In an interview on Tuesday, 19-year-old American chess player Hans Niemann said he was prepared to play “naked” in order to prove his innocence after he was accused of cheating ever since world champion Magnus Carlsen quit the $500,000 Sinquefield Cup after losing a game to Niemann on Sunday.
Niemann, who stunned the Norwegian by beating him with black pieces, also admitted that he had cheated while playing chess online, doing so when he was 12 and 16 years old. He, however, claimed he’s never cheated in any “rated game” (apart from the time he cheated as a 12-year-old) or in an over-the-board chess game.
Five-time world champion Carlsen stunned the chess world when he pulled out of a major tournament for the first time in his career. Announcing his withdrawal with a tweet of a video of Portuguese football manager Jose Mourinho saying, “If I speak, I am in big trouble. Big, big trouble”, Carlsen refused to give any further explanation. But the chess world started speculating.
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) September 5, 2022
The first person to do so was American Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, who is also a popular streamer. Nakamura said Carlsen pulled out because Niemann was “probably cheating”.
“Magnus would never do this in a million years. He just doesn’t do that. He wouldn’t do this unless he really strongly believes Hans is cheating with a very strong conviction. I think he just thinks Hans is just cheating, straight out,” Nakamura said.
First, on the accent (1/10): pic.twitter.com/0JltM4yWxF
— Grand Chess Tour (@GrandChessTour) September 7, 2022
His claims were backed by fellow American Andrew Tang, who revealed he had “stopped talking to Hans”.
Not all players took a dig at Niemann though. Grandmaster Levon Aronian backed Niemann saying, “It often happens when young players play very well, there are always accusations towards them.”
Niemann, who is currently in second position with 2.5 points from four games in the tournament, accused Carlsen, Nakamura and others of trying to ruin his career.
He has offered to go to extraordinary lengths to show he wasn’t using a device to help him cheat during his games.
“I can completely strip, you want to do any fair play check to me you want I don’t care because I know that I’m clean. If they want me to strip fully naked, I’ll do it, I don’t care, because I know that I’m clean and I’m willing to subject myself.
“You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don’t care, name whatever you guys want. I’m here to win, and that’s going to be my goal regardless,” Niemann said in the interview.
— Grand Chess Tour (@GrandChessTour) September 5, 2022
It is extremely difficult to prove cheating in over-the-board chess and there is no evidence of wrongdoing on Niemann’s part at the event.
Cheating at the age of 12 and 16
Niemann said he was “completely ashamed” of the fact that he cheated in random games as a 12-year-old, saying apart from that time, he never cheated in a tournament with prize money involved.
“I cheated on random games on chess.com. I was confronted. I confessed. And this is the single biggest mistake of my life. And I am completely ashamed. I am telling the world because I don’t want misrepresentations and I don’t want rumours. I have never cheated in an over-the-board game. And other than when I was 12 years old, I have never cheated in a tournament with prize money.”
Players accused Niemann of being banned by chess.com on two occasions, and Niemann revealed that the second time was during the pandemic when he took the help of computers as he began streaming. However, he said those were only in “random and unrated games”.
“To give context, I was 16 years old and living alone in New York City at the heart of the pandemic and I was willing to do anything to grow my stream. What I want people to know about this is that I am deeply, deeply sorry for my mistake. I know my actions have consequences and I suffered those consequences.
“During that time I stepped away from a very lucrative streaming career, I stopped playing in all events and I lost a lot of close friendships and relationships.”
260 games in a year
After being banned from chess.com for cheating during the pandemic, Niemann said he was so determined to prove that he could compete at the highest level that he’s been training 12 hours a day.
“I decided the only way to make up for my mistake was to prove that I could win over-the-board events,” he said. “That has been my mission. And that is why I have lived in a suitcase and played 260 games in one year, trained for 12 hours a day, because I have something to prove.”