How dreams of making it rich from £180,000 tournaments and Instagram lifestyles of unlikely ‘chess pinups’ are seeing the sedate game rocked by cheating scandals – involving anal beads, hidden mobile phones and James Bond-style pendants
He’s had glamorous girlfriends, posts topless pictures on Instagram and is even friends with top actors and footballers.
But Magnus Carlsen is not from the glittering world of showbusiness or Hollywood – he’s a chess player who happens to be the best in the world at what he does.
So when Carlsen, 31, lost to ‘abrasive’ American teenage grandmaster Hans Niemann earlier this month, it sparked a whirlwind of theories about whether the 19-year-old cheated to pull off the feat.
Chess fans speculated that an accomplice watching Niemann’s match against Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis used a chess program to determine the perfect move, and then sent electronic instructions via vibrating anal beads.
There are certainly high stakes involved, despite chess’s ordinarily understated image. The Sinquefield Cup paid $87,500 (£77,500) to the eventual winner, whilst the upcoming Chess.com Global Championship offers an overall prize fund of $1million (£886,000) and will hand $200,000 (£177,585) to the victor.
The prize money on offer in top tournaments has helped to fuel cheating scandals in recent years. In 2019, Latvian-Czech grandmaster Igors Rausis was caught consulting a smartphone in a toilet to try to get an advantage.
Similar incidents involving other grandmasters and lower-ranked players using mobile phones came in 2016 and 2014.
And in 2015, Italian player Archangel Ricciardi – who had been ranked 51,336 in the world – was caught using Morse code and a pendant containing a James Bond-style miniature camera to get to the final round of an international competition.
Even with amateur online tournaments, which are much easier to cheat in than professional meetings, players are motivated by the lure of prize money, as well as crucial ranking points they need to get them into more illustrious tournaments.
The latest furore intensified further when Carlsen and Niemann were set to face off again in an online match on Tuesday, but the world number one walked out after making just a single move.
The Norwegian initially refused to comment, suggesting that he would be in ‘trouble’ if he did so. But last night, the 31-year-old, who is also a top player of ‘fantasy football’ matches online, hinted in an interview that he believed Niemann may have been up to something.
Whilst saying he was ‘very impressed’ with Niemann’s play, he referred to the star’s former coach Maxim Dlugy as the teenager’s ‘mentor’, saying he ‘must be doing a great job’. Dlugy is a grandmaster who was previously banned from playing platform Chess.com for alleged cheating.
Chess expert Leon Watson told MailOnline that Carlsen would not have made the inference unless he was sure Niemann was cheating. A source told MailOnline that he will make a further statement on Monday, when the tournament that he walked out of comes to an end.
The new accusations surrounding Niemann come after he was banned from Chess.com for cheating online with the help of a friend in 2015 when he was aged just 12, and then did the same thing again in 2019.
He’s had glamorous girlfriends, posts topless pictures on Instagram and is even friends with top actors and footballers. But Magnus Carlsen is not from the glittering world of showbusiness or Hollywood – he’s a chess player who happens to be the best in the world at what he does. Above: Carlsen with US actress Liv Tyler at the G-Star spring fashion show in 2011 (links); the chess superstar is seen topless on Instagram after a swim (reg)
When Carlsen, 31, lost to ‘abrasive’ American teenage grandmaster Hans Niemann earlier this month, it sparked a whirlwind of theories about whether the 19-year-old cheated to pull off the feat. Above: Carlsen (links) and Niemann are seen at the September 4 match at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, where Niemann’s victory spurred wild cheating theories
Chess fans speculated that an accomplice watching Niemann’s match against Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis used a chess program to determine the perfect move, and then sent electronic instructions via vibrating anal beads. Above: Niemann is seen playing chess
Niemann first gained his Grandmaster title at the age of just 17, prompting comparisons to the lead chess prodigy character in Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit.
How technology has driven an explosion of cheating scandals at the highest level of chess
Aside from bribing opponents or officials, or falsifying tournament results, most cheating scandals in chess involve covertly receiving suggestions on potential moves.
With the explosion of chess computer programs and devices like cell phones and Bluetooth, tournament officials have had to navigate a minefield of challenges in detecting cheaters in recent years.
At the top levels of competition, players are now routinely scanned with metal detectors before playing in tournaments. But as the defenses against cheating evolve, so do the devious schemes of unethical players. Here are some of the five biggest cheating scandals in recent memory:
2010 FIDE Olympiad Tournament
In the tournament at Russia’s Khanty-Mansiysk, French players Cyril Marzolo, Arnaud Hauchard and Sébastien Feller were busted colluding in an elaborate cheating scheme.
Sébastien Feller (above) was one of three French players caught colluding in an elaborate cheating scheme in 2010
Team coach Arnaud Hauchard (links) signaled moves after receiving text messages from Cyril Marzolo (reg), who was following the tournament from home
While Feller played at the board, Marzolo watched the tournament from home and tracked the game using a chess program.
Selecting ideal moves from the chess engine, Marzolo then texted the moves to Hauchard, the team coach, who would then stand or sit in a certain position to signal the move to Feller.
All three players involved were either a Grandmaster or International Master, and they were all handed lengthy suspensions from the FIDE Ethics Committee.
2014 Iasi Open
At the tournament in Romania, 2239-rated player Wesley Vermeulen was caught cheating by consulting a mobile phone in the toilet.
According to the tournament minutes, Vermeulen cooperated with officials and admitted his guilt when confronted.
He was eventually banned for one year by both the Dutch chess federation and FIDE
2015 Dubai Open Chess Tournament
Georgian grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze was caught cheating in 2015
Georgian grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze was banned from the tournament after officials discovered him checking a smartphone with chess software in the bathroom in the middle of a game.
Nigalidze’s opponent grew suspicious when the grandmaster repeatedly bolted for the bathroom after each move during a crucial part of the game, tournament officials said.
At first, Nigalidze tried to deny the phone was his. But it was logged into a social media account in his name, and had a program running analyzing the moves in his match, officials said.
2016 Moscow Open
In February 2016, Sergey Aslanov was expelled from the Russian tournament for a consulting a smartphone in the toilet.
The phone was found hidden under a loose tile behind a drainpipe the bathroom.
Aslanov admitted to making an error in leaving he phone in the bathroom, but insisted that he was not guilty of cheating.
He was suspended for one year.
2019 Strasbourg Open
In July 2019, Latvian-Czech grandmaster Igors Rausis was caught cheating, in another example of using a mobile phone in the bathroom.
Rausis had long been under suspicion after his rating skyrocketed to nearly 2700 in a precipitous rise.
He admitted to having cheated, and announced his retirement from chess.
The claims come after a series of cheating scandals. In 2019, Latvian-Czech grandmaster Igors Rausis was caught consulting a smartphone in a toilet to try to get an advantage
‘I simply lost my mind yesterday,’ he explained to Chess.com. ‘At least what I committed yesterday is a good lesson, not for me—I played my last game of chess already.’
2015 International Chess Festival
In 2015 Italian player Archangel Ricciardi, a beekeper, was caught cheating after reaching the penultimate round of the International Chess Festival in Italy.
He had risen from a ranking of 51,336 in the world to beat a French Grandmaster along the way.
But referee Jean Coquerat became suspicious after the then 37-year-old had a string of successes.
The referee, from Turin, noticed he always stayed sitting – despite the fact the matches could go on for hours.
And then there was the way he blinked, in an odd, unnatural way.
He also began to suspect that his constant drinking of water, and mopping his brow, might be a signal to whoever was helping Ricciardi to hurry up.
But when Coquerat confronted the player, he refused to reveal what he had hidden under his shirt.
But Ricciardi was caught when he set off a metal detector. Organisers then found a tiny neck pendant – which Ricciardi swore was a good luck charm.
But it contained a camera which was transmitting signals to a four-inch box under his armpit that had a mass of wires.
He started playing the sport aged eight, when he joined his school’s team after his teacher told him he was not good enough.
He quickly made an impression and at the age of 11, he became the youngest-ever winner of the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club Tuesday Night Marathon, the oldest chess club in the United States.
Niemann is now one of fewer than 2,000 people in the whole world to ever earn the top title of Grandmaster. As well as playing chess full-time, he coaches younger players and streams matches on gaming platform Twitch.
Carlsen meanwhile began playing chess aged just five and – as well as well as his talents in fantasy football – also had a sideline in modelling.
He was a grandmaster by the age of 13 and in 2012 became the highest rated player in history when he beat legend Garry Kasparov’s record of 2,851. Carlsen’s current Elo rating, which measures the strength of chess players against their opponents, is 2,864.
His Instagram profile contains shots of him topless with a muscular physique, whilst in another photo he is seen posing with footballer Erling Haaland, when the current Manchester City striker was playing for Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
Carlsen, whose modelling came with urban fashion house G-Star Raw, is also friends with American actress Liv Tyler. The have flocked to fashion events together and have even been pictured playing chess.
Last year he was pictured with then girlfriend Elisabet Lorentezen Djnee, also from Norway, although it is not clear if the pair are still dating.
The latest uproar was triggered after Carlsen chose to walk out of his match against Niemann at the Julius Baer Generation Cup – held virtually on online platform Chess24 – on Monday.
Announcers at the event were left speechless at the unprecedented resignation.
According to Vice.com, Niemann said in an interview shortly afterwards: ‘It must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose to an idiot like me. I feel bad for him.’
That incendiary comment was the latest example of Niemann’s ‘abrasive’ personality, as it was described by an official who monitors tournaments. Writing in the New York Times, Greg Keener, who is an arbiter for chess’s governing body FIDE, said he has had to navigate Neimann’s ‘difficult behaviour on more than one occasion’.
Speaking of the meeting in which Carlson was beaten by Niemann, Mr Watson said: ‘We do have a situation here that we have a young teenage upstart who shows no respect to the world champion, comes along and beats him. Carlsen can’t like that.
‘Niemann has said some fairly direct things in his interviews. After beating Carlsen he said Carlsen must be embarrassed to lose to an idiot like himself.
‘This is the kind of thing that isn’t normally said in post-match interviews. In chess the players usually give each other a lot of respect, especially someone of the stature of Carlsen who has dominated the game for a decade and then you get this brash New Yorker who beats him and rubs salt into the wounds.’
Mr Watson, himself a keen amateur player, said Carlsen will not have quit over ‘sour grapes’ at losing the match two weeks ago, saying it is ‘not the way he operates’.
‘To say someone is a cheater is a career-ending allegation,’ he said.
‘He will be utterly convinced that Niemann is cheating. He may not have the evidence, but it is very difficult to provide the evidence unless you catch someone red-handed like Carlsen was caught.
‘But Carlsen understands the game well enough to know when moves look suspicious.’
‘He can appreciate what moves look human and which moves don’t look human and will have looked at Niemann’s games over a long period of time and will only have made this allegation if he was absolutely 100 per cent sure that Niemann has cheated. He will be making this allegation in good faith,’ Mr Watson added.
Asked why players cheat, Mr Watson said it is partly due to the fact there is ‘a lot of money involved’ at major tournaments.
‘More generally, players cheat because they need to up their rating. They need to get invited to tournaments. You only get invited if you are considered a strong player on the basis of your rating.
‘Then you get more chances to win, more money, more respect. You get talked about more.
‘They say cheating becomes addictive, habit forming and is difficult to stop. There is a similarity between cheating in chess and doping in the Tour De France. It is the same deal.
‘Doping won’t help you in chess but computer assisting is the chess equivalent of doping.’
He added that cheating once in a game can turn it at a crucial position, allowing a computer to ‘look deeper’.
‘If you are using a computer to cheat, you are unstoppable. No one can beat you unless they are also using a computer to cheat. You can just cheat once during a game and it will make the difference,’ he said.
‘All these grandmasters use computers before they play a game. In day to day preparation.
‘They will analyse games of their opponents. They will use computers as a tool. But to use computers during a match is a whole different matter.’
But despite Carlsen’s claims that it is ‘easy’ to cheat in chess, Mr Watson said it is very difficult to break the rules in regulated tournaments, even when they are online.
‘He was referring more generally to online chess, to amateur players and players online. It is not easy to cheat in the tournament that they are playing in at the moment because there are lots of anti-cheating measures in place.
‘They have to show their screens, multiple webcams. Some of them have arbiters in them with the room. They can’t leave the room.
‘If I log on to a chess platform now and play some games and think I want to increase my rating, I can easily cheat. It is no problem.
‘Usually online games between amateurs are for rating points. For a chess player their rating is everything. You get a lot more respect if you’ve got a rating above 2,000 than if its below 2,000. If you’re cheating you are stealing points of other people.
‘But Carlsen is alluding to a fear in the chess community that cheating is widespread on chess platforms. We don’t know how widespread it is because it is very difficult to detect,’ he said.
Asked why he withdrew from the game, Carlsen told website Chess24 yesterday: ‘Unfortunately, I cannot particularly speak on that but people can draw their own conclusions and they certainly have.
‘I have to say I’m very impressed by Niemann’s play and I think his mentor Maxim Dlugy must be doing a great job.’
He added that he ‘will not comment’ when asked if he resigned because he believed Niemann was cheating.
The player was also asked if he believes cheating in general is a problem in chess. He said: ‘I think individual people will answer the question differently depending on their own experiences.
‘I think regardless of whether it’s a massive problem or not, it’s I think fairly easy to cheat and, on a general basis, I think that cheaters in the future should not be taken lightly either online or over the board.’
The theory that Niemann may have cheated using vibrating anal beads stemmed from a post on Reddit. The claim was that he could have received instructions from a co-conspirator who was analysing the match using a chess computer program.
Niemann has vehemently denied cheating at the tournament, saying: ‘I have never cheated in an over-the-board [in person] game.’
Sergio Ramos, then of Real Madrid, is seen shaking hands with Magnus Carlsen before the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Real Valladolid CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 30, 2013. Carlsen had just become world champion
Carlsen is a former model for urban fashion house G-Star Raw. Above: The black and white shots that the star was seen in for the brand
Last year he was pictured with then girlfriend at Elisabet Lorentezen Djnee, also from Norway, although it is not clear if the pair are still dating
With Carlsen having said it is ‘fairly easy’ to cheat in chess, cheating devices are for sale online. One developed by amateur player James Stanley that is detailed on his website involves vibrations sent to a player’s shoes
Chess world champion Magnus Carlsen, 31, (seen in August) stunned spectators of the Julius Baer Generation Cup on Monday by withdrawing after a single move
Carlson (top right) made a single move with his king’s knight before resigning from the match, stunning announcer Peter Leko (center bottom), who said ‘No. No. What happened? That’s it?’
‘This is unprecedented. I just, I can’t believe it,’ said the match’s other announcer, Tania Sachdev, after Carlsen resigned and logged out of the match
‘If they want me to strip fully naked, I will do it,’ he added.
‘I don’t care. Because I know I am clean. You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don’t care. I’m here to win and that is my goal regardless.’
But critics noted that his Elo rating shot to 2701 after his victory over Carlsen, up from just 2484 in January 2021, a staggering rise that some find unlikely.
Niemann has said he deeply regrets cheating when he was young.
In the online match when he was 12, he says one of his friends brought over an iPad loaded with a ‘chess engine’ program that offered the most likely route to a win.
The person Niemann was playing couldn’t see him, and so was unaware of what was unfolding.
When Carlsen dropped out of the St. Louis tournament without explanation, he posted a cryptic Tweet saying: ‘I’ve withdrawn from the tournament. I’ve always enjoyed playing in the @STLChessClub, and hope to be back in the future.’
Along with the Tweet, he posted a cryptic video of football manager Jose Mourinho saying: ‘If I speak I am in big trouble’. Mourinho had been speaking at a news conference after a game in which his team is believed to have lost because of some questionable decisions by officials.
In a since-deleted tweet, Musk tweeted an adapted version of a quote by philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, writing: ‘Talent hits a target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one can see (cause it’s in ur butt)’
Asked about Carlsen’s own status and personality, Mr Watson said he is like the ‘Roger Federer of chess’.
‘He will go down probably as the greatest player that has ever played the game. He has had moments where he has lost and shown flashes of petulance when he was younger. I am sure he would admit that himself.
‘He is the best player. He knows it. And he can appear at times to be arrogant and entitled but he has the record and the respect to justify that. He is the top sportsman.
‘He hates losing. He can react badly to losing but usually it is himself rather than others.’
Niemann became a chess grandmaster in 2020.
Thirteen people have become grandmasters under the age of 14, including India’s Gukesh Dommaraju (12 jare, 7 months, 17 dae), Uzbekistan’s Javokhir Sindarov (12 jare, 10 months, 5 dae), and India’s Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu (12 jare, 10 months, 13 dae).
Professor Ken Regan, the world’s leading authority on cheating in chess, said the day after Carlsen resigned against Niemann that he has analysed all the teenager’s games during the past two years and found no evidence of sharp practice.
Anatoly Karpov, Russia’s world champion during the 1970s and 1980s, gesê: ‘I watched the game. I have to say that Carlsen just played extremely badly.
‘I reject all versions of an unfair win. Carlsen showed a strange inability to cope.’
However, former chess prodigy Hikaru Nakamura accused Niemann of receiving computer assistance in the match where he beat Carlsen.
MailOnline has approached Carlsen and Niemann for comment.