Chess.com investigation alleges ‘probable’ cheating by Hans Niemann

In a 72-page report published on Tuesday, a major online chess platform found that Hans Niemann “probably cheated” on its site more frequently and at a later age than he publicly admitted.

19-year-old American grandmaster Niemann has been at the center of a storm in the chess world since early last month, when an upset victory over world number one Magnus Carlsen was followed by Carlsen hinting that something is wrong. bad had happened. Niemann later said he cheated in games on Chess.com when he was 12 and 16, but insisted he hasn’t repeated since then what he described as “an absolutely ridiculous mistake”. Niemann added that he had never cheated “in a tournament with prize money”.

Carlsen, a Norwegian grandmaster, then staged a protest from Niemann by withdrawing from a rematch after playing a single shot. Late last month, Carlsen expressed his actions and accused Niemann of having “cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted”. Tuesday’s report from Chess.com, which bills itself as “the #1 platform for online chess,” added some support for Carlsen’s unspecific accusations.

Highlighting its “best-in-class” cheat detection system, the website claimed that Niemann had “probably cheated” in more than 100 online games, including some that happened after he turned 17 and took place at events with prizes.

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Meanwhile, Chess.com said its investigation failed to find an abundance of “concrete statistical evidence” that Niemann cheated in his outright (i.e., in-person) victory over Carlsen or in a number of other OTBs. Games. However, the site added that it found certain aspects of the win “suspicious”, which snapped Carlsen’s 53-game winning streak in OTB despite Niemann playing from the slightly disadvantaged black position and noted his rise. “statistically extraordinary” in sport.

Niemann has not publicly commented on Chess.com’s findings, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. He is expected to participate in the US Chess Championships starting Wednesday in St. Louis. Officials at the Saint Louis Chess Club, which hosts the OTB tournament, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

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Chess.com said it removed Niemann from its platform and disinvited him from a major competition it hosts. The site said it dealt with him on a confidential basis, in accordance with its usual policy, and has only begun to make public statements about his situation after talking about their relationship. Niemann served an earlier suspension from the site and admitted to cheating, Chess.com said, after its “cheat detection software and team discovered suspicious play” at that time.

“We believe Hans is an incredibly strong player and talented individual,” Chess.com said in its report. “That said, given his history on our site, we did not feel we could guarantee that he would play fairly in our online events until we could re-evaluate the evidence and our protocols. Nevertheless, and to be clear, it is not our position that Hans should be limited or banned from OTB Chess.

The International Chess Federation (FIDE), the sport’s governing body, announced in late September that it was launching an investigation into Carlsen’s accusations of cheating and Niemann’s comments about it. FIDE said its investigation would be led by members of its Fair Play Committee and would include “the possibility of requesting consultation with external experts whenever analysis is required”. Chess.com said it was willing to cooperate with FIDE’s investigation if asked to do so.

Cheating by a chess player, especially in an online game, would likely involve logging into a chess computer, or engine, capable of playing at a higher level than any human could reach.

“Most chess engines use neural networks that have been trained over millions of high-level chess games to capture the deepest strategic understanding of chess,” Chess.com noted. “They also have almost infallible tactical calculation, as they can look over 40 moves deep into position and calculate potential outcomes.”

Niemann would have used such an engine in OTB matches, although his means of doing so remain in the realm of speculation.

Carlsen said that when he lost last month, he “felt like [Niemann] wasn’t uptight or even fully focused on playing in critical positions, while outdoing me as a black in a way that I think only a handful of players can do.

Niemann’s deft counter after Carlsen made a relatively unusual opener raised suspicion from others. Niemann said afterwards that “by some miracle” he had looked into the possibility of this streak earlier in the day, adding, “It’s so ridiculous that I checked it out.”

In its report, Chess.com pointed to other post-game comments from Niemann, in which he offered a move that could have been made, then asked to see an engine’s evaluation of the move.

“This analysis and reliance on the engine,” the report says, “appears to be at odds with the level of preparation that Hans said was at play in the game and the level of analysis needed to defeat the world champion of chess.”

Chess.com claimed that its cheat detection system – which uses comparisons to engine-recommended moves and a given player’s competitive profile, as well as input from “a panel of qualified analysts” – had led to admissions of wrongdoing by four players in the FIDE top 100. In addition, the system is said to have resulted in the closure of the online accounts of “dozens” of grandmasters, as well as those of hundreds of other players notables.

The site reiterated that it “was not aware of any concrete evidence proving that Hans is cheating on the board or has ever cheated on the board”. Chess.com added that while some of Niemann’s recent online games appeared suspicious, he was unaware of evidence that he cheated after August 2020. Chess.com also downplayed the possibility of widespread cheating on its platform, saying it estimated less than 0.14% of its users engage in such behavior.

“Our events are generally cheating-free,” Chess.com said in the report. “We strongly believe that cheating in chess is rare, preventable, and far less prevalent than currently portrayed in the media.”

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