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Chess

Magnus Carlsen Responds To Shocking Upset By Once Again Kinda-Sorta Accusing Opponent Of Cheating

2:18 PM EDT on October 12, 2023

On Wednesday, Magnus Carlsen opened the Qatar Masters in classic blustery fashion. The world's top player and defending champion (though the last Qatar Masters was held in 2015, when Carlsen still held the title of world champion) seemed to be in peak form when play opened, destroying L.R. Srihari in only 23 moves despite letting someone else pick his opening for him. "I didn’t know what to play on move 1," he said, allowing organizer and Qatari GM Mohammed Al-Modiahki to play 1.c4 for him. "I thought it looked like a good move, so I’ll play it!"

That's the sort of swagger and seemingly effortless attacking instinct that Carlsen displays when he's at his best, which made Thursday's result all the more shocking. The Norwegian got flattened, just totally annihilated by 23-year-old Kazakh grandmaster Alisher Suleymenov in the second round, in perhaps the biggest upset of the year at a big-time tournament. Carlsen played the out-of-fashion Queen's Indian defense against 1.d4, and Suleymenov pushed Carlsen back, took space, forced a mistake and an inaccuracy, and forced Carlsen to resign after 31 moves. It was aggressive chess played successfully against the best player in the world. Carlsen hadn't lost to a player rated below 2520 in 16 years, since he was a teenager

Carlsen was clearly miffed during the game, offering Suleymenov a token handshake and grimacing his way through the post-game pleasantries. Shortly after the game concluded, Carlsen made his second mistake of the day: opening the Twitter app on his phone and hitting compose.

"I was completely crushed in my game today. This is not to accuse my opponent of anything, who played an amazing game and deserved to win," Carlsen wrote, laying the groundwork for an accusation. "But honestly, as soon as I saw my opponent was wearing a watch early in the game, I lost my ability to concentrate."

Carlsen elaborated in a pair of follow-up tweets that while it's on him "to deal with those thoughts properly," tournament organizers showed that they didn't take anti-cheating seriously by failing to broadcast the moves on a delay and allowing people to wander the tournament floor with their phones out. He said he asked an organizer why Suleymenov was allowed to wear a watch, and though he was told analog watches were allowed but not smart watches, he also said even that violates tournament rules.

Remember, if you will, l'affaire du Niemann last year, which was sparked by Carlsen losing in an upset and tweeting his way through his frustrations, though he at least had the good sense to be reasonably circumspect about it for a few weeks. In that case, Carlsen and Niemann got into a long legal battle that ended in an agonizing stalemate, with nobody ever finding any real evidence of Niemann cheating in the game that kicked off the entire scandal. Carlsen hates to lose, especially against younger players rated so far below him, so the most likely explanation in this case is not that there was any cheating, but that Carlsen is arrogant, seeing ghosts, and can't conceive of losing in a straight-up upset.

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