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Chess

Magnus Carlsen Finally Just Says It

Magnus Carlsen looks intense.
Arun Sankar/AFP via Getty Images

Chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen believes that 19-year-old American grandmaster Hans Moke Niemann is a big fat cheater. Carlsen has communicated this mostly with his actions, starting with a sudden withdrawal from the 2022 Sinquefield Cup on Sept. 6. Carlsen avoided making any direct, explicit accusations at the time, and did so again when he resigned against Niemann after a single move at the Julius Baer Generation Cup on Sept. 19. Even if the meaning of this persistent refusal to face Niemann was easy enough to decipher—especially with the help of a spellbound and occasionally bloodthirsty chess community—the wait for Carlsen to speak and bring clarity to the situation has gotten frustrating. Actions and innuendos are fun, but eventually the chess-loving world would like to know exactly what the hell is going on and precisely where the world’s best player intends to go with this.

Carlsen’s evasiveness reached new heights of silliness when he sarcastically linked Niemann to another prominent accused cheater in an interview last week. At a certain point, refusing to explain himself and subject his own behavior to informed scrutiny starts to look petty, and even cowardly. Thankfully, Carlsen finally went on the record Monday, issuing a statement via Twitter where he finally says in plain language that he “believes that Niemann has cheated more—and more recently—than he has publicly admitted,” and provides insight into what exactly drew his suspicions during Niemann’s shock victory in St. Louis. “[T]hroughout our game in the Sinquefield Cup I had the impression that [Niemann] wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions, while outplaying me as black in a way I think only a handful of players can do,” explains Carlsen. “This game contributed to changing my perspective.” Carlsen says he “strongly considered withdrawing prior to the event” upon learning that Niemann had been given a last-minute invitation.

Carlsen says he doesn’t want to play against people who’ve “cheated repeatedly in the past,” which would seem to indicate that he will continue to refuse to face Niemann, who has admitted to cheating twice in his past, as a pre-teen and then again as a 16-year-old. It seems clear at this point that the solution to the present impasse is nude chess, a potential spectacle which has already received Niemann’s enthusiastic endorsement.

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