On Monday, the chess world was chaotic as reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen resigned after making just one move against American grandmaster Hans Niemann. Carlsen’s apparent refusal to play against Niemann raises questions about why he suddenly withdrew from a tournament in St. Louis in early September after losing Niemann. Tensions have escalated and lines have been drawn in the chess community because Carlsen has not explained his actions in St. Louis or the resignation this week.
Five times world champion Carlsen is the game’s most outstanding player. The 31-year-old Norwegian has held the number one spot on the world rankings for over a decade, and his peak Elo rating of 2882 is the highest of all time.
Niemann, an American teenager, saw his Elo score soar from 2484 in January 2021 to 2688 at the start of September due to the pandemic. His sudden success has shocked and impressed the chess community, but it has also fueled speculation of cheating.
Carlsen and Niemann were scheduled to play each other for the first time since Niemann defeated him earlier this month in round 6 of the Julius Baer Generation Cup. Carlsen shocked the live commentators into silence by moving his knight and resigning, leading to a Twitter storm of commentary.
As the speaker said, “This has never happened before. I can’t believe it,” Tania Sachdev, a live commentator, said. Magnus refuses to play against Hans. He says, “I will play in the tournament, but I will not play the game against him.” In a very bold way.
HOW DID ALL OF THIS HAPPEN?
Carlsen withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis before the fourth round the day after Niemann defeated him in the third round and tweeted a notorious clip of Portuguese soccer manager José Mourinho saying, “I prefer not to speak.” My life is in grave danger if I open my mouth.
Mourinho suggests in the clip that a loss was due to cheating. The oblique allusion was widely interpreted as Carlsen suggesting Niemann cheated during their match. Carlsen’s withdrawal was unprecedented for a top player like him and his first from a major tournament.
Popular chess streamer Hikaru Nakamura reacted in real time, revealing that Niemann was banned from all prize money tournaments on Chess.com for more than six months. Nakamura concluded that Carlsen’s actions stemmed from his mistrust of Niemann’s competitive integrity because of Niemann’s unusual rise over the past year and a half. To what extent am I implying that something occurred? Nakamura explained, “I’m saying that Magnus is suspicious.
Some days later, Niemann decided to “say his truth” and defend himself. He admitted to cheating in Chess.com games when he was 12 and 16 but claimed he had never done so in an over-the-board competition. He flatly denied any allegations of cheating during his match with Carlsen, going so far as to offer to play the game in his underwear if necessary to prove that he wasn’t using any device to gain an unfair advantage.
Two days later, on September 8, the largest online chess platform released a statement saying that they had decided to ban Niemann from Chess.com and from participating in future events because they believed Niemann’s public information misrepresented the “amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com.”
There has been a lot of speculation in the absence of evidence as to whether Niemann cheated or whether Carlsen is just being overly sensitive about his loss. And numerous theories have surfaced as to how Niemann might have cheated. Some have joked that Niemann has discovered and stolen Carlsen’s method of cheating by using anal beads to receive external communication because of Niemann’s willingness to play naked.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR CHESS’S FUTURE?
Cheating at chess has become more commonplace due to the proliferation of state-of-the-art chess engines that can easily outperform even the best human players. There are currently no established protocols for detecting or limiting this cheating.
Since 2017, chess engines, artificial intelligence software that analyzes the board and relays moves that provide the best outcomes, have advanced to a very high level. The Elo rating of chess programs reportedly reached the three thousand mark, making them more potent than any human. Stockfish, a free chess program widely used in chess commentary to analyze games, has an Elo rating of over 3500.
Using a chess engine to automate one’s moves makes online chess cheating incredibly easy. Over-the-board tournaments, which take place in person, are more challenging. The input of a chess engine has been known to be consulted on a smartphone in the restroom or on a device carried by the player.
The only evidence of cheating at a lower chess level is an outlier performing at a level that defies all probability. However, grandmasters are already familiar with the vast majority of the best moves and would only need to consult a chess engine a couple of times to turn the game in their favor. Consequently, it is tough to tell if a player is cheating unless you catch them in the act.
There has been no hard evidence that Niemann cheated on September 4 against Magnus Carlsen, and he was not caught cheating in an over-the-board match. Carlsen’s actions and interpretation have been the subject of much discussion, but he has not yet stated whether or not he believes Hans Niemann is cheating at the moment and, if so, why.
The mere suspicion of cheating can alter an opponent’s strategy. Stockfish and other chess engines recommend unusual moves for a human player, so if you’re playing against someone you think is being helped by AI, you might wonder why they made an unexpected or wrong move.
As a result of this scandal, we are reminded of the complexity of the ethics of making accusations. The chess community is still uncertain about how they feel about either Carlsen or Niemann because neither has explained their actions or been caught cheating.
Carlsen’s refusal to play Niemann poses a threat not only to Niemann’s career but also to Carlsen’s standing in the chess world. Do we need Carlsen to come out and say he thinks Niemann is cheating and provide evidence? Should Niemann be denied future chances to compete at the highest level because of his history of cheating?
Careers and men’s sanity are in jeopardy. The world chess champion’s reputation as the greatest player in history is in danger. Levy “GothamChess” Rozman has warned that chess’ current status is precarious.
Many in the chess community have already taken sides, dismissing Carlsen as a sore loser to ruin a young man’s career or demanding Niemann stop competing due to his history of cheating, thanks to the stupid nature of online discourse.
As Rozman put it, “the truth or the lack thereof needs to be shown.” Time is of the essence, so let’s hurry up and get going. Still, it doesn’t look like anything can be done to end the controversy anytime soon. If anything, the scandal might escalate if Niemann and Carlsen meet again in the knockout stages of the Generation Cup or future tournaments.
I’m Rose Will, and I’m excited to share my journey as a content writer and graphic designer at Nog Magazine. It’s a unique role that allows me to blend my love for words and visuals seamlessly.
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