Last week, the very prestigious Sinquefield cup was started. This is a tournament where 10 of the world’s best players, including reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, sit down at the board and play each other chess for nine days, one game a day, until everyone has played everyone else in the tournament once. This kind of tournament is called a “round robin” tournament.
These kinds of tournaments are a lot of fun to watch. Some of the world’s most elite players play each other, some very strong grandmasters comment on the games, some beautiful chess is played, and I post to my blog some of the more interesting positions which come up in the games.
Hans Niemann is quite a character in the chess world. He made a big splash when, after winning a rapid game against Magnus Carlsen a month ago, when they interviewed him after the game, he got up to the mic, quickly said “The chess speaks for itself”, and walked off.
There are other similar incidents in interviews which, to me, give Hans a very entertaining and unfiltered personality. He would make a great comedian if he ever gave up chess.
On Sunday, Hans beat Magnus Carlsen again. After a fairly long game, Hand had a won endgame against Magnus and Magnus resigned.
People were extremely happy with this victory. Hans’s post-game tweet has well over 4,500 likes as I type this.
The next day, as the tournament is starting and the players enter the hall after being scanned with a metal detector wand (a procedure the St. Louis chess club has had for a while), people start to wonder why Magnus hasn’t shown up for his game yet. Finally, Magnus, in a tweet heard around the world withdrew from the tournament without giving any reason why.
As someone who has been watching the tournament and has been enjoying Magnus’s presence there, this was incredibly disheartening for me. This is unheard of for Magnus; he has, as far as I know, never quit in the middle of a tournament.
The chess world was very surprised.
At this point, a number of completely unfounded accusations that Hans somehow cheated were posted all over Twitter and Reddit.
I am not going to make any accusations whatsoever without clear and convincing evidence. I know the St. Louis Chess Club which has been hosting the Sinquefield Cup has strong security measures in place. I know that young chess players have risen quickly in ratings and ability before.
There are a number of possible reasons why Magnus left the tournament early:
Quite bluntly, it’s more likely to have Magnus find Hans in bed with his girlfriend than Hans having some super James Bond technology whispering in his ear computer chess move suggestions while playing his games, since said technology would have to both be invisible to cameras and it would have had to get through St. Louis Chess Club’s very tight security.
One of the accusations is that, the day after Hans beat Magnus, Hans got computer advice in his game against Alireza Firouzja, a game that Hans ultimately drew. Let’s go to the position where people accuse Hans of making a supercomputer non-human move:
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 d6 6. O-O O-O 7. Re1 Bb6 8. a4 a5 9. h3 h6 10. Na3 Ne7 11. d4 Ng6 12. Bf1 c6 13. Nc4 Bc7 14. dxe5 Nxe5 15. Bf4 Nxf3+ 16. Qxf3 d5 17. Rad1 Be6 18. e5 Nd7
The accusation being made here is that no grandmaster is going to play Qg3 after 17...Nd7, since only a computer can see the knight sacrifice is sound. Never mind that the sacrifice is not sound: According to Stockfish, Black’s best move is to simply take the knight and fight off the tactical complications to get a draw. This position does not come off as one where the knight sacrifice can only be seen by a strong computer; it’s the kind of sacrifice one will make to get a strong kingside attack. Indeed, Firouzja made a very similar knight sacrifice the day before and went on to win that game.
Point being, I haven’t seen any reliable evidence that Hans has been cheating. This position, as just one example, is certainly not evidence of foul play.
Edit Now that Hans has directly addressed the cheating accusations, I will quote his explanation for playing Qg3:
When I played the move queen to g3, I did not elaborate this during [i.e. in the interview immediately after] the game, but it was a purely psychological move. Clearly people don’t know anything about Firouzja, his style, how to beat him. The way to beat him is to attack him. He really really hates being attacked; the main way he loses is by being attacked.
Now we had a game, in Miami, where I got an attack, and he completely collapsed. I’ve studied previous games, knowing [how] to attack [him]. So, when I see this position, and I see queen g3, and I think to myself ‘OK, I highly doubt, based on my intuitive feeling, that I am losing here.’ I don’t feel the need to calculate every single variation because I’m confident that there’s no way, first [of all that] is going to take [the knight] and [second of all], if he takes, he’s going to be scared shitless. So that’s this game.Edit 2 Grandmaster and FIDE director-general Emil Sutovsky says that Qg3 isn’t a computer move in a tweet:
Some of the accusations (like guessing opening line) are understandable, but claiming Qf3-g3 is a computer move??? Guys, but what else? Nd6? Ne5! Even if one can't calculate Qg3 dc Bh6, that is the only move to play.
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