WASHINGTON — A chess player at the center of a cheating streak capturing the game has “likely” cheated in more than 100 games online, according to an investigation.
Hans Niemann was accused of cheating by world champion Magnus Carlsen, although no evidence was presented.
Now, a Chess.com investigation says Niemann likely cheated “a lot more times” than he’s admitted.
But no evidence was found that he cheated in his game against Carlsen or in any over-the-board games.
The American has admitted to cheating in informal games when he was younger but denies it in competitive matches.
The 19-year-old, who was approached by the BBC for comment, has previously accused Carlsen and Chess.com of trying to ruin his career.
The scandal began earlier this month after Carlsen, considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, was defeated by Niemann in a huge upset at the Sinquefield Cup.
The Norwegian made veiled allegations of cheating against Niemann at the time before openly accusing him last week.
Now, Chess.com has produced a 72-page investigation into Niemann’s games on the site, which pits most of the world’s best players against each other, including for cash prizes.
The site that banned Niemann for alleged cheating claims he likely cheated as recently as 2020, including at cash prize events and against highly-rated “well-known” characters in the game.
Among other things, his analysis compared Niemann’s moves to those suggested by chess computers – which are much stronger than even the best players – and the likelihood of his outcomes.
“In total, we determined that Hans probably cheated in more than 100 online chess games, including several prize-money events,” the report reads.
“He was 17 when he probably cheated in some of these matches and games. He also streamed 25 of those games.”
The report contradicts previous statements by Niemann that when he was 12 and 16 he only cheated on the site in informal games, but never in competitive games or when streaming to gaming platforms like Twitch.
Although his results are “statistically exceptional,” Chess.com said there was no “direct evidence” that Niemann cheated in his win over Carlsen or in other over-the-board games in the past.
In his statement last week, Carlsen implied that Niemann had cheated in their game at the Missouri State Sinquefield Cup, saying he wasn’t “tense or even fully focused” when he outplayed him with the black pieces “on a way I think only a handful of players can do that”.
He also said he had become suspicious of Niemann because he had made “unusual” strides in recent years. Others have argued that Niemann’s progress, while rapid, is comparable to that of other top junior players.
Chess.com said there were “certain aspects” of the game that were “suspicious,” including Niemann’s later explanation of the game.
The site also noted “anomalies” in Niemann’s rate of improvement, causing him to skyrocket the classical chess 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 occurred “much later in life than its peers”.
The side also denied that they were pressured to remove Niemann by Carlsen, who has dominated chess for more than a decade.
Carlsen has insisted he will not play Niemann and resigned in protest after just one move earlier this month when they faced off again in an online tournament.
When the controversy erupted earlier this month, Niemann strenuously denied it, saying he was willing to play naked to prove he wasn’t hiding any electronic devices that could allow him to cheat.
“I don’t care because I know I’m clean. They want me to play in a closed box with no electronic transmission, I don’t care. I’m here to win and that’s still my goal.”
A statistical analysis of Niemann’s over-the-board games by Prof. Kenneth Regan, widely regarded as the world’s leading expert on chess cheating, found no evidence that he had cheated. – BBC