Hans Niemann playing Magnus Carlsen in the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis in September © Crystal Fuller

Hans Niemann, the 19-year-old at the centre of chess cheating allegations, probably did so more than 100 times in online games, says a newly published report. However, the 72-page statement by chess.com found no clear evidence that Niemann has cheated in any games over the board, including his controversial win last month over Magnus Carlsen, which prompted the world champion to withdraw from the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis.

The scandal escalated when Carlsen resigned an online game to Niemann on his second move, and indicated that he would refuse to play the Californian in future.

Niemann had previously denied online cheating except for two occasions when he was aged 12 and 16, but the report details many later incidents, including seven online games against Ian Nepomniachtchi, the Russian who challenged Carlsen for the world title in 2021 and who again qualified for a world championship match earlier this year.  

Chess.com’s anti-cheating weapons include analytics that compare moves to those recommended by chess engines, studies of a player’s past performances and strengths, and detection of behaviour such as opening up another browser when playing. Unlike cheating over the board which is viewed as a major crime, there is a widespread tolerance of it online. The report reveals that “dozens” of grandmasters have been caught cheating on chess.com, including some of the current world top 100, all of whom confessed.

Although the scale of the problem will surprise many, the red line which has not yet been clearly crossed is whether Niemann has ever cheated at the board. Chess.com leaves a final judgment to the world governing body Fide, which last week set up its own commission of inquiry. However, the report notes that the start of Niemann’s over the board surge, which has taken him from an average grandmaster up to a 2700 rating and the world top 40 in two years, coincided with his banning from chess.com in 2020.

Some of Niemann’s tournaments are considered of particular interest, of which the most significant may be the American’s impressive victory at the annual Capablanca Memorial in Cuba in April this year, where Niemann won unbeaten by a clear two-point margin.

This week chess is back in St Louis, where the opening round of the US championship on Wednesday (7pm BST start) is live and free to watch online. Niemann’s first opponent is the youngest entrant Christopher Yoo, 15.

A key game will be Saturday’s fourth round where Niemann meets the former world No 2 Fabiano Caruana, who has previously described Niemann’s play as “weird”.

Niemann is seeded sixth out of 14 in the US championship, a famous traditional event which the legendary Bobby Fischer won all eight times he competed, the first at age 14 and once with a 100 per cent score.

The No6 seeding is significant because the top five are the grandmasters from the US Olympiad team, led by the world top 10 players Caruana, Wesley So, and Levon Aronian.

Puzzle 2489

Gata Kamsky v Judit Polgar, Buenos Aires 1994. The all-time No1 woman was doubly threatened with immediate checkmate by 1 d8=Q mate or 1 Qf8 mate. A terrible danger, yet Polgar found a way to turn the tables.  

Can you find Black’s winning move?

Click here for solution

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