In a twist to the high-stakes drama that has riveted the chess world, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) has finally broken its silence on the allegations of cheating against American grandmaster Hans Moke Niemann.
This controversy, which erupted in 2022 following accusations by five-time world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, has not only caused ripples in the chess community but also led to a staggering $100 million lawsuit and widespread speculation.
FIDE's Ethics and Disciplinary Commission released a nuanced decision that appears to offer a partial vindication for both parties involved. The ruling acknowledges that Carlsen's suspicions of Niemann cheating were not unfounded, citing Niemann's previous admissions of online cheating in his youth and possible understatements regarding the extent of these actions.
However, the commission also declared Carlsen's withdrawal from the prestigious Sinquefield Cup, in protest of Niemann's play, as improper, resulting in a €10,000 fine for the Norwegian grandmaster.
FIDE Clears Niemann
Interestingly, FIDE's investigation found no evidence of Niemann cheating in live, over-the-board games, though it recognized the challenge in detecting singular instances of cheating.
Niemann has consistently denied any wrongdoing in face-to-face competitions, despite admitting to seeking illegal assistance in online games during his teenage years. This saga has cast a spotlight on the chess world, coinciding with the sport's surge in popularity during the pandemic.
Carlsen's abrupt exit from the Sinquefield Cup, following a loss to Niemann, was accompanied by a cryptic social media post that the chess community quickly interpreted as an accusation of cheating. This suspicion was not unique to Carlsen, as Russian grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi also expressed concerns about Niemann's participation in the tournament.
The ensuing events saw Niemann vehemently defending himself, attributing his online indiscretions to youthful mistakes at ages 12 and 16. The controversy escalated when Carlsen withdrew from a subsequent online game against Niemann after just one move and later openly questioned the extent of Niemann's cheating.
An independent investigation by Chess.com, a leading platform for top players, suggested that Niemann might have cheated in over 100 games, including those with monetary stakes. This revelation prompted Niemann to sue Carlsen, Chess.com, and other chess figures for $100 million, alleging defamation and career sabotage.
Notably, Chess.com had acquired Carlsen's company, Play Magnus, during this period. A federal judge dismissed Niemann's lawsuit, leaving open the possibility of pursuing defamation claims in state court. Subsequently, an agreement was reached where Niemann dropped further litigation, and Chess.com lifted its ban on him.
Carlsen, acknowledging Chess.com's findings, admitted to the lack of definitive evidence against Niemann in their specific game and expressed willingness to face Niemann in future competitions. FIDE's report, based on analysis by computer scientist Ken Regan, identified fewer instances of Niemann's online cheating than Chess.com's findings but supported the view that Niemann had indeed cheated in rated games, even after the age he confessed to cheating.
Niemann's legal team interpreted this as further vindication, criticizing Carlsen for not substantiating his allegations with concrete evidence.