Chess Cheating Scandal Turns the Game Sour for Fans, Sportsbooks

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Chess Cheating Scandal Turns the Game Sour for Fans, Sportsbooks

Chess may not have the following other sports enjoy, but its fans are extremely loyal to the game. The fact that a grandmaster now faces allegations of being a pathological cheater is rocking the ecosystem and also upsetting sportsbooks.

Chess grandmaster Hans Niemann
Chess grandmaster Hans Niemann
Chess grandmaster Hans Niemann stares at a chess board as he contemplates his next move during a recent match. The 19-year-old chess whiz may have gotten to where he is by cheating his way to the top. (Image: CNN)

Magnus Carlsen, one of the most prolific chess players ever, was the first to suspect that fellow grandmaster Hans Niemann was cheating. He had no proof. But his gut instinct and internal knowledge were enough to make him want to give up the game.

Later, Niemann admitted to cheating “only a couple of times.” Carlsen didn’t fall into his trap, though, lashing out at him and stating that he had cheated more than he had publicly admitted. It turns out Carlsen may have been right.

Cheating His Way to the Top

At just 19 years old, Niemann has caused a real debacle in the world of chess. Carlsen, a five-time world champion, openly accused him of cheating after meeting in the Sinquefield Cup tournament in the US and on the Champions Chess Tour.

Carlsen gave no further explanation. But Chess.com decided to take a closer look and was able to confirm the Norwegian chess pro’s suspicions.

A 72-page report by the chess organization, which the Wall Street Journal verified, revealed that Niemann cheated more often than he stated. Specifically, the document cites more than 100 rigged games.

Most of the games were online matches Niemann played between 12 and 17 years old. He allegedly simultaneously used a second screen on his computer to allow the computer to determine the best move, according to Chess.com.

The grandmaster from San Francisco admitted he cheated, but didn’t specify exactly how often. Chess.com determined that he was still cheating online as recently as 2020. There’s also the possibility that he was still doing it this year.

Chess may not be a significant target for sports bettors, but there are still a lot of wagering options available. US sportsbooks are slow to embrace the sport. But there are plenty of sportsbooks in Europe and elsewhere that put up lines for major events like the World Chess Championship.

The extent of Niemann’s shady activity remains unclear, but in addition to hurting the chess ecosystem, the scandal could lead to sportsbooks taking a hands-off approach to chess betting.

Ignoring the Signs

The Chess.com report also refers to the surprise generated in the chess world by the rapid climb of the American player. Statistically, his meteoric rise to the top is virtually impossible.

Apparently, during online games, Niemann used a program that recommends moves after calculating millions of moves per second. He also reportedly cheated in live events. Carlsen may have experienced this first-hand only a month ago.

Niemann “beat” Carlsen in the $500K Sinquefield Cup at the beginning of September. Carlsen forfeited early in the game when he felt something wasn’t right. That brought an end to his 53-game winning streak.

Chess.com points out in its report that there isn’t any evidence to prove Niemann cheated in that event but, last week, the International Chess Federation (FIDE, for its French acronym) announced it will launch an investigation of Niemann.

The organization’s Fair Play Commission is joining as well. It’s acting ex officio in the case in order to calm speculation about potential sanctions until the inquiry runs its course. There’s no mention of when the FIDE will complete the investigation.

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