The latest bombshell in the scandal that has rocked the chess world to its foundation dropped on Tuesday when an investigation into the games of Hans Niemann found the American grandmaster has cheated far more frequently than previously disclosed.
The 72-page report, conducted by Chess.com and reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, found that Niemann “likely received illegal assistance in more than 100 online games” as recently as 2020, including in events where prize money was at stake.
The suspicions around Niemann, a 19-year-old who has made a meteoric ascent into the world’s top 50 over the past four years, were initially amplified last month when the world champion Magnus Carlsen first suggested, then outright declared, the American was winning through illegitimate means.
Niemann has mounted a vigorous denial of the allegations, but confessed to cheating in the past: first as a 12-year-old in an online tournament, and then as a 16-year-old playing unrated games while streaming.
The Chess.com report, which relied on cheating-detection tools including a comparison of a player’s moves to those recommended by powerful supercomputers, has offered compelling data-driven evidence that dramatically contradicts those statements. The investigation made no conclusions regarding Niemann’s over-the-board games, but flagged contests from six of his stronger in-person events, saying they “merit further investigation based on the data.”
The 72-page report said that Niemann privately confessed to the allegations, and that he was subsequently banned from for a period of time from Chess.com, the world’s most popular chess platform.
The controversy erupted last month after Niemann beat Carlsen while playing with black pieces at the US$500,000 Sinquefield Cup in St Louis, Missouri, ending the current world champion’s 53-game unbeaten streak in over-the-board games. The shocking defeat and Carlsen’s withdrawal ignited a maelstrom of comments and allegations that Niemann was cheating including from Hikaru Nakamura, the American grandmaster once ranked No. 2 in the world.
Unsatisfied by Niemann’s explanation that he had somehow guessed what opening the Norwegian would play, Carlsen abruptly withdrew from the tournament, a virtually unprecedented decision for a sitting world champion that was interpreted as an act of protest.
The controversy redoubled two weeks later when Carlsen and Niemann met again in the sixth round of the online Julius Baer Generation Cup and the world No. 1 sensationally resigned after making just one move.
Carlsen later said he was unwilling to “play against people that have cheated repeatedly in the past” and that he believed Niemann had cheated “more than he has admitted.”
The Chess.com report backed up Carlsen’s assessment of Niemann’s uncommonly rapid climb up International Chess Federation world ratings — a gain of 350 Elo points in four years and an astonishing surge from 2,500 to 2,600 in just three months — describing his rise as “statistically extraordinary,” while stopping short of concluding that he has cheated in any over-the-board games.
“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.”
The report said the methodology behind Chess.com’s cheat-detection tools include: “analytics that compare moves to those recommended by chess engines; studies of a player’s past performance and strength profile; monitoring behavior such as players opening up other browsers while playing; and input from grandmaster fair play analysts.”
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