It’s been a few weeks since 19-year-old Hans Niemann shocked the chess world by taking down the world’s highest-rated player, Magnus Carlsen, at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. After his stunning defeat, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament, and tweeted out this video.
Well now, Carlsen is no longer afraid of getting in trouble.
Yesterday, Carlsen posted a statement to his social media accounts detailing his perspective on the scandal.
While Carlsen did not offer any direct evidence to his accusations (or anal beads), he did cite several instances throughout Niemann’s career, specifically Niemann’s inconsistent rise through the chess ranks and unnervingly relaxed behavior when the two met in St. Louis, that struck him as odd.
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“[Niemann’s] over the board progress has been unusual,” claimed Carlsen. “Throughout our game in the Sinquefield Cup I had the impression that [Niemann] wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions, while outplaying me as black in a way that I think only a handful of players can do.”
For those unaware, playing as the black pieces is considered disadvantageous in chess. Since white always plays first, the white player is always given a slight edge at the start of the game. If both players play perfectly, white would always come out on top. Carlsen was given the advantage for his matchup with Niemann, and still was outplayed massively. Having been around the game for more than a decade, you’d think Carlsen would have deduced which players would have the capability of taking him down with such ease even while playing as black. Carlsen doesn’t believe Niemann is one of those players. Furthermore, Niemann’s demeanor during the game was odd, not giving off any of the tension that almost every player exudes when across the board from Carlsen.
The biggest claim Carlsen made though was his direct accusation against his counterpart. “I believe that Niemann has cheated more — and more recently — than he has publicly admitted.”
Niemann is no stranger to cheating controversies, having admitted that he’s cheated in online chess matches in the past. However, Carlsen believes that Niemann is not telling the whole truth with that statement. You might be thinking, “Why would Niemann admit to cheating at all?” Well, the best way to get away with a lie is to add a bit of truth to the statement. By announcing that he’d cheated in the past, Niemann made it seem as though he’d put those transgressions behind him, and that he’s not afraid to talk about his previous wrongdoings. Another great way to get away with a lie though, is to add an embarrassing detail about yourself. After all, why would you tell an embarrassing story about yourself if the story wasn’t true? Niemann admitting that he’d cheated in the past is the ultimate embarrassing detail. Not cheating is the most basic agreement made between both parties in chess, or any game for that matter. Admitting that he’d cheated in the past makes Niemann seem all the less likely to cheat in an over-the-board situation against the world’s highest-rated player, since why would he admit to that if he was still cheating now? It would only draw more suspicion. Carlsen isn’t buying it though.
After the Sinquefield Cup, Carlsen and Niemann had the opportunity to play against one another again a week later during the Champions Chess Tour. Carlsen resigned after one move. It is clear he has no desire to play Niemann in any situation currently.
Despite all these accusations though, Carlsen has yet to bring up any hard evidence that Niemann was actually cheating during either of their matches. Carlsen does claim that he has more to say, but cannot currently “without explicit permission from Niemann to speak openly.”
Perhaps this is a challenge to Niemann. The pressure is now on Niemann to give Carlsen the permission he seeks. If Niemann has nothing to hide, why not give Carlsen the green light to make whatever false claims he sees fit? That said, it also seems like Carlsen has no direct evidence up his sleeve. Even if Niemann gives Carlsen permission to say anything, it would likely only be circumstantial evidence, or anything that could be considered slander. If Carlsen had actual direct evidence, he wouldn’t need permission from Niemann to speak about it.
It’s a bold move from Carlsen that could pan out horribly if Niemann calls his bluff. I wouldn’t say that Carlsen is hanging his queen here, but perhaps a bishop, knight, or center square pawn. At the same time, the court of public opinion is all that matters. Even if Carlsen has no hard evidence, chess fans seem more inclined to believe Carlsen given that he’s been on the scene longer, has had an illustrious career, and has never been in a serious scandal before. It doesn’t matter whether or not Niemann can actually be proven guilty, it only matters what the chess community chooses to believe.
We have not seen the last of this drama. I’d assume that Niemann will make a counter-statement in the coming days. Will he give Carlsen permission to speak freely on the matter? Doubtful. Anything Carlsen says at this point will likely send shockwaves throughout the chess community, and that could seriously harm Niemann’s reputation. Niemann’s best move could be to say nothing at all. Without a response, perhaps this scandal will slowly die down. While I doubt people deep within the chess community will ever forget about these cheating allegations, with enough time and without any advancements in the drama, maybe online sites like ours will stop writing about them.