One day after Chess.com released a 72-page dossier on Hans Niemann’s history of cheating on their platform in both casual games and tournaments, Niemann stepped up to a board at the U.S. Chess Championships in Saint Louis (the site of this scandal’s origin) and played a brilliant game of chess. Niemann had the black pieces against 15-year-old grandmaster Christopher Yoo, and he played sharp, aggressive chess against Yoo’s Jobava London system, denying him the space to move and eventually winning with a nice rook sacrifice in the endgame. Yoo, though the youngest of the 14 players vying for Wesley So’s crown, is one of the best juniors in the world, and Niemann beating him in the way he did is pretty impressive.
Or at least it would be straightforwardly impressive and not eyebrow-raising if Niemann were not the subject of, again, a 72-page dossier detailing his alleged history of rampant cheating on Chess.com as well as the antagonist of the biggest chess cheating scandal in decades. The Saint Louis Chess Club introduced expanded security measures this year, including security wands designed to detect both metal and silicon and a 30-minute delayed feed for spectators. Here is a video of Hans Niemann’s ass getting scanned.
Anyway, after the win, Niemann was obviously asked about the biggest media entity in chess compiling an oppo dump on him. He was characteristically defiant.
I think that this game is a message to everyone. You know, this entire thing started with me saying ‘chess speaks for itself’ and I think this game spoke for itself and showed the chess player that I am and also showed that I am not going to back down and I’m going to play my best chess here regardless of the pressure that I’m under. That’s all I want to say about this game. You know, chess speaks for itself, that’s all I can say. You can leave it to your own interpretation, but thank you. That’s all I’d like to say, yes. If it was such a beautiful game, I don’t need to describe it.Saint Louis Chess Club
We should note here that the Chess.com report, while pretty damning on the question of whether or not Hans Niemann cheated on Chess.com, spends most of its time speculating about over-the-board cheating. The report provides analysis that suggests extensive online cheating, screenshots that show Niemann confessing, and tons of proof that his Chess.com account was mega-banned for a good reason. But cheating in online chess is not in the same realm as cheating in over-the-board chess. One requires nothing more than opening a new browser tab and running a program; the other requires elaborate scheming and likely the use of fancy gadgets.
Obviously, cheating over the board against Magnus Carlsen would be a way bigger deal than using Stockfish for a bunch of games two years ago, and it’s the possibility that Niemann engaged in the former that everyone really cares about. Though Chess.com makes it clear that OTB cheating is out of their purview, they still spend most of the report trying to probe that very question. There is not much novel information here, only a concise collation of evidence compiled by others analyzing his OTB games and a few graphs showing that Niemann rose through the ranks in a faster and more oddly staircased way than was expected. That’s fishy, sure, though it felt strange that a report with clear, strong evidence that a player had cheated in online chess seemed more focused on mounting evidence in service of an entirely separate and impossible to prove point. Unless new and compelling evidence of over-the-board cheating is forthcoming, Niemann has no reason to ease up on his defiance.