Hans Niemann vs the World (And Magnus Carlsen) – Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

Following Magnus Carlsen's allegations, Hans Niemann has been subjected to intense scrutiny and unjust denunciation.

7 min read
Hindi Female

The metal detector scans took much longer than usual. The spectators were not allowed entry, and those watching the matches online were only provided deferred action, with a planned 30-minute delay in broadcast. On paper, it was the 2022 US Championship – a competition contested by fourteen grandmasters, one of whom will bag $60,000 at the end of the event. However, beyond that five-figure façade there seemed like there lay another agenda, a global mission to find out if Hans Niemann is a cheater.

All eyes were on the 19-year-old youngster, and despite not being provided with the same attention, the other thirteen chess players could consider themselves extremely lucky, since it is not particularly the sort of limelight a player would wish to have.


On 5 October, when Niemann took on Christopher Yoo, a 15-year-old grandmaster, the focus should ideally have been on an epic contest of chess between two young prodigies, both of whom embarked on incredible journeys to achieve what they have at their tender ages.

Instead, it was a witch-hunt, to find any anomaly in Niemann’s game, his movements, or even, his facial expressions. The verdict was already out in the people’s court – Hans Niemann and cheating are synonymous. Now, there was a collective clutching at straws, a desperate attempt to find proof to substantiate the verdict.

Guilty, until proven innocent.


Away from the hubbub, the match was intense. The two participants, despite having a combined age of 34, exhibited commendable maturity and character, but it was Niemann who eventually emerged as the winner.

Yet, the outcome of the match could not have been any more insignificant. The moves a 19-year-old made to conquer victory could not have been any more irrelevant. A player winning a stern test of composure only a day after the release of a report from a leading chess platform, claiming cheating instances against him in more than 100 online matches, could not have been any more insignificant. The interest lied in the scavenger hunt for aberrations.

During a post-match interview, Niemann could have adhered to the public demand by explaining every single move, but rightfully so, he did not. Instead, in his usual element which a few relate with humour and many others with obnoxious braggadocio, he simply said “This game was so beautiful that I don't even need to describe it,” and left.


A teenage chess player sporting an aura of conceit and not avoiding rodomontade is not the ideal mix for either the press or the majority of the fraternity. Unsurprisingly, a search engine enquiry on Niemann does not such up as many reports of his performance, as it does about the bizarre theories of using ‘sex toys’ and ‘anal beads’ to win games and the subsequent rise in security levels.

Following Magnus Carlsen's allegations, Hans Niemann has been subjected to intense scrutiny and unjust denunciation.

A bizarre theory suggested Hans Niemann using 'vibrating beads,' which has now been picked up by the media.

(Photo: Google search)

Yet again, despite doing well to not let his guard down and put in a good performance amid the intense scrutiny, the player was back to square one.

Guilty until proven innocent.


The Backdrop Ft. Magnus Carlsen

The saga started a month ago, on 4 September, at the Saint Louis Chess Club. At the Sinquefield Cup 2022, Magnus Carlsen suffered a surprising defeat against Hans Niemann, who back then was not remotely as famous as he is now. Moreover, Carlsen lost with white – his first defeat with the pieces in around two years.

For a while, the result provided the press with a quintessential story of an underdog's emergence, until Carlsen withdrew from the tournament a day later. He did not state the reason behind his decision, barring only sharing a video where football manager Jose Mourinho is heard saying “I prefer really not to speak.”

Yet, three weeks later, Carlsen spoke. Murmurs of the game’s magnum opus’ alleging cheating against the teenager had already reached all sections, but Carlsen himself put an end to the speculations with the official seal of confirmation. In his statement, the five-time World Chess Champion said that he ‘believes’ Niemann cheated on multiple occasions.


The Hunt

Following Carlsen’s allegations, Niemann found himself under several microscopes with innumerable inspections of almost all of his matches, but he decided against hiding. Instead, on 8 September, Niemann admitted to cheating in online matches when he was ‘just a child,’ but subsequently claimed he had never cheated during over-the-board matches.

Challenging the authorities to find any incriminating evidence, he went on to say “If they want me to strip fully naked, I will do it. I don’t care. Because I know I am clean. You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don’t care. I’m here to win and that is my goal regardless.”

Only a day before the US Championship, published a report, where they said “Hans likely cheated online much more than his public statements,” but also mentioned, “there is nothing in our statistical investigation to raise any red flags regarding Hans’ OTB play and rise.”

The word 'likely' in this report and '(I) believe' in Carlsen's statements provide room for a neutral investigation, but there has not been any consideration for those couple of words in the entire episode

With no proof of OTB cheating, which can be gathered only during the event and not in retrospect, the allegations should ideally have remained exactly that – allegations. Yet, when the accusations come from a player of Carlsen’s stature, they somehow transform into the ultimate verdict.

The Sinquefield Cup tie, however, was not the first meeting between Carlsen and Niemann. The duo had crossed paths previously, even in February this year at the Airthings Masters. The Norwegian also was spotted playing chess with Niemann at a beach in Miami, just a few days ahead of the much-talked-about match.

Carlsen, on all such instances of facing Niemann, did not ever flag anything suspicious, but notably, he also did not suffer a setback worthy enough of sending shockwaves across the chess fraternity on those interactions.


The Rodomontade

If only human beings had the power of not having any preconceived assumptions at all, Niemann could have been subjected to a different kind of treatment. However, beyond his gameplay and tactics, it is his personality that works against the feigned ‘socially acceptable' standards.

The American is a young chess prodigy until the allegations are proven, but his actions and words are not what people are generally used to from young chess prodigies.

Unlike the Indians’ ilk, like the calm, poise and articulate Rameshbabu Praggnandhaa, Arjun Erigaisi or D Gukesh, Niemann is outspoken, unapologetically and intentionally sarcastic at times.

His Instagram display picture shows him smoking a big, fat cigar. He proudly posts a picture with the caption ‘on my way to take your queen.’ He beats one of the biggest stars to have ever graced the sport and then says ‘the chess speaks for itself’ before casually walking away from the interview. He then uses the same line as a joke in another interview.

In a nutshell, Hans Niemann is everything one would not expect from an emerging chess phenomenon, which makes it very convenient for social policing enthusiasts to use his persona as a justification for the cheating claims.

Barring the rare oddities, Niemann’s perception inside the fraternity has also taken a beating. Wesley So, the 29-year-old grandmaster who is also competing in the US Championship, did not hold himself back when he said “(Hans Niemann has) disrespected just about everybody in the chess world at this stage, calling other players idiots and stuff. I think pretty much everyone knows that Hans is the most disrespectful teenager in chess.”


The Two Battles of Hans Niemann

The ‘most disrespectful teenager,’ who had proudly once said that chess is everything in his life, is being continuously inspected, and vehemently criticised for anything but chess. Finding himself at the centre of the world’s focus, he suffered his first defeat at the US Championship recently against Fabiano Caruana, and albeit not very conspicuously, some heaved a sigh of relief.

Interestingly, just hours after Niemann’s defeat, Carlsen played against Parham Maghsoodloo – an Iranian player who previously was banned from an online competition for alleged cheating. Carlsen, who said cheating is an ‘existential threat’ in chess not very long ago, did not raise any suspicions as he played out a draw against the Iranian.


But Niemann, on the contrary, had to go through thorough checks, with even his banana being scanned by the metal detector and some raising suspicion about his tea. Indeed, if allegations of over-the-board cheating are found to be true, the fraternity should rightfully ostracize Niemann to uphold the sanctity of the game.


But so far, what we have is a 19-year-old player who is having to deal with a barrage of universal condemnation based on unproven accusations, despite having admitted to his prior mistakes.

The teenager is fighting two subsequent battles – one on the chessboard against some of the best players in USA, and the other outside the chessboard, against the world.

So far, Hans Niemann has prevailed. Until either he is caught cheating during an over-the-board event, which will spark a widespread ‘I-told-you-so reaction’, or he is crushed by the endless denunciation, which will then be met with ‘perhaps-we-were-too-harsh’ reactions from the same lot.


The Lawsuit, Finally

In a latest turn of events, Niemann eventually decided to file a lawsuit on 20 October. He is seeking $100 million in damages from Carlsen,, Hikaru Nakamura and others for colluding to blacklist him, hampering his businesses and also making wrongful defamatory comments and allegations.

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Topics:  Magnus Carlsen   Hans Niemann 

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