The chess cheating scandal brewing since September just reignited. Hans Niemann, the 19-year-old chess grandmaster, sued world champion Magnus Carlsen, and others, for $100 million in damages.
The defamation lawsuit claims that Chess.com, a popular online platform where players compete in tournaments, colluded with Carlsen and Play Magnus to ban Niemann from the website and future events to “lend credence to Carlsen’s unsubstantiated and defamatory accusations of cheating.” (In August, Play Magnus, Carlsen’s popular chess app, accepted an acquisition offer by Chess.com for $83 million. The suit says this will merge will “monopolize the chess world.”) It also claims that Hikaru Nakamura, Chess.com’s popular streaming partner, colluded with Carlsen and Chess.com through “video content” that bolstered cheating allegations. The suit also alleges that Danny Rensch, chief chess officer of Chess.com, issued “defamatory press releases.”
These actions “destroyed Niemann’s remarkable career in its prime and ruined his life,” the federal suit says. “Chess is Niemann’s life.”
“My lawsuit speaks for itself,” Niemann tweeted on Thursday.
My lawsuit speaks for itself https://t.co/rOfUxiNYCH— Hans Niemann (@HansMokeNiemann) October 20, 2022
Polygon reached out via email to Magnus Carlsen’s manager, as well as the chief executive officer of Play Magnus Group of Companies, and Hikaru Nakamura’s WME agents, but has not yet received a response.
Chess.com’s lawyers Nima Mohebbi and Jamie Wine of Latham & Watkins, LLP provided an email statement to Polygon:
We are saddened by Hans Niemann’s decision to take legal action against Chess.com. We believe his lawsuit hurts the game of chess and its devoted players and fans around the world.
Chess.com is proud of its reputation within the chess community and beyond, and will always defend the game, the players, and their mission of both growing and protecting online chess.
Hans confessed publicly to cheating online in the wake of the Sinquefield Cup, and the resulting fallout is of his own making. As stated in its October 2022 report, Chess.com had historically dealt with Hans’ prior cheating privately, and was forced to clarify its position only after he spoke out publicly.
There is no merit to Hans’ allegations, and Chess.com looks forward to setting the record straight on behalf of its team and all honest chess players.
The chess cheating saga started in September, when Niemann beat Carlsen in a match at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. Carlsen abruptly withdrew from the tournament, but did not give any reason why. Later that month, he made just one move against Niemann at the Julius Baer Generation Cup, before turning off his camera and resigning. On Sept. 26, Carlsen tweeted an official statement saying that he believed Niemann had cheated. Carlsen didn’t offer proof, but said that he felt Niemann hadn’t been “tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions.”
“Notorious for his inability to cope with defeat, Carlsen snapped,” the lawsuit alleges, of Carlsen’s behavior after the Sinquefield Cup. “Enraged that the young Niemann, fully 12 years his junior, dared to disrespect the ‘King of Chess,’ and fearful that the young prodigy would further blemish his multi-million dollar brand by beating him again, Carlsen viciously and maliciously retaliated against Niemann.”
Niemann has not been caught cheating in an over the board match (a match that’s held physically in person, rather than online). However, he did admit to cheating in two Chess.com matches — once when he was 12, and once when he was 16. In the same interview, he denied ever cheating in over the board games. In that same video he offers to even play naked to prove he isn’t cheating — an offer that led to the outlandish claim that he used anal beads to cheat. (The lawsuit notes that Sinquefield Cup anti-cheating measures have been upped to include “military-grade metal detection scans.”)
Chess.com, however, banned Niemann from its platform on Sept. 8, tweeting an official statement as to why. And in early October, the Wall Street Journal reported a Chess.com investigation found that Niemann had violated “fairplay” more than he had said, stating his cheating spanned more than 100 games.
The suit says that Chess.com’s statement “is false” and designed to “further defame Niemann,” by accusing of him of being a “liar” in addition to being a “serial online cheater.” The suit also says “conspiracy theories” went “viral on the internet,” and says that Niemann has lost opportunities as a result of “defamatory accusations,” including the fact that the Tata Steel Chess Tournament “ceased all contact,” and teenage Grandmaster Vincent Keymer “refused to play” in a match against Niemann.