The inner sanctum of elite chess has long been a place for the most composed and sober-minded – men and women whose crystalline intellects and fearless ability to remain calm under pressure are truly legendary.
Yet the game is currently plagued by a bizarre scandal that threatens to destroy that nerd reputation forever.
It all started two weeks ago, when teenage prodigy Hans Niemann shocked the chess world by defeating the greatest player in history, Magnus Carlsen, ending a 53-match unbeaten streak for the Norwegian from 31 years.
Such was the upset, shenanigans allegations immediately swirled against Niemann – especially as the youngster admitted to cheating in the past.
Magnus Carlsen (left) and Hans Niemann (right) at the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis earlier this month Saint Louis
American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, for his part, speculated that Carlsen thought Niemann was “probably cheating”.
But how could he have done that exactly?
Rumors – wild rumors at that – quickly emerged.
Nowadays, computers can easily beat even the greatest human chess players: anyone with access to a cell phone can triumph against the world’s greatest chess player every time.
But given that there were no visible signs that Niemann was using a computer, it was claimed that the 19-year-old American could have a vibrating radio receiver inserted into his body to give him the winning shots, possibly by a form of Morse code. .
Chess fan Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, added fuel to the fire when he tweeted: “It’s in your [your] buttocks,” implying that the teenager was sitting on an electronic device that could tell him the moves needed to win.
When former world champion Jose Capablanca wrote his definitive Chess Fundamentals textbook in 1921, it probably wasn’t the “foundation” he had in mind.
World champion player Magnus Carlsen abandons the match rather than play teenager Hans Niemann who beat him earlier
The claim could be nonsense, of course. And yet, it’s hard to overstate the shock represented by the teenager’s victory over Carlsen.
Although a pocket calculator can beat me at chess, I find this story fascinating because I love this game. One way I like to relax is to play games by past masters, such as Mikhail Tal or Emanuel Lasker.
I have dozens of volumes of classic games, including some of the greatest games of the past 150 years. Playing a game is like listening to a Chopin waltz: every movement is precise and perfect, just as beautiful music is also mathematical.
At the top of the game, beyond these airy concerns, a lot of money is at stake: $500,000 (£443,000) was at stake when Carlsen and Niemann met at the Sinquefield Cup in Missouri in the United States. United two weeks ago.
Sinquefeld’s committee clearly took the cheating allegations seriously: Immediately after Niemann’s victory, it introduced a series of anti-cheat precautions, monitoring radio wave frequencies around players and delaying the broadcast of the moves online. 15 minutes. And while the “inserted device” is undoubtedly an ominous suggestion, many believe it to be the only possible explanation.
Niemann, for his part, responded by offering to play more naked games, in a sealed room with “electronic signal jammers”.
Hans Niemann shocked the chess world by defeating the greatest player in history, Magnus Carlsen (pictured), ending a 53-game unbeaten streak for the 31-year-old Norwegian.
So what is the truth? On Tuesday, the situation escalated when Carlsen angrily left an online match against Niemann. The Norwegian, playing black, made just one move before resigning in protest, leaving Niemann looking bewildered.
It was such a sensational move that some pundits suggested it would be like Roger Federer walking out of center court after the first serve, without any explanation. ‘Wow! Speechless, ja? gasped Hungarian commentator Peter Leko, himself a former prodigy once tipped to be world champion.
‘What? Nope!’ stammered fellow journalist Tania Sachdev, India’s top female player. “This is unprecedented, I can’t believe it. Carlsen just resigned… got up and left, turned off his camera.
Two days later, and no one still understands what’s going on, as Carlsen refuses to comment.
Curiously, he has not left the current tournament – the Julius Baer Generation Cup – and continues to play his usual dazzling chess against other opponents. But it seems he won’t deign to play Niemann.
But does he have any proof that the American is cheating – or are these just sour grapes from a man widely regarded as the most talented to ever rule the game of kings?
Niemann, a chubby-faced youngster with unruly curls and a peach beard, insists his initial victory – ending a seven-month unbeaten streak for Carlsen – was achieved through superb play and a good preparation, helped by some mistakes from the world champion.
Niemann, a chubby-faced youngster with unruly curls and a peach beard, insists his initial victory – ending a seven-month unbeaten streak for Carlsen – was achieved through superb play and a good preparation, helped by some errors from the world champion
Some grand masters support his claim.
Anatoly Karpov, Russian world champion in the 1970s and 1980s, said: “I watched the game. I must say Carlsen played very badly.
“I reject all versions of an unfair victory. Carlsen showed a strange inability to cope.
Professor Ken Regan, the world’s leading authority on chess cheating, announced on Tuesday that he had analyzed all of Niemann’s games over the past two years and found no evidence of honed practice.
On the other hand, those same games also contain little to suggest that this comparative novice might suddenly become good enough to beat the champ.
And many chess fans are convinced the teenager must have had computer assistance given his rather dubious first record.
In 2015, at the age of 12, he participated in an online tournament and won matches with the secret help of a friend. Four years later he did it again, this time with the help of a computer, and was banned from the main chess website, Chess.com.
Professor Ken Regan, the world’s leading authority on chess cheating, announced on Tuesday that he had analyzed all of Niemann’s games over the past two years and found no evidence of sharp training.
Nieman issued a public apology, saying he was eager to test himself against top players and tried cheating as a shortcut.
He also said he wants to redeem himself by becoming a champion using only his talent.
‘I cheated on random games on Chess.com. I was confronted. I confessed. And that’s the biggest mistake of my life,” he said.
‘I’m completely ashamed. . . apart from when I was 12, I never cheated in a tournament with money.’
This clearly does not satisfy Carlsen, although he refrained from making a direct accusation.
Instead, he tweeted a video clip of football manager Jose Mourinho saying: “If I talk I’m in big trouble.”
The fact that computers are now easily able to defeat even the greatest human players makes life difficult for tournament organizers.
Ever since an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue beat Russian genius Garry Kasparov by 3½ to 2½ games in 1997, pundits have predicted the death of serious tournament chess.
The organizers carried out rigorous checks, going so far as – during an Olympiad in India – to scan the heads of the players with electromagnetic rods, supposedly to ensure that no one had hidden a radio receiver in a hollow tooth.
In 2019, French grandmaster Sébastien Feller received a six-month suspended prison sentence for his part in an elaborate chess fraud, with two accomplices exchanging computer data via text message.
In the same year, Latvian Igors Rausis was stripped of his grandmaster title and banned from tournaments for six years after he was caught with his phone in the toilet during a tournament in Strasbourg.
Cheating and failures therefore have an uncomfortable history. The question now is: Did Hans Niemann develop a truly bizarre new method of doing it?
Of one thing we can at least be sure. You wouldn’t want to be the one to search it.