Chess is not always on the newspaper covers; when it is, it is usually very welcome. Unfortunately, it has recently made the headlines due to an alleged cheating scandal involving Hans Niemann (USA) and Magnus Carlsen (NOR).
Carlsen, the World Champion, abandoned the Sinquefield Cup. in St. Louis after losing to Niemann, who was able to predict Carlen’s strategy and counter-play it effectively to defeat it. After this, the World Champion left the tournament, without officially giving any reason.
Quickly, the chess community took cues and speculated that it was a protest by Carlsen on Niemann’s participation, based on the fact that he had confessed to cheating in online matches, as an underage, and just in friendly games.
The next episode of the drama took place when Carlsen resigned from a match against Niemann after a single move in an official online tournament.
A few days later, Carlsen released a statement where he confirmed that he made such actions as a protest to Niemann’s past, and also hinted that the American player had cheated in their game, citing that his opponent did not look nervous during play. Which is not a sound reason to determine that someone is cheating.
Eventually, Chess.com -the platform where Niemann confessed to cheating- suspended him and also released a 72-page report where they argue that he had cheated in more than 100 games (what they called “selective cheating”), including some in which prize money was involved.
The main line of reasoning in the report revolves around Niemann’s sudden increase in level as well as the similarity in his play compared to the moves suggested by a computer.
It is important to stress that Chess.com has specific business dealing with Magnus Carlsen, recently making an offer to buy Play Magnus Group, hence it is in their best business interests to take sides with him, and that is clearly what they have done. It should not be taken as a totally neutral assessment.
also recalled that Hans admitted to cheating and that he was allowed to save face back in 2020. It is not clear, however, that he cheated after that.
Fair play is an important component of every sport and cheating should not be celebrated or be given a free pass. Sports should also allow players to redeem themselves after they make mistakes. In this case, Niemann was given a chance to redeem himself, and still, there is no concrete evidence that he has cheated.
The “scandal” is far from over. These ongoing investigations might open a can of worms regarding other players that may have cheated (according to the report, Niemann was not the only top 100 player they are suspicious about) and might change the ways in which cheating is fought or prevented. Regardless, no competitor should be punished without proof of wrongdoing.