange. At least I should hit him before he leaves – that’s the good thing.”
The Guardian emailed Neiman to ask if he had cheated, what was his response to Nakamura’s comments, and whether he had previously been banned from chess.com.
Another great teacher, Jacob Agard, the coach who worked with Niemann, supported the American. “It is reasonably well established that Hans cheated online at some point,” Aagard said. “That’s simply something different. Compare it to cheating in the homework club. There are times when people cheat on their homework and I ignore it. Because it’s no big deal. It doesn’t make me believe they’d start out in advanced mission impossible style jobs like advanced cheaters.”
Emil Sotowski, general manager of Fide, the chess governing body, rejected suggestions that Carlsen had resigned because he was a bad loser. “He must have had a compelling reason, or at least thought he had,” Sotovsky wrote on Twitter. “Don’t call him a sore loser or a lack of respect. I wouldn’t speculate on the reasons for his withdrawal, but I would probably expect the tournament director to air it.”
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