The chess cheating scandal of 2022 concerned a highly unlikely ostensible victory on September 4 by a 19-year-old relatively low-ranked player named Hans Niemann, playing with the weaker black pieces, against the greatest player of our time, Magnus Carlsen, while Carlsen was on an unbeaten streak. This was the second improbable defeat by Niemann with the black pieces against Carlsen in merely a few months, and the second consecutive improbable win by Niemann against a higher-ranked player in the tournament. Carlsen then quit the chess tournament (the Sinquefield Cup 2022), which is nearly unprecedented, and it was inferred that Carlsen felt he had been cheated by Niemann, which Niemann denied. See Magnus-Niemann chess match.
The odds of a player of Niemann's lower rank defeating the high-ranking Carlsen twice with the black pieces is estimated to be only 1 in 2,500. In addition, in the game at the Sinquefield Cup prior to his reported victory over Carlsen, Niemann was far behind on time but made a string of perfect moves to improbably defeat the #14 player in the world, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The Saint Louis Chess Club had refused a request by the #2 player in the world, Ian "Nepo" Nepomniachtchi, for tighter security against possible cheating by Niemann. Then, after tighter security measures were finally installed by the chess club, Niemann was unable to win another game.
Amid the controversy, women looking and dressed like casino workers oddly showed up at the Saint Louis Chess Club, where the tournament was held, in order to stand foolishly against Magnus Carlsen. No explanation of who paid for the showgirls has been provided, but an inference is that gambling may be inducing cheating in chess.
After the Saint Louis Chess Club changed its rules in the middle of its tournament to require a 15-minute delay on its broadcasts, the level of play by Hans Niemann sharply declined. He won 2 of his first 3 games against very highly ranked opponents before the adoption of a safeguard against cheating, and then lost or tied all 6 of his remaining games after the safeguard was implemented. All the games in this tournament can be analyzed at chess.com, which banned Hans Niemann from its platform in September 2022.
About two weeks later, Carlsen was matched against Niemann in another tournament and, in an apparent protest against Niemann, Carlsen resigned after making only one move. Carlsen subsequently confirmed that he will not play Niemann in the future because of the cheating issue.
Gambling on Chess
Beginning in 2018, there was a sharp increase in gambling on chess games, and by 2022 many millions of dollars are bet on the game outcomes on numerous different websites, in Las Vegas, and around the world. The 1-in-2,500 unlikely foregoing victories by an unheralded player, who has admitted to having cheated in online games in the past, may create doubt as to whether there should payouts on bets on these implausible outcomes.
Detection evasion is a central part of any sophisticated chess cheating strategy. Tactics to avoid detection of chess cheating can include:
- harmless mistakes that matter little in the game but which lower the overall accuracy rating compared with computer-directed moves;
- running down one's own clock unnecessarily, as the computer-generated moves are instantaneous;
- spacing the brilliant computer-generated moves, and pushing them more towards the end of the game;
- avoid any blunders in a game based on computer guidance; and/or
- using novel or less-common openings.
As explained in Forbes:
|“||The world’s strongest grandmasters would only need the help of a chess engine for a few moves during a long game to have an immense edge against their opponent of roughly equal strength. Many grandmasters say very subtle cheating by a top player could evade statistical analysis of their gameplay.||”|
Analysis of play by Hans Niemann in Sinquefield Cup
In the improbable back-to-back victories by Hans Niemann in the Sinquefield Cup 2022, his endgame "play" was extraordinary in both games against more highly rated opponents, before stricter controls against possible cheating were installed by the tournament organizers.
In Round 2, in the last 11 moves Niemann made one extraordinary move ("!" - "great move") move, many superb ones, and not a single mistake. In Round 3, in the last dozen moves Niemann made three extraordinary moves ("!" - "great move"), many superb ones, and not a single mistake.
In his Round 1 match against Levon Aronian, which played to a draw, Niemann did not make single "mistake" or "blunder" in 50 moves, and played with an extraordinary 95.5 accuracy compared with computer play. The higher-ranked Aronian simply played extraordinarily well also to force a draw.
In his three games before security against cheating was tightened at the Sinquefield Cup 2022, Niemann played with an exceptional accuracy of 95.5, 93, and 94.1, compared post-security-enhancement with his losing game with the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana when Niemann's accuracy was only 86.7.
Analysis of the background of Hans Niemann
As explained by a commentator on chess.com:
- Hans Niemann went from a 2400-2500 rating plateau to 2700 sand above faster than most of the finest prodigies (Magnus Carlsen, Firouzja, Sarin, and Gukesh). "And so Hans' rating at the beginning of 2021 was around 2,500, and now his rating is approximately 2,700 - a really significant, almost unprecedented rise for somebody in that period of time."
- Hans has admitted to cheating online.
- at one point, Hans played 4 members of the finest chess players in the world (ratings above 2800 club in a row), easily defeating 3 out of 4 and tying the 4th while nearly defeating him.
Reaction by other top players
|“||I would also say it is extremely clear in this letter that Magnus put out that basically Magnus has something, who knows what he has. ... The ball is very clearly in Hans’ court now. What will Hans do here is the big question.||”|
Amid silence by Hans Niemann immediately following Magnus Carlsen's accusation on September 26, 2022, of cheating, Hikaru Nakamura said:
|“||If Hans doesn’t say anything, the way I see it, it feels like he’s admitting something.||”|
Another top player, Levon Aronian, was initially defending Niemann but many days later "gave a rather different comment this time in the official broadcast:" Aronian played to a draw against Niemann in Round 1 of the Sinquefield Cup 2022, before the enhanced security measures were installed and Niemann played with an astounding accuracy of 95.5, with the white pieces.
Reaction by FIDE
The governing body of chess, FIDE, issued a weak, middle-of-the-road style of statement reminding everyone that the Sinquefield Cup was not an FIDE event, and that FIDE does oppose cheating in chess. The FIDE failed to support Magnus Carlsen as much as it should have, as Carlsen takes a strong stance against cheating in chess.
After Carlsen released his full statement accusing Niemann of cheating, FIDE announced on September 30, 2022, its formation of a 3-person ad hoc committee to investigate.
Reaction by Liberal Media