World chess champion Magnus Carlsen stunningly withdrew Monday after making just one move in a match against a 19-year-old American, Hans Niemann. The episode added a new chapter to a storyline that has gripped the chess world and beyond, one that involves suggestions that Niemann cheated in a recent victory against the Norwegian grandmaster.
The two were playing an online match Monday in the Julius Baer Generation Cup, using the Chess24 platform via Microsoft Teams, when Carlsen’s webcam suddenly switched off while he was on the clock for his second move.
“What happened? That’s it?” exclaimed Peter Leko, a grandmaster who was providing analysis on the feed.
“We’re going to try to get an update on this,” said fellow analyst and international master Tania Sachdev. “Magnus Carlsen just resigned. Got up and left. Switched off his camera, and that’s all we know right now.”
“Wow — speechless, yeah?” Leko said.
Another shocker as @MagnusCarlsen simply resigns on move 2 vs. @HansMokeNiemann! https://t.co/2fpx8lplTI#ChessChamps #JuliusBaerGenerationCup pic.twitter.com/5PO7kdZFOZ— chess24.com (@chess24com) September 19, 2022
Carlsen, 31, was leading the tournament in the early going at the time. The Julius Baer Generation Cup is the seventh event on the nine-tournament Champions Chess Tour, which runs from February until November. Carlsen is in first place in the series, while Niemann ranks 16th.
Carlsen and Niemann were competing this month in the Sinquefield Cup, a St. Louis-based, in-person event on the Grand Chess Tour, when Niemann defeated the five-time world champion. Adding to the massive level of upset was that Carlsen was on a 53-match unbeaten streak in over-the-board tournaments and held a significant rating advantage over Niemann.
The next day, Carlsen withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup, saying in a tweet that he always enjoyed competing there and hoped to be back in the future.
What sent the chess world into a tizzy, however, was that Carlsen appended to his tweet a video clip of famed soccer manager José Mourinho saying in 2021: “I prefer really not to speak. If I speak, I am in big trouble.”
The tweet gave the impression that Carlsen was hinting at some nefarious behavior on the part of Niemann, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the sport. Speculation that Niemann was cheating only increased after Hikaru Nakamura, a 34-year-old American grandmaster who has a massive following for his Twitch streams, offered his take shortly after Carlsen’s withdrawal.
“This is probably something I should not say, but I will say this anyway, which is: There was a period of over six months where Hans did not play any prize-money tournaments on Chess.com,” Nakamura said. “That is the one thing that I’m going to say, and that is the only thing that I’m going to say on this topic.”
Nakamura added on his Twitch stream: “I think that Magnus believes that Hans probably is cheating. … He’s withdrawing to make the point without publicly making the point.”
I've withdrawn from the tournament. I've always enjoyed playing in the @STLChessClub, and hope to be back in the future https://t.co/YFSpl8er3u— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) September 5, 2022
Niemann, who was subjected to a thorough scan for devices that could help him cheat when he arrived for another match at the St. Louis tournament, subsequently admitted to having cheated several years before on Chess.com.
In a Sept. 5 interview with grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez that was shared online by the Saint Louis Chess Club, which hosted the Sinquefield Cup, Niemann said his cheating on Chess.com occurred when he was 12 — “I was just a child” — and 16. Of the latter episode, he said he wanted to gain higher ratings so he could “play stronger players” and was eager at the time to “do anything to grow my stream.”
Describing his unethical behavior as “an absolutely ridiculous mistake,” Niemann asserted that since then, he has “never in my life” cheated.
“I am proud of myself,” he said, “that I learned from that mistake and now have given everything to chess. … I was confronted, I confessed, and this is the single biggest mistake of my life and I’m completely ashamed.”
On Hans' history of cheating on https://t.co/bYjFcPulIk:— Grand Chess Tour (@GrandChessTour) September 7, 2022
“I am not going to let Chess.com, I’m not going to let Magnus Carlsen, I’m not going to let Hikaru Nakamura — the three arguably biggest entities in chess — simply slander my reputation,” Niemann added, “because the question is: Why are they going to remove me from Chess.com right after I beat Magnus? What’s with the timing?”
Chess.com, which bills itself as “the #1 platform for online chess,” released a statement a few days later in which it explained its de-platforming of Niemann.
“We have shared detailed evidence with him concerning our decision, including information that contradicts his statements regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com,” the website stated. “We have invited Hans to provide an explanation and response with the hope of finding a resolution where Hans can again participate on Chess.com. We want nothing more than to see the best chess players in the world succeed in the greatest events. We will always try to protect the integrity of the game that we all love.”
The “tumultuous” situation in the chess community, as Chess.com put it, ratcheted up further when Niemann offered to “strip fully naked” if it would help prove he wasn’t using any contraptions to help him cheat.
Then came Monday’s much-anticipated Carlsen-Niemann rematch. It was over quickly, but Carlsen’s speedy, statement-making resignation ensured this controversy is far from done.