US young grandmaster Hans Moke Niemann faced world champion Magnus Carlsen in the online chess tournament he attended on Monday last week.
Niemann opened the match with two traditional pawn moves. The Norwegian opponent’s counter move, which is not even seen in chess books, shocked everyone: Carlsen withdrew from the match without any explanation in his second move.
However, those who closely follow the professional chess world were aware that Carlsen’s decision was the tip of the iceberg. Because the chess community, formed by the world’s most elite minds, has been shaken by a huge scandal for almost a month.
If you wish, let’s go back to the beginning “What happened?” Let’s give an answer to the question.
It all happened in the first week of September Carlsen’s St. It started when he lost the match against Niemann at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. Carlsen, who had been undefeated in the 53 games before that, did something even more surprising a few hours after this defeat, announcing his complete withdrawal from the tournament.
CLAIMS OF CHEATING SPREAD FAST
Niemann, a high school student living in New York, said in a statement after the game that this victory was an indication of his rapid progress and said, “Losing against me must be a shame for the world champion. I felt sorry for him.”
On the other hand, although Carlsen did not give a clear explanation as to the reason for his decision to withdraw, the chess world was quick to read between the lines. Allegations that Carlsen acted in this way in response to Niemann’s cheating in the match quickly spread.
For example, US grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, who is ranked 6th in the world classification, told the Wall Street Journal, “I think Magnus thinks Hans cheated,” while stating that the accusations are “unproven”.
In the following days, a huge scandal broke out in which many people in the community were involved with speculation.
MOURINHO TOLD IT EVERYTHING WITH VIDEO
A tweet by Carlsen on September 5 also fueled the flames. The tiny video attached to Carlsen’s tweet, “I retired from the tournament, I’ve always enjoyed playing at the Saint Louis Chess Club and hope to return in the future,” said a lot. In the video, the famous coach Jose Mourinho answers journalists’ questions at a press conference and expresses his dissatisfaction with the decisions taken by the referees against his team, with the words “I prefer not to speak. If I talk, I will be in big trouble.”
While some in the chess community demanded that Carlsen explain more, internet detectives scrutinized Niemann’s past matches and allowed suspicious moves. Those who took it to the next level even studied Niemann’s own post-game analysis, trying to understand his approach to various positions.
In the examinations made by Sinquefield Cup officials with advanced software, no non-compliance was found in Niemann’s game. Despite this, the organization officials increased the security measures at the event due to Carlsen’s implicit accusations. For example, a 15-minute delay was applied to game broadcasts, making it difficult for players to get outside support. Additionally, extra scans were added for suspicious radio frequencies, and players were passed through metal detectors before entering the venue.
Niemann won two of his first three games of the tournament, but lost or drew in the next six games.
LOOKING AT OLD MATCHES, THE TRUTH REVEALED
On the other hand, Niemann has repeatedly flatly denied that he cheated on Carlsen or another opponent in real-life matches. However, he admitted to having received “illegal support” twice in online competitions before, calling them “youth mistakes”. In the statement made by Chess.com, which suspended Niemann’s membership, it was pointed out that the scope of fraud incidents involving the young American was much wider.
In the statement signed by Chess.com chief executive Danny Rensch, “We shared detailed evidence with Niemann regarding our decision regarding him. This includes information that contradicts his statement on Chess.com about the size and number of his cheats in matches.” expressions were used.
Hans Moke Niemann
THEY COME AGAIN AGAIN
After all this, all breaths were held when it was announced that Carlsen and Niemann will face each other this time in an online match. Carlsen, the favorite of the Julius Baer Generation Cup that started on Sunday, appeared in the match that everyone who watched the second tournament was eagerly waiting for.
However, as we said above, the expectations were in vain and the match ended before Carlsen made his second move.
The incident during the live broadcast of the tournament also had a dramatic effect on the audience. Suddenly, “Carlsen lost” was written on the screen and the camera turned off.
The reaction of Tania Sachev, the winner of the Women’s Grandmaster title, on the live broadcast, reflected the surprise of everyone watching the match. “What happened? What?” “Magnus Carlsen left the game, got up and left the scene… That’s all we know at the moment,” said Sachev.
Carlsen’s representatives, as well as his former coach Peter Heine Nielsen, who has won him multiple world championships, did not respond to requests for comment.
EVERYONE WITH A MOBILE PHONE CAN DO THIS
At this point, a question comes to mind: How to cheat in chess and how to hide this cheat? The answer is in all of our pockets, bags, and possibly even in his hand as he reads this news.
In the past 20 years, chess technology has advanced so much and has become so mobile that anyone with a smart phone can access websites with software that is powerful enough to beat Carlsen. The computing power of these sites, called “chess engines”, is so great that it is possible to predict very advanced stages of the game in seconds.
“Any chess software installed on a mobile phone can suggest moves even better than the world champion is playing,” US grandmaster Maurice Ashley told the Wall Street Journal.
Russian Vladimir Kramnik also accused of cheating
THE MOST WHO COPY ON THE TOILET
So how does the player access the chess engine during the match?
The irony of the matter is that the way to use these perfected technologies is through very ordinary and old-fashioned methods. Players who are regarded as strategic thinking geniuses are limited to cheating in most instances by taking a bathroom break and glancing at the phone in secret.
For example, during the World Championships in 2006, Veselin Topalov’s team accused Vladimir Kramnik of taking too many toilet breaks. The accusation could not be proven, but as a solution, the organizers introduced a rule that players should use the same toilet.
And it wasn’t the only toilet scandal in high-level chess. With a decision taken in 2019, the World Chess Federation banned Latvian grandmaster Igors Rausis, who also represents Bangladesh and the Czech Republic, from competitions for using a smartphone in the toilet.
CHEATING RECORDS BROKEN IN THE PANDEMIC
The move of many tournaments to the online environment during the pandemic period made toilet breaks a problem, but cheating continued and even exploded. Of course, the tools used to catch the cheat were also developed rapidly.
In a statement made by Chess.com in November 2020, it was reported that 18,000 accounts that violated fair-play rules were closed within 30 days. This number was recorded as the biggest monthly cheating event seen since the establishment of the site. In the statement, it was stated that some of the owners of the closed accounts were ordinary players and some were grandmasters.
However, the fact that even the highest level of physical tournaments can be easily cheated is a great danger for the future of chess. Anyone with an accomplice, a chess engine, a few advanced communication devices can do it.
“An advanced communication device is all you need to make such a shameless act,” Ashley said.
A LITTLE VIBRATION IS ENOUGH
Many devices can be used for this purpose, from headphones that are absolutely invisible from the outside to instruments that vibrate so light that only the person wearing them can feel it. Some are so small that they can be easily stored in shoes. If an assistant is added next to such a device that will watch the match live and transmit it to the next player using the chess engine, everyone can play for the championship.
It is very difficult to prove that a grandmaster cheated on board games, except when authorities caught the player red-handed or in the toilet. A significant part of the matches are won or lost with vague combinations that fall in the middle of the match and change the balance.
What this means in practice is that the cheating player only needs support for a few critical moves. A very faint vibration sends the message “Play your knight, not your pawn” to the player. Since the person in question is a grandmaster, he can easily understand why he needs to make that move as soon as he understands which piece the chess engine is pointing to. All that is required at that point is to take the horse and move it to one of the black or white squares.
We have listed above the security measures taken by the Sinquefield Cup officials after Carlsen’s withdrawal. However, prominent figures in the chess community are demanding to go a step further, applying longer delays in broadcasts and tighter controls on players. Russian grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi’s joking offer to “play naked in the dressing room” also points to this. Although it is a joke, these words of Nepomniachtchi clearly show how extreme measures should be taken if even the possibility of cheating is to be eliminated.
Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen faced off in Dubai last year