Chess Controversies

With the recent Hans Niemann "cheating" scandal, the chess community has been in a dither; you can read about or watch or listen to various aspects of the coverage of this matter here. Did he cheat in his game at the Sinquefield Cup against Magnus Carlsen? Or is he being unfairly maligned?

Click on a tab below to reveal the links for that topic. Material about the scandal comes in many different forms: articles, videos and podcasts.

Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann
Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann

Thematic Links - Under Construction
Half a Loaf is Better Than None (Hopefully)

  • Chess Cheating Detection 101 - How world renowned expert Dr. Ken Regan analyzed Hans Niemann - Chess & Tech - 09/24/2022 [11:27]
    In an interview with the world renowned expert in chess cheating detection, Dr. Ken Regan, the case of Hans Niemann was studied through his methods, covering all the games and events played in the period of September 2020 - September 2022. His conclusions and methods were explained in great detail in a video spanning almost an hour. This video aims to summarize those methods to explain how he reached his conclusions and verdicts regarding the chess cheating controversy initiated by Magnus Carlsen and his open complaints.

  • The most incriminating evidence against Hans Niemann - Yosha - Echecs - 09/25/2022 [23:07]

  • Chess Cheat Detection Expert, IM Kenneth Regan Shares his Findings on the Carlsen/Niemann Scandal - PerpetualChessPodcast - 10/18/2022 [1:29:55]
    This week we are rejoined by Dr. Kenneth Regan. Dr. Regan is, as many of you will are already aware, is one of the world's leading experts at engine cheat detection. He is an IM at chess, and is the rare individual with domain expertise in chess, statistics and computer science. Dr. Regan has degrees in mathematics from Princeton and Oxford and is a Professor in Computational Complexity Theory at the University of Buffalo. As a chess player, Ken was the 1977 US Junior co-champion and once held the record of youngest USCF Master since Bobby Fischer. Dr. Regan joined the podcast to share some of his findings about the Carlsen/Niemann controversy and to discuss chess cheating more generally.
  • Various commentators and organizations have weighed in on the controversy, in addition to summarizing the history of the scandal. Sometimes they offer their assessment of the merits of the accusations. Sometimes they are just trying to explain what happened (and, inevitably, some versions are more enlightening than others). Choice is good, but it can be a bit overwhelming to have so many different explanations; there is often overlap between reporting and commentary, so I have shared the same link for commentary here in Theories, Research & Investigations [above] when it seemed appropriate.
  • Big money and big temptation in the world of online chess
    - NPR - OnPoint - 10/19/2022 [49:21]- AUDIO

Chronological Reporting, Commentary and Analysis

Chronological Material - September 2022

Chronological Material - October 2022

Chronological Material - November 2022

Chronological Material - December 2022

Chronological Material - January 2023

Chronological Material - February 2023

Chronological Material - March 2023

My Two Cents [Roughly]

Rodin's Thinker

There is a lot to think about! I found this great graphic of Rodin's Thinker online (the checkered background is evocative of a chess board, but clearly has a lot more than 64 squares).

Research: Official Rules of Chess - Cheating. I decided to check the Tournament Chess Rules to see whether there was any obvious way to conclude one way or the other that Hans was cheating in the game he played Magnus at the Sinquefield Cup. I found several references to cheating in the rules:

  • [67] discussion with opponent/game in progress discussion/manipulating results/penalties
  • [64] equipment/receiving advice/unsolicited advice
  • [88] undisclosed rating
  • "Players shall participate in the spirit of fair play and good sportsmanship, and must observe the U.S. Chess Code of Ethics." - Chapter 6
  • "Prohibited during play:"
    • handwritten/printed/recorded materials
    • notes made during game as memory aid
    • analysis of game on another chessboard
    • consulting a computer about game position
    • accepting advice about game
    • soliciting advice about game
    • distracting or annoying opponent
    • discussion of a game in progress
    • colluding to fix or throw a game (before or during the game)
  • [186] Procedures

    • 7. "Any US Chess member may initiate procedures under this code of ethics by filing a complaint in a timely manner with the US Chess Ethics Committee."

Magnus Carlsen's Response. Magnus Carlsen did not initiate a procedure. All of his criticism of Hans Niemann occurred on social media and in the press.'s Investigation. The investigation and report of Niemann suggests that he has a pattern of cheating in online games (even for money and/or to improve his rating). His rapid rating climb suggests that he is either an exceptionally gifted player or that something is fishy (as alleged by Carlsen). The objectivity of the charges is cloudy because of a business deal between Carlsen and

The Media. The media and commentators have reacted to the charges and behavior of the principals using apocalytic language and intense coverage. In the words of many: "this is a scandal that has rocked the chess world!"

As for the merits of Carlsen's suspicions, several commentators have weighed in on the quality of play by both players. Niemann charges Carlsen with having a bad day and being so embarrassed that he rationalized that Niemann was cheating. Carlsen claims that Niemann's relaxed and effortless victory suggests that he had help during the game.

The Lawsuit. Niemann has upped the ante by filing a lawsuit claiming that Carlsen has destroyed his reputation and is preventing Niemann from profiting from his investment in chess as a profession. Niemann has modified the lawsuit with additional charges that Carlsen is paying people to be rude in Niemann's vicinity, yelling that Hans is a cheater. What a pathetic situation, if true. What a pathetic accusation, if false.

Motivation. Carlsen's refusal to play Niemann (because he considers Niemann untrustworthy) is understandable. It is unclear whether Niemann could realize his ambition to be a chess champion if grandmasters refused to play him in official tournaments (for which Niemann was qualified, according to US Chess Federation rules, etc.).

Certainly the big money involved in the tournaments seems to be playing a role (in addition to other business concerns). "Since the controversy arose, Niemann has continued to enter tournaments and do well. His classical chess rating rose above 2700 for the first time last month. With enhanced security at top level events, many think it’s unlikely anyone could be cheating." - The Globe and Mail [Feb. 2023]

The Impact: Whatever the underlying truth of the matter, chess is getting a black eye. What message is sent by the tension that now pervades the high-level chess tournaments? Will we now all develop a heightened sense of paranoia, suspecting our opponents of having something 'up their sleeve'? Will this turn off the new crop of chessplayers who flocked to the game after watching The Queen's Gambit on Netflix? Will this embolden some players to cheat to advance their standing?

Waterville Chess Club. At the club level, most of our players are still playing for the love of the game, not to get rich or be famous. Hopefully, at our level we want to play well, improve, and enjoy the experience. Treating our opponents with respect is very important. Sometimes there are clashes of temperament, but this is rare and usually temporary. For the most part we leave the stresses and troubles of the world behind us when we meet to play (and usually in very public places).

Even though we relax the tournament rules for club play, we still try to avoid interfering with ongoing games; but we have been known to engage in playful banter and light hazing. Each player has an ego and feelings, of course, so we do not knowingly cause harm with our comments. Our objectives in playing vary from 'learning to play better' or 'improving in preparation to play in tournaments to get a better rating'; some of us just appreciate the aesthetics fo the game (a special position or elegant combination or clever checkmate). Unlike in a tournament, players and spectators talk with each other during play (but still refrain from offering advice on moves, except in pedagogical games).

I am still trying to keep an open mind about this controversy; I may update these thoughts as the scandal evolves. - Don Smallidge