Hans Niemann during his dramatic interview | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour
Hans Niemann is accused of cheating in over 100 games at Chess.com in a 72-page report released by the company. They point to cheating in several more prize-money events than the one he admitted to as a 12-year-old, as well as in informal matches against top players.
Despite highlighting “a lack of concrete statistical evidence that he cheated in his game with Magnus or in any other over-the-board games” Chess.com nevertheless outline “apparent anomalies” in Niemann’s late rise to the top.
The chess world has been in turmoil since Magnus Carlsen withdrew from the 2022 Sinquefield Cup after losing to Hans Niemann in Round 3. The World Champion’s tweet at the time made it clear he suspected foul play, and he later published a statement that included, “I believe that Niemann has cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted”.
Hans Niemann’s last major comment on the case came in an interview in St. Louis where he confessed to cheating online but denied ever cheating over-the-board. He hit out at Chess.com for removing him from the $1 million Chess.com Global Championship after events in St. Louis, suggesting Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura had applied pressure.
Chess.com responded with a brief statement where they noted, “we have shared detailed evidence with [Hans] concerning our decision, including information that contradicts his statements regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com”. Hans chose not to respond.
Chess.com have now released a 72-page report (20 pages before graphs and appendixes) that includes their letter to Hans as “Exhibit B”.
Hans Niemann’s interview in St. Louis was tough to pin down, as in his rush to make his statement he contradicts himself at times (e.g. saying he never cheated in rated games but then that he cheated to boost his rating), but he was clear that he’d only cheated in one prize money tournament as a 12-year-old, and then in “random games” as a 16-year-old. He said he didn’t cheat while streaming.
Chess.com have now published a table outlining 102 games in which they say Hans Niemann likely cheated.
From here it follows that Hans cheated in four more prize money events or series, as a 13-year-old and as a 17-year-old, and in a number of informal matches against well-known players.
The 7-game match against Ian Nepomniachtchi, where they note Hans likely cheated in every game, was on his 17th birthday — but Hans may have been unaware who his opponent was, since it’s pointed out Ian was playing under an anonymous account.
Nepo recently revealed that he asked for extra anti-cheating measures to be implemented when Hans was included in the Sinquefield Cup line-up.
Chess.com also note Hans was streaming for 25 of the games.
Chess.com go into detail in the report on how they identify cheaters, including that they have evidence of Hans playing better after toggling to a separate window on his computer. They also note that anti-cheating expert Ken Regan supported their verdict and, most tellingly, that Hans confessed to cheating in a call with Chess.com’s Chief Chess Officer Danny Rensch.
Chess.com removed Hans Niemann from the site at the time, and say they’re unaware of any online cheating since 2020.
Hans Niemann had been invited to play in the Last 64 of the Chess.com Global Championship, an event with a top prize of $200,000. His invitation was withdrawn after Magnus Carlsen pulled out of the Sinquefield Cup, though we now know that Hans was still offered the $5,000 prize money he would have got if he played but lost that match.
Hans commented on the invitation being withdrawn:
This is absolutely ridiculous and they’ve only done this because of what Magnus has said, what Hikaru says, and the entire social media and chess world is completely attacking me and undermining me.
Chess.com note that given events they decided to reverse the decision to allow Hans to play despite the earlier cheating, but deny any direct influence from Magnus Carlsen or Hikaru Nakamura.
Magnus did not ask us to close Hans’ account or to rescind his invitation to the CGC. In fact, Magnus did not have any prior awareness of our decisions on either of those issues. Furthermore, we want to clarify that nobody asked us to remove Hans from the CGC. Not Magnus. Not Hikaru. Not any other titled player. However, numerous top players participating in our events have expressed private concern over Hans competing in our events for some time, and many directly questioned how we were going to ensure fair play in the CGC.
Hans’ alleged online cheating is at least roughly in line with what he had confessed to, but some of the most interesting sections of the report concern online cheating in chess in general. Chess.com note that by their assessment “fewer than 0.14% of players cheat”, but they also say they’ve caught “hundreds of titled players” and that four Top 100 grandmasters actually confessed to cheating.
The data presented in the report includes the exact FIDE rating at the time strong players were caught, which enables the field of possible candidates to be cut dramatically — for instance, only a small number of players have been rated exactly 2686 around the time in question.
For one Top 100 player a whole email chain is included, which has led internet sleuths to identify the player. “Anything that happens in this conversation will remain confidential”, Chess.com wrote in the correspondence they include as "Exhibit C". They elicited a confession.
Chess.com, perhaps surprisingly, don’t limit themselves to a discussion of online cheating. They state at the outset:
However, while Hans has had a record-setting and remarkable rise in rating and strength, in our view there is a lack of concrete statistical evidence that he cheated in his game with Magnus or in any other over-the-board (“OTB”)—i.e., in-person—games. We are presenting our findings here and will cooperate with FIDE on any further investigation.
Nevertheless, much of the report and data is addressed to the question of over-the-board play. Chess.com repeat doubts about how Hans played in the opening against Magnus and how he responded in his post-game interview. They also point out that Hans’ level of play in the Sinquefield Cup dropped off after the Magnus game.
They don’t feel that should be considered significant, however, and a lower level of play after the scandal broke would be absolutely understandable — especially for the lowest-rated player in a first super-tournament.
The main focus of the analysis is Hans’ rise to the top of the chess world after he stopped playing on Chess.com in 2020.
Chess.com point out:
They do, however, disagree with the recently popular hypothesis that Hans has played an unusually high number of "perfect games", concluding, "Hans actually has one of the lower percentages of “near perfect games” when compared to similar players".
This section of the report is likely to be the most controversial, with questions already raised about why particularly rating segments, time periods, or comparisons were used. Although Elo is referred to, Chess.com also base their analysis on the “strength” of play as calculated by their anti-cheat system.
The basic table that shows Hans as a record-breaker is the following:
And the plateaus and dramatic late rise can be seen below.
Even if the data is accepted as showing that Hans stands out from the crowd, however, the question remains as to whether that’s because of some kind of unfair play — or, for instance, that he’s a potential World Champion.
What’s sure is that the focus on Hans Niemann is going to be even more intense, and it begins with the 13-round US Championship, where Hans today has the black pieces against 15-year-old Christopher Yoo.