“Checkmate!” or “Really?”

The chess world surprisingly has been caught in several cheating scandals in its long history.

Checkmate! or Really?

Merric Hu, Staff Writer

Cheating has always been prevalent in any competition, even competitive chess. Back in June of 2018, a visually impaired player by the name of Tholo Bjørnsen, was discovered with an earplug taped to his palm during a game with a nine-year-old girl. The incident made national Norwegian headlines, with World Champion Magnus Carlsen calling Bjørnsen “really a unique talent, if everything is correct, and I hope it is.” Sophisticated cheating usually requires an insider, a person in the audience who can relay information to the player.

Personally, I’ve witnessed a couple of players get caught cheating. In December 2021, I played in the Charlotte U20 Junior Championships. I remember being very surprised when I saw a mere 1200 FIDE-rated player beating players rated 2100s and 2200s. At first, I shook my head and dismissed the thought that he was cheating; maybe he was just underrated, meaning his rating was way lower than his actual strength. However, I noticed that he always wore a hood over his head when he played, and he would stay far from the board as if he were trying to hide something. In the third round, he was pulled out of the room by the tournament director and searched thoroughly for listening devices. It turns out that he had a Bluetooth earbud and he would step away from the board to relaythe new moves that occurred. However, Bluetooth devices aren’t the only way people cheat. In July 2019, Grandmaster Igor Rausis was caught in the bathroom with his phone out in the bathroom stall.

I’ve seen someone I played often get caught cheating. He is a couple of years older than me and had not already achieved the title of “National Master”. He hid his phone in his shoe and would frequently go to the bathroom in order to check the engine. He would emerge out of the bathroom, and suddenly he would “improve” his chess skills. 

There has been major controversy surrounding the player Hans Niemann recently. He had a swift ascent of only two years from the low 2500s to being a 2700 “Super Grandmaster”.  Then, he beat the World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the 2022 Sinquefield Cup. The reason Neimann’s play was so controversial was that, during the FTX Crypto Cup 2022, he beat Magnus in one game, and when interviewed, he responded, “The chess speaks for itself.” While hilarious, this raised many questions as to whether or not Neimann really understood the nuances and depth of the game that he just played. In the game where Neimann beat Carlsen in the 2022 Sinquefield Cup, Neimann claimed that he had been lucky to review the variation that Carlsen played beforehand, but many theorize that there was a “mole” in Carlsen’s team who leaked precious prep lines to Neimann. This is just the beginning of the controversy. In laterinterviews, Neimann couldn’t seem to explain his thinking to the commentators. He often make misstatements and would just say, “the variation explains itself.”

With Neimann, there seemed to be a reluctance to explaining his thought process. This drew suspicion from many top players including World Championship Challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, popular streamer GM Hikaru Nakamura, and 2800-rated Alireza Firouzja. Hikaru explained that the analysis of Hans just made no sense, and he missed many ideas that even I could clearly see. A player rated 2700 should not miss such trivial things.  There have also been many allegations of online cheating in the past for Hans Neimann. While he claimed that the only time he cheated online was when he was 12 and 16, others think differently.

The official chess.com team has banned him permanently from chess.com because they have evidence that Hans has cheated on more than two occasions. Hikaru has insinuated that Neimann has cheated in many big cash prize tournaments, stating, “there was a period of 6 months where Hans did not play any tournaments on chess.com for cash,”  and Nepomniachtchi thinks that Hans doesn’t cheat on stream, but off stream, he is “improving.” Before the Sinquefield Cup even started, Hans had a performance of 2738 over 55 OTB (Over The Board) games, which has led to these suspicions.