Scandal Rocks the Chess World

Accusations of cheating, and a looming court battle between chess champions, have sent shockwaves through the sport.


Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

This fall, accusations of cheating at the highest levels of competition have torn the chess world apart.

Jonah Rubenstein, Contributor

Chess might not be a game you associate with high drama. But this September, during a high level chess competition in St. Louis, the chess community suffered its most infamous cheating scandal to date.

In the third round of the 2022 Sinquefield Cup, Magnus Carlsen – the reigning world chess champion, and widely considered to be the greatest player of all time – withdrew from the tournament. He had just lost against Hans Niemann, a 19-year-old newbie who started playing chess at the highest level less than a year prior.

Many spectators – including chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, a rival and friend of Mr. Carlsen – said Carlsen’s withdrawal was a protest against what he believed to be suspicious activity from Mr. Niemann. Carlsen himself seemed to confirm these impressions.

“I’ve withdrawn from the tournament. I’ve always enjoyed playing in the @STLChessClub, and hope to be back in the future,” he wrote in a September 5th twitter post.

Under his tweet, Carlsen linked a video of a famous soccer coach in a press conference saying: “I prefer not to speak. If I speak I’m in big trouble.” 

Over the next two weeks, the controversy tore apart the chess community. Numerous posts online suggest that the general public largely sided with Carlsen. Commenters cited multiple instances when Niemann might have cheated in the past, and raised concerns about his unprecedented, meteoric rise to the top.

But Neimann’s supporters pointed out that, so far, there has been zero definitive evidence that Niemann cheated. Also, they said, security at the event was impeccable., a multibillion dollar company and major entity in both the casual and competitive chess landscape, issued two updates. The first was a short statement saying that Niemann had been removed from their site.

The latter came less than a month later, a 72-page report with definitive proof that Niemann had cheated in over 100 online games on The cheating happened over the course of five years, from 2015 to 2020, when Niemann was between 12 and 17 years old. 

But the report found no evidence of Niemann cheating in any in-person games. And cheating in such in-person, or ‘Over the board,’ games – as Niemann has recently been accused of – would be magnitudes more important than his cheating in online games.

Two weeks after’s initial post Carlsen released a statement on Twitter explaining his side of the story.

“I believe that Niemann has cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted,” Carlsen said. “So far I have only been able to speak with my actions, and those actions have clearly stated that I am not willing to play with Niemann.”

This was Carlsen’s first official statement and it created much more dialogue about and investigation into this case.

“Organizers will now have to choose between inviting Magnus or Hans to events,” responded Antonio Radić on twitter, a prolific chess commentator and strong supporter of Niemann. “Hans might as well just played his last invitational tournament.”

After Carlsen’s statement, Niemann filed a lawsuit for hundreds of millions of dollars against Carlsen and two other chess personalities: Grandmaster Nakamura, and Daniel Rensch, the Chief Chess Officer for His case charges that Carlsen’s accusations are false, and that Nakamura and Rensch furthered the narrative and cost Niemann opportunities and his reputation

In an interview with Norwegian NRK TV Carlsen commented on the looming lawsuit. 

“I still focus on chess,” Carlsen said, “And that won’t be used as an excuse, no matter how things go.”

Unfortunately for Niemann, his lawsuit doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Carlsen has been very careful in his public statements and in order to legally prove defamation Niemann will have to prove that Carlsen knowingly lied with malintent or disregard of Niemann’s career.

This controversy comes at an unfortunate time in Niemann’s career. Niemann only became a chess Grandmaster in the last year, and is twelve years Carlsen’s junior. Carlsen’s implications of a cheating scandal has thrust Niemann into the spotlight of public scrutiny without first being able to build a reputation for himself. It is easy to side with a beloved household name like Carlsen over someone like Niemann.

As the chess world waits for this case to come to trial it is important to remember a few facts. The first is that there is no concrete evidence that Niemann cheated in any of the games that Carlsen has accused him of.

The next in contrast is that Niemann’s meteoric rise to the very highest level of chess is worthy of suspicion in itself. Most chess Grandmasters will second the sentiment that the gap between a casual player and a newly instantiated Grandmaster is just as large as the gap between those who are newly instantiated and top level Grandmasters. Niemann’s rise to the top level less than a year after earning the title of Grandmaster is largely unprecedented. 

This case has sent waves through not only the different levels of the chess community but also the internet as a whole. A lot of people got their first introduction to high level chess because of this controversy. Millions of eyes are on this case and only time will tell which way it falls.