By Ben Morse, CNN
Niemann has repeatedly denied cheating in over-the-board chess, but speaking on “Piers Morgan Uncensored” on Monday, the 20-year-old addressed specific accusations that he cheated using vibrating sex toys, allegations that emerged from social media, although it’s not clear who originally made the accusations.
When he was pressed by Morgan if he had used such toys “while playing chess,” Niemann replied: “Well, your curiosity is a bit concerning, you know – maybe you’re personally interested, but I can tell you, no.
“Categorically, no, of course not.”
In the aftermath of his victory over five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen last year, the New York Times reported that Niemann said: “They want me to strip fully naked, I’ll do it. I don’t care, because I know that I’m clean. You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission? I don’t care, you know? Name whatever you guys want.”
Niemann, a US chess prodigy, was accused of cheating by Carlsen after Niemann had beaten the Norwegian at the 2022 Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis.
Although Carlsen did not provide details about what he alleged Niemann did during their September 2022 over-the-board match, social media was rife with accusations of Niemann using vibrating sex toys to receive signals to instruct him as to which moves to make.
The accusations of cheating aimed at Niemann evolved into a scandal which gripped the world of chess over the last year.
In an interview with the St. Louis Chess Club shortly after his game against Carlsen in 2022, Niemann said that he had never cheated in over-the-board games, though he did admit to cheating in “random games on Chess.com” as a younger player, which he called “the single biggest mistake of my life.”
However, a 72-page report by Chess.com – the online chess platform – later alleged that Niemann “likely cheated” in more than 100 online matches between July 2015 and August 2020, “including several with prize money events.”
The report claimed that Niemann privately confessed to cheating to the website’s chief chess officer in 2020, which led to the now 20-year-old being temporarily banned from the platform.
Niemann then filed a $100 million defamation lawsuit against Chess.com, Carlsen and popular streamer and player Hikaru Nakamura.
Niemann’s lawsuit described the cheating allegations, as well as Chess.com’s claim that he had twice confessed to cheating, as “false.”
In June, a judge dismissed the lawsuit, with Niemann saying on social media that he was pleased that his “lawsuit against Magnus Carlsen and Chess.com has been resolved in a mutually acceptable manner, and that I am returning to Chess.com. I look forward to competing against Magnus in chess rather than in court.”
He continued: “These difficult times have only strengthened my resolve and character and have only invigorated me even more to reach the top of chess.
There will be a day when I will be the best chess player in the world, and I think it’s time to let my chess speak for itself.”
He was reinstated to Chess.com, which calls itself the world’s largest online platform for chess and says it hosts more than 10 million games every day, shortly afterwards.
Niemann – who was sitting alongside his lawyer during his TV appearance on Monday – said that the whole affair affected him greatly.
“It is very disheartening to be accused of cheating after that victory,” he said.
“These things happened and I learned a lot from that time and it really has taught me a lot of very important lessons about life and chess.”
He went onto describe Carlsen as a “bully.”
“He used his entire empire, he used his connections at Chess.com. He leveraged the fact that there is a merger happening, he got all these people to attack me.
CNN has reached out to Carlsen and Chess.com.
Gaining an edge
Cheating in chess has become more commonplace in the age of technology, with more players choosing to battle over computers because of the connectivity it offers.
Since then, with improvements to computer hardware and software, chess engines have helped shape the sport into a 21st century game.
As defined by Chess.com, a chess engine is a program which “analyzes chess positions and returns what it calculates to be the best move options.”
Chess engines have become much stronger than humans in recent years, with many exceeding a 3,000 Elo rating – the Elo rating system measures the strength of a chess player relative to their opponents. For context, Carlsen holds the record for the highest Elo rating ever achieved by a human player when he reached 2,882 in 2014.
Stockfish is one of the most advanced chess engines with a rating of more than 3,500, which means it has a 98% probability of beating Carlsen in a match – and a 2% chance of drawing the five-time world champion, essentially rendering a Carlsen victory impossible.
Although chess engines have helped players hone their craft – training against the perfect moves to prepare themselves for every eventuality – they’ve also allowed some players to cheat more easily.
As a result, online chess sites, like Chess.com, have developed anti-cheating technology to detect when players are using outside computer software during games in an attempt to curb foul play.
While FIDE is battling to combat online cheating, there has been a level of purity to over-the-board chess with cheating proving to be much more difficult.
Andy Howie, arbiter and a member of FIDE’s anti-cheating Fair Play Commission, outlined to CNN last year some of the measures in place to prevent over-the-board cheating such as metal detectors, signal scanners, non-linear scanners and thermal imaging.
But safety measures haven’t stopped people from attempting to cheat and the history of the game is rife with scandal.
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