Carlsen and Niemann met in an online tournament on Monday: The 19-year-old opened the game with his pawn, world champion Carlsen moved the knight. When Niemann placed the next pawn, Carlsen’s camera froze – the connection broke shortly afterwards. The two commentators reacted stunned: “What happened? That’s it? Wow, I’m speechless!”
The fact that such a high-ranking player abandons a game immediately after the first move is considered an absolute rarity, and experts were shocked. The demolition quickly became a much-discussed topic on social networks, not least because it is the next escalation in the – mostly wordless – conflict between the two players that has been going on for several weeks.
Because Carlsen has not commented so far and has not officially raised any allegations against the up-and-coming US player. This time he announced in the run-up to the tournament that he would not comment. Instead, he let his actions speak for themselves: the demolition is seen as a scandal. And his behavior at a tournament in early September also raised eyebrows.
Defeat of the world champion as a trigger
At that time, the two met face to face in the US federal city of Missouri. At this point, Carlsen was 53 games unbeaten – until he faced Niemann on September 4th. The American was able to beat the Norwegian – despite Carlsen playing with White and thus having the advantage – ending the series. At the time, the chess portal chess24 spoke of a “breathtaking victory”.
What was unusual was not only the clear victory of the young player over the 31-year-old world champion, but rather the Norwegian’s reaction. He withdrew from the $500,000 tournament. He made no comment, instead there was a cryptic posting on Twitter: a long-circulating video of soccer coach Jose Mourinho saying “If I say something, I’ll get in trouble”. World Chess Federation director general Emil Sutkovsky noted that Carlsen had never abandoned a tournament because of a bad result – and therefore must have had a “valid reason”.
This caused waves to rise for the first time in the chess world, which had been relatively quiet for years. Even if he didn’t say it directly – there is no doubt that he accuses the newcomer of cheating. There is no evidence of this so far, but other chess professionals such as Hikaru Nakamura also suggested that Niemann might have had outside help.
Guessing about cheating method
The chess thriller only gained media attention when there was speculation about how Niemann could have cheated. The fact is that developments in the field of artificial intelligence have made chess computers superior to human players, so help from a computer could become a decisive advantage.
In forums it was said that Niemann could have been informed of the next moves via vibrating anal beads. The rumor made the rounds – and was finally discussed by professional chess players themselves. This sparked a wide debate about cheating in chess.
Speaking to FM4, Austrian chess grandmaster Valentin Dragnev said that “as ridiculous as it sounds”, in principle this “theory could still be workable”. In chess, in any case, “a lot has been based on trust” so far. On the basis of moves, one can often guess whether a “move is ‘human’ or ‘inhuman'” – more on this in fm4.ORF.at. In any case, fraud is not easy to prove.
When in doubt, Niemann wants to play naked
But Niemann didn’t let the allegations sit down: “If you want me to strip completely naked, I will do it. I do not care. Because I know I’m clean,” said the chess player in an interview after his win against Carlsen. Skepticism prevails mainly because Niemann admitted to having cheated in online tournaments in the past – albeit when he was a teenager. Since then, he claims, he has never cheated again.
Rapid career of the newcomer
Now he feels he is being unjustly persecuted and complained online about a character assassination campaign against him. Niemann’s rapid career is also striking – in less than two years his Elo rating, i.e. his playing strength, improved significantly. Critics want to see it as proof that something is not right here.
But Niemann also has supporters: chess legend Garry Kasparov, for example, said that Niemann was very likely playing “clean”. Many also see Carlsen’s reaction as defiance at being beaten by such a young player. In any case, one thing is certain: the chess world will receive much more attention in the coming weeks, and there are no signs of an end to the dispute at the moment.