Reigning World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen loses at Saint Louis Chess Club, seemingly accuses opponent of cheating

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A huge upset at the Sinquefield cup in St. Louis – and allegations of nefarious play – is causing unprecedented chaos in the worldwide chess community. 

The chaos began Sept. 4 at the Saint Louis Chess Club when Norwegian chess grandmaster and five-time reigning World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen was upset by 19-year-old prodigy Hans Niemann, the lowest rated player at the tournament. 

The loss was Carlsen’s first in 53 regular play matches. As the most famous chess player in the world, it shocked the chess community when he withdrew from the tournament the day after the match. 

A chess player withdrawing from a tournament, especially one of Carlsen’s stature, is incredibly rare. The five-time world champion then made a cryptic tweet that many interpreted to be cheating allegations against Niemann. 

“I’ve withdrawn from the tournament. I’ve always enjoyed playing in the @STLChessClub, and hope to be back in the future,” the tweet said. The cryptic part, however, was an attached Youtube clip of former Chelsea head coach Jose Mourinho after a loss, saying, “If I speak, I am in big trouble.” 

While Mourinho was referring to referees who he believed made the game unfair with their officiating, many saw Carlsen’s reference to the quote as an allegation that his game with the 19-year-old was unfair, or in other words, that Niemann cheated.

The tweet spun the chess world on its head. Accompanying the accusations flung Niemann’s way are additional questions about his player rating, which has skyrocketed over the past year. His rating has increased so sharply that many chess experts cannot understand how he has outperformed his rating in so many cases. 

Players’ ratings are considered especially reliable as they are built upon a wealth of knowledge on players’ prior performances and any applicable background information on their skill level. 

Niemann’s defense against the allegations is not being helped by the fact that he has admitted to playing unethically in the past. On two separate occasions, Niemann said that while playing online chess matches, a friend would concurrently run a chess program analyzing the best move to take. The friend would then inform Niemann of the move. 

The admission adds more fuel to the fire, but chess experts point out that there is a large difference between cheating online, and cheating against the reigning world champion on the 2022 Chess Grand Tour.

So, here lies the crux of the issue: How does someone playing chess live in front of dozens of people, and hundreds of thousands watching online, successfully cheat?

One theory catching the most traction is that Niemann used a wireless, vibrating device in either his shoe, watch or anal cavity. It is theorized that the device, much like the one Niemann had admitted to using in the past, analyzes the chess board and advises the player on the next move by a pattern of vibrations. 

While the theory may seem far-fetched, Japanese grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura nonetheless agrees that Niemann was “probably cheating,” saying he believed Carlsen would never do something like this without a valid reason. Grandmaster Andrew Tang agreed with Nakamura.

Notably, tournament officials checked Niemann for personal devices on the day of Carlsen’s withdrawal and found nothing. Niemann has also categorically denied any cheating or wrongdoing.

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