Embattled American chess grandmaster Hans Niemann has won his first game of the US Chess Championship, days after being accused of having “likely cheated” more than 100 times in online matches.
Prior to the match, a security official subjected the 19-year-old to a thorough scan for hidden devices, even asking him to turn around – causing fellow player Irina Krush, next in line, to bite her lip as she visibly tried to maintain her composure.
Social media users were left in tears.
“OMG,” one Twitch viewer wrote as Niemann turned around.
“Check for the beads,” another wrote.
“Beep beep beep,” a third joked.
Niemann has faced unsubstantiated rumours suggesting he was wearing “anal beads” that transmitted signals to help him win a stunning victory over world champion Magnus Carlsen last month.
Of the four people shown going through security in the segment on the Saint Louis Chess Club livestream – Sam Sevian, Jennifer Yu, Niemann and Krush – only Niemann was asked to turn around.
The STL Club livestream commentators also struggled to contain their laughter.
After his first-round victory against 15-year-old American grandmaster Christopher Yoo, Niemann gave a bizarre post-game interview where he refused to discuss the match.
“It was such a beautiful game I don’t even need to describe it,” he said, to the amusement of the hosts.
Asked to address the “elephant in the room”, Niemann said the game was “a message to everyone”.
“You know, this entire thing started with me saying chess speaks for itself, and I think this game spoke for itself and showed the chess player that I am, and also showed that I’m not going to back down and I’m going to play my best chess here regardless of the pressure that I’m under, and that’s all I have to say about this game,” he said.
The alleged cheating scandal has rocked the chess world for weeks, when Niemann defeated Norwegian chess grandmaster Carlsen in the third round of the $US500,000 Sinquefield Cup tournament in Missouri.
Carlsen withdrew from the tournament without explanation, posting only a cryptic clip of José Mourinho saying, “If I speak, I’ll be in big trouble.”
The post led to rampant speculation including from American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, who stated that it was his belief that Carlsen was referring to cheating by Niemann in the tweet.
Elon Musk later added fuel to the fire by tweeting, and later deleting, “Talent hits a target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one can see (cause it’s in ur butt) – Schopenhauer.”
Niemann then gave a stunning interview in which he admitted to cheating in online chess in his youth, but adamantly denied ever cheating in over-the-board chess.
He dramatically called out his critics and even offered to play in the nude in order to prove his innocence.
The drama continued later that month when Carlsen resigned in protest after just one move against Niemann during an online chess match – their first meeting since the cheating scandal erupted – later reasoning that he suspected his opponent was cheating.
Niemann’s meteoric rise has split the chess world, with some suspicious of his rapid gain in rating points and others calling for increased measures to detect computer assistance.
But he also has a legion of supporters.
The issue of computer-assisted cheating is a growing problem for chess.
Computer chess engines, and AI self-learning programs, have far surpassed the ability of humans and they have grown exponentially in strength since Garry Kasparov was defeated by Deep Blue in 1997.
This week, a bombshell investigation suggested Niemann had cheated far more than previously admitted.
Conducted by Chess.com – a popular online chess platform used by many professional players – the 72-page report alleges that the teen champion likely received illegal assistance in more than 100 online games, as recently as 2020.
Those matches included contests in which prize money was awarded. This goes against Niemann’s previous statements that he cheated in his youth when he was just 12 and then again at 16 years old.
However, the report claims that Niemann privately confessed to the allegations and was banned from the site for a period of time.
The investigation was not able to conclude if Niemann cheated in any in-person matches.
Chess.com uses a variety of cheat-detection tools which include analytics that compare moves to those recommended by chess engines which can beat even the greatest human chess players.
While Chess.com was not able to look into any of Niemann’s over-the-board matches, it did describe irregularities in his rise though the elite ranks of competitive chess.
The International Chess Federation, the chess’s world governing body, is meanwhile conducting its own investigation into his match against Carlsen in which Carlsen resigned after just one move.
Still, the report highlighted “many remarkable signals and unusual patterns in Hans’ path as a player” which “merit further investigation based on the data”.
“Outside his online play, Hans is the fastest rising top player in classical [over-the-board] chess in modern history,” the report states.
“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.”
One of Niemann’s coaches, grandmaster Maxim Dlugy, also admitted to cheating in two of his own online tournaments, according to emails released last week.
In the first incident, the 56-year-old claimed he didn’t know he was cheating during the match but later found out that one of his students was watching and using chess AI to feed him moves.
Niemann has not publicly addressed Carlsen’s cheating allegations nor Chess.com’s investigation.
– with Andrew Backhouse and New York Post