Hans Niemann likely cheated over 100 times, top chess site finds

A 72-page report by Chess.com seen by the WSJ says Hans Niemann had likely received illegal assistance in more than 100 online games.

A child reaches for a giant chess piece on a board
A child reaches for a giant chess piece on a board during the FIDE Chess World Championship Dubai 2021, on December 1, 2021 [File: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP]

An investigation carried out by Chess.com, the game’s top online platform, has found that Hans Moke Niemann has cheated more than 100 times, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The American grandmaster, 19, had recently denied allegations of cheating after five-time world chess champion Magnus Carlsen published a statement last month accusing him of cheating more often than he previously admitted to, pointing to how Niemann’s over-the-board progress has been “unusual”.

Last month, Carlsen withdrew from the 2022 Sinquefield Cup after losing to Niemann in the third round of the tournament. A week later, Carslen resigned after playing just one move against Niemann in the Champions Chess Tour.

The Norwegian said that Niemann had outplayed him using black chess pieces – a disadvantage in the chess world – without “fully concentrating on the game in critical positions”.

Niemann has acknowledged cheating online twice, when he was 12 and 16, but says he has never played fraudulently in a face-to-face match and is even willing to play nude to prove his good faith.

Now, a 72-page probe by Chess.com, seen by the WSJ, says Niemann had likely received illegal assistance in more than 100 online games, as recently as 2020, including prize money contests.

‘Unusual patterns’

The report corroborated Carslen’s suspicions regarding Niemann’s rise through the elite ranks of competitive in-person chess, noting “many remarkable signals and unusual patterns in Hans’ path as a player”.

“Outside his online play, Hans is the fastest rising top player in Classical [over-the-board] chess in modern history,” the report said. “Looking purely at rating, Hans should be classified as a member of this group of top young players. While we don’t doubt that Hans is a talented player, we note that his results are statistically extraordinary.”

Chess.com, which uses several cheating-detection tools, including those which compare moves suggested by chess engines, said Niemann was 17 years old during the most recent violations, and that he had livestreamed 25 contests.

This prompted the website to close his account at the time, and a letter sent to Niemann notes his “blatant cheating” in order to progress his rating in different games, including in one against Russian chess star Ian Nepomniachtchi.

The report added that Niemann had confessed to the allegations in a private phone call with the platform’s chief chess officer, Danny Rensch.

Chess.com historically handles bans in private, but its investigation into the 19 year old came after he publicly questioned his ban from the site’s Global Championship, saying it felt “compelled to share the basis” for its decisions.

FIDE, the chess world’s governing body, is conducting its own investigation into the Niemann-Carlsen affair.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies