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Chess grandmaster Hans Niemann sues for $100m after being accused of cheating

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 21/10/2022 Sami Quadri

A teenage chess grandmaster at the centre of a cheating scandal has launched a $100 million libel lawsuit against the reigning world champion.

The scandal began last month after Norwegian Magnus Carlsen was defeated by American prodigy Hans Niemann at the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis, Missouri, in a major upset.

Carlsen, 31, walked out of the competition after losing to Niemann and later resigned after one move in an online game against him.

Niemann has been forced to deny rumours that he received assistance from someone giving him the perfect AI moves. He denies ever cheating in a face-to-face match.

Niemann, 19, has filed a lawsuit against Carlsen and others, claiming he was unfairly targeted for having the “audacity” to defeat the “so-called King of Chess”.

In a claim launched in Missouri, which also targeted the Japanese-American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, 34, and Danny Rensch of Chess.com, the American said he “wanted to set the record straight”.

Niemann is taking legal action against chess world champion Magnus Carlsen (pictured) over cheating accusations (AP) © Provided by Evening Standard Niemann is taking legal action against chess world champion Magnus Carlsen (pictured) over cheating accusations (AP)

Lawyers for Niemann said: "[The defendants], colluded to manufacture and disseminate an array of defamatory accusations against Niemann and unlawfully blacklist him from professional chess."

Carlsen has publicly suggested he suspects Niemann cheated during their encounter, and chess.com alleged in a report earlier this month that the American has “probably cheated more than 100 times” in online games.

In his complaint, Niemann said Carlsen, Rensch and Nakamura have inflicted “devastating damages” on his reputation and career by “egregiously defaming him”.

It accuses them of “unlawfully colluding to blacklist him from the profession to which he has dedicated his life”.

“Since the age of 16, Niemann’s sole means of supporting himself has been from the money he makes teaching chess and participating in chess tournaments,” the lawsuit said.

Carlsen plunged the game into controversy last month after quitting a prestigious St Louis tournament after losing a match against Niemann.

Following his withdrawal, Carlsen tweeted a cryptic reference to José Mourinho’s "If I speak I am in big trouble" interview.

Mourinho was talking about a game in which his team lost because of questionable refereeing.

Addressing the cheating rumours on a tournament live stream, Niemann said he would “strip fully naked” or “play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission” to prove himself if he was asked to.

After Niemann “soundly defeated” Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup tournament in Missouri, the Norwegian “viciously and maliciously retaliated against Niemann by falsely accusing Niemann, without any evidence, of somehow cheating during their in-person game,” the lawsuit said.

Chess.com, it added, “banned Niemann from its website and all of its future events, to lend credence to Carlsen’s unsubstantiated and defamatory accusations of cheating.”

The Florida-based Nakamura, an influential streaming partner of Chess.com, is accused of publishing "hours of video content amplifying and attempting to bolster Carlsen’s false cheating allegations."

Chess.com banned Niemann on September 5, shortly after the first accusations were made.

According to a 72-page report released by Chess.com, Niemann “likely received illegal assistance in more than 100 online games” as recently as 2020, including in events where prize money was at stake.

The report also noted “anomalies” in Niemann’s rate of improvement - he has risen up the rankings from around 800 in the world to the top 50 in less than two years.

Chess.com said this rise was the fastest in “modern recorded history” and had occurred “much later in life than his peers”.

But the investigation found no evidence he had cheated in his game against Carlsen, or in any other games played in person.

Carlsen has tweeted: “I had the impression that he wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions.”

Niemann previously denied cheating in matches on Chess.com but admitted he did when he was 12 and 16 years old. He insisted he had not cheated since then.

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