Hans Niemann’s chess cheating scandal looms over his play at U.S. Championships: NPR

Chess.com alleges that 19-year-old grandmaster Hans Niemann cheated in more than 100 games.

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Chess.com alleges that 19-year-old grandmaster Hans Niemann cheated in more than 100 games.

Pongkiat Rungrojkarnka/EyeEm/Getty Images/EyeEm

The trickle of information about the cheating scandal that has devastated elite chess turned into a deluge on Tuesday night, when Chess.com said it believed 19-year-old grandmaster Hans Niemann had cheated in over 100 games.

The report — which is 72 pages with supporting documents such as e-mail conversations – sends a new jolt to the world of chess. Interest in the US Chess Championships that begin in St. Louis on Wednesday, where Niemann and 13 other players are vying for the title, is mounting.

The tournament, the matches streamed on Youtube and Twitch, has $250,000 in prize money up for grabs. The game begins daily at 2 p.m. ET and will run for the next two weeks. In his first match, Niemann is expected to face 15-year-old Christopher Woojin Yoo.

Contacted by NPR, neither Neimann nor tournament organizers commented on Wednesday.

It’s the latest development in a scandal that has gripped people beyond the chess world since a month ago, when world champion Magnus Carlsen abruptly withdrew from a tournament after losing to Neimann. and alluded to foul play. Two weeks later, Carlsen quit a match against Neimann after a knock rather than play against him again, then accused him of cheating.

Niemann to play for US title despite suspicion

Despite the website’s damning report, Niemann should still be allowed to compete in US chess championships in person, says Ken Regan, an authority on chess cheating who is a professor of computer science and engineering at the University from Buffalo.

“The jurisdictional issues between online chess and in-person chess have not been resolved,” Regan told NPR.

Regan also notes that Niemann remains in good standing with the three relevant organizations behind the championship tournament, referring to the St. Louis Chess Club (which hosts the competition), the United States Chess Federation and world governing body FIDE.

The Chess.com report cites Regan as an independent expert, saying he agrees with its findings that Niemann cheated at multiple online cash prize events in 2015 and 2017, as well as at ” many matches against other professional players in 2020″.

Cheating in chess often takes the form of secretly obtaining move recommendations from a computer program, known as a chess engine.

While Chess.com’s findings incriminate Niemann’s play in online games, the report acknowledges “a lack of concrete statistical evidence” that Niemann cheated in in-person or “over-the-board” (OTB) games. .

Still, the report suggests that further examination is needed to investigate “how Hans became the best OTB classical chess player in modern history much later in life than his peers”. He also notes that Niemann’s rating skyrocketed after the site quietly suspended him in 2020 when it confronted him with evidence of cheating.

What Niemann said about cheating

On September 6, Niemann publicly admitted using electronic devices to cheat – but he insisted he only did it when he was 12 and 16. In the first case, Niemann said, he was “just a child”. He called the second “an absolutely ridiculous mistake”.

Other than when he was 12, Niemann said, he had never cheated in a tournament with prize money. It was “the worst thing I could do,” he said.

Niemann also said he didn’t cheat when streaming games (many top gamers run lucrative video accounts on Twitch and other services).

Report clashes with Niemann’s statements

But the new Chess.com report says: “Hans probably cheated in more than 100 online chess games, including several prize money events. He was already 17 when he probably cheated in some of these. matches and games. He was also broadcasting in 25 of those games.”

That’s far more than the handful of games seemingly referenced in 2020, when the site originally suspended Niemann for six months. According to the report, other players and Chess.com staff had lingering doubts about Niemann that only increased after he was suspended in 2020 as his rankings skyrocketed and he was set to retire. participate in high-level events with significant prizes.

Chess.com says its anti-cheat technology has encountered numerous problems during a thorough review of Niemann’s career. He says his system can “detect patterns of engine influence that equate to certainty we can sustain.”

When asked his opinion on Chess.com’s anti-cheat measures, Regan called it a “multifaceted” system that includes information collected through the website’s interface.

While Regan didn’t attempt to replicate each of the site’s findings independently, he said: “In general, I have nothing against their methods; mine may be sharper in the vein where we overlap. “

The case brought cheating in chess to light

Emil Sutovsky, Director General of the International Chess Federation recently said that in the chess community, “we need a social contract, agreeing that cheating, especially online, will often remain in the gray area”.

When asked about the prevalence of cheating at the elite level, Regan said: “In online chess, several other elite players have been sanctioned, even outside of Chess.com and what they say in the report.”

Regarding in-person cheating, he added, “I don’t know of any excessive cases involving someone rated 2700 or more, that is, the top 50-60” in the world that is significant. .

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