Reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen made only one move against his opponent, American grandmaster Hans Niemann, on Monday, and then resigned, sending the chess world into panic over a seemingly unsolvable growing scandal. .
Carlsen’s refusal to play Niemann heightens speculation about Carlsen’s sudden withdrawal from a tournament in St. Louis after losing to Niemann in early September, and whether he thinks Niemann is cheating. Carlsen did not explain his actions, neither in St. Louis nor this week’s resignation, and as a result, tensions have ramped up and leveled the divisions in the world of chess.
Carlsen is a five-time world champion and arguably the best chess player ever. The 31-year-old Norwegian has been number one in the world for over a decade and his maximum Elo score (a scale used to determine the relative strength of players) of 2882 is the best in history.
Niemann is a 19-year-old American whose Elo rating exploded from the pandemic from 2484 in January 2021 to 2688 in early September. His meteoric rise has surprised and impressed the chess world and, in turn, has increased suspicion of foul play.
During the sixth round of the Julius Baer Generation Cup, Carlsen was supposed to play Niemann in what would be their first fight since Niemann beat him earlier this month. But instead of playing, Carlsen moved his rider, then resigned and turned off the camera, silencing live commentators and sparking a storm of opinion on Twitter.
“This is unprecedented. I can’t believe it, “said live commentator Tania Sachdev.” Magnus simply refused to play against Hans. He’s going to play the tournament, but he’s saying, “I’m not going to play the game against him.” This is making a very statement. great”.
How did we get to this moment?
The day after Niemann beat Carlsen in the third round at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament before the fourth round and tweeted an infamous clip from Portuguese football manager José Mourinho saying: “I really prefer not to talk. If I talk, I’m in big trouble.”
In the clip Mourinho suggests that a defeat was the result of incorrect play. Many took the cryptic reference as an insinuation that Carlsen thinks Niemann cheated when he played against him. The retirement was Carlsen’s first since a major event and a very unusual move by an elite player.
Other chess figures weighed in, including famed chess streamer Hikaru Nakamura, who reacted live and revealed that there was a period of over six months in which Niemann was unable to enter any prize tournaments. cash on Chess.com. This fact, coupled with his unusual rise over the past year and a half, led Nakamura to believe that Carlsen’s actions were tied to a distrust of Niemann’s competitive integrity.
“Am I suggesting that something happened? I’m saying Magnus is suspicious, ”Nakamura said.
A few days later, Niemann decided to “speak his truth” and defend himself from his critics. He claimed he actually cheated in online games on Chess.com at 12 and 16, but denied ever cheating in over-the-board tournaments. He was loud in his denial of any allegations of cheating during his match with Carlsen, even offering to play naked to prove that he had no device to provide him with outside assistance during the match.
Chess.com, the largest online chess platform, came out with a statement two days later, on September 8, stating that they decided to remove Niemann from Chess.com and compete in future events on their platform due to their belief that Niemann’s public statement misrepresented “the amount and severity of his cheating on Chess.com “.
In the absence of clear evidence, the back and forth has inspired all sorts of theories as to whether Niemann cheated or whether Carlsen is just paranoid after losing. Theories have also flourished how Niemann could have cheated. Given Niemann’s willingness to play naked, some have even joked that Niemann discovered and stole Carlsen’s cheating method by using anal beads to receive external communications.
What does this mean for the future of chess?
Improved chess engines, which far surpass human chess players, have made cheating at chess easier, and there are still no clear ways to prevent or moderate such cheating.
Chess engines are artificial intelligence software that analyze the possibilities of the chessboard and the retransmission moves that provide the best results and have become incredibly sophisticated since 2017. According to The Atlantic, chess engines have become superhuman, accumulating Elo ratings over the 3000 years. Stockfish, a publicly available chess engine that is often used in chess commentary to analyze potential moves, has an Elo rating of over 3,500.
Cheating in online chess is incredibly simple; just use a chess engine to drive the moves. In person, in over-the-board tournaments, however, it’s more difficult. Players have consulted smartphones in the bathroom or brought devices to their person that communicate the input of a chess engine.
To catch chess cheating at a lower level, just find a player who outperforms on a statistically impossible level. But high-level chess players already know most of the optimal moves and should only consult a chess engine once or twice to spin a game. Consequently, it is difficult to determine whether a player is cheating, but not catching the player red-handed.
In this case, Niemann was not caught cheating in an over-the-board match and there is no hard evidence that he cheated on September 17th. 4 against Magnus Carlsen. Although much has been done about Carlsen’s actions and their significance, he has yet to explicitly explain whether he thinks Hans Niemann is currently cheating and why.
The perception that someone can cheat also changes the way an opponent plays. Chess engines like Stockfish will suggest moves that seem out of the ordinary for a human player, and playing against someone you believe is AI assisted means you wonder why an unexpected or visibly wrong move was made.
The scandal also indicates the difficulty of the ethics of the prosecution. Since Carlsen has not made clear his actions and since Niemann has not been caught or tried to cheat, the chess world’s views on both are in limbo. Carlsen’s refusal to play another high-level player threatens both Niemann’s career but also Carlsen’s reputation. Does Carlsen have a responsibility to openly say that he thinks Niemann is cheating and prove it? Should a track record of cheating preclude Niemann from playing against the best in the world?
“A man’s career, a man’s mental health is at risk. The legacy of the world chess champion and arguably the best player ever is at stake. The state of chess is at risk, “said Levy” Gotham Chess “Rozman.
Due to the insane nature of online speech, many in the chess community have already lined up, dismissing Carlsen as a painful underdog ruining a young man’s career or asking Niemann to stop competing due to his history of cheating.
“The truth or lack thereof must be shown,” Rozman said. “We have to get a move on, folks; time is running out. “
However, a resolution does not appear on the horizon; if anything, the scandal could worsen with the possibility that Niemann and Carlsen meet again in the knockout stages of the Generation Cup or in future tournaments.