World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen was supposed to play Hans Niemann, a 19-year old he previously implied was a cheater, in the Champions Chess Tour 2022 today. Instead, he resigned after making just one move, reigniting the embers of a scandal that’s consumed the chess world this month. Now people are calling on him to finally break his silence and make his case rather than let the cloud of insinuation continue to cast its sordid shadow.
To recap: Niemann defeated Carlsen in a stunning technical upset earlier this month at the Sinquefield Cup. Carlsen, the five-time world chess champion, resigned the tournament in a huff with no explanation outside of a cryptic tweet that included a José Mourinho quote about getting in trouble if he were to say anything further. Niemann admitted to once cheating as a child on Chess.com, but denied ever breaking the rules at a live tournament. With nothing concrete from Carlsen, the chess world willed a meme into being about using supercomputers inside anal beads to cheat at the centuries-old board game.
The two players met again today during the Julius Baer Generation Cup, one of the many online tournaments that comprise this year’s Champions Chess Tour. Reunited in this virtual setting, Niemann moved first as white and Carlsen followed as black. But when it came time for the World Champion to respond to the 19-year old’s second move, he quit instead. There was no explanation, and the online hosts were left stuttering as Carlsen’s cam footage disappeared from the stream, followed by Niemann’s.
“As soon as we saw Magnus appear on the webcam I thought okay we’re in for a game, at least this will help blow things over, let’s focus on the chess again but what do we say now, this is a bigger statement than the tweet I think,” said one host.
Another replied, “Definitely a big statement and now he’s proved with his actions that he’s confirming all of the rumors and allegations and now he needs to make a statement, I’m gonna say, he can’t just do this.”
Part of the shock stems from the fact that Carlsen’s own organization is hosting the tournament. Rather than bailing out of an event sponsored by a third party, Carlsen effectively invited his apparent nemesis to his virtual home and then walked out the back.
After Niemann confirmed the allegation that he’d cheating during at least one previous match on Chess.com by using a computer program to advise him on his next move, the platform banned him for life. However, he’s still welcome on Chess24.com, where the current tournament is hosted, and no other evidence of any cheating on his part has been discovered so far.
Neither Carlsen nor Niemann have remarked publicly on the latest drama, though the chess community is already aflutter with fresh commentary.
The history of chess is full of petty dramas. We are so blessed to live through this one.
Update: 9/21/22, 3:25 p.m. ET: Following the last day of open play in the Julius Baer Cup, the final elimination bracket has been set and Carlsen and Niemann are on opposite ends of it. That means the only way for them to meet again in the tournament is if both make it to the finals. If that somehow happens, the two will begin play at noon on September 24.
Update: 9/21/22 3:47 p.m. ET: In his first comments since the resignation stunt, Carlsen likened Niemann to another Grand Master dogged by speculation of cheating. “I have to say I am very impressed by Niemann’s play and I think his mentor Maxim Dlugy must have been doing a great job,” he told an interviewer on Wednesday.
Dlugy came under scrutiny back in 2017 when he was disconnected from a Chess.com Tilted Tuesday blitz tournament. Some believed his moves too often resembled the “top engine choice,” despite the speed of the matches. But Dlugy and Chess.com never addressed the matter publicly.
Carlsen will apparently have more to say once the current tournament is over.