How to Cheat at Chess: The Grandmaster Cheating Scandal


Alan Light, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The classic game of chess is at the center of this scandal.

Katherine Severin, Peer Editor

The world seems to love a cheating scandal, even when it is over a board game. Two weeks ago a game between Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann at the Sinquefield Cup 2022 took the internet by storm. 


First, let’s meet our players!

According to CNN, “Magnus Carlsen is a Norwegian chess grandmaster who is the reigning five-time World Chess Champion. He is also a three-time World Rapid Chess Champion and five-time World Blitz Chess Champion. His peak rating of 2882 is the highest in history.”

According to the International Chess Federation,  “Hans Niemann is a 19-year-old, American chess grandmaster and Twitch streamer. He was awarded the Grandmaster title by FIDE (The International Chess Federation) on January 22, 2021. In July 2021, he won the World Open chess tournament in Philadelphia. Niemann first entered the Top 100 Junior players list at position 88 on March 1, 2019.  As of September 2022, he is the 6th highest-rated Junior in the world and 45th overall.”


Now for the drama.

Magnus Carlsen lost in a game with Hans Niemann, the lowest-rated player at the tournament. Carlsen was playing white pieces, which he has not lost with in years, so his loss was already shocking, but his withdrawal from the tournament was even more surprising. He later tweeted saying “If I am to speak, I am in big trouble.” which most took to imply that he was accusing Niemann of cheating. The tournament organizer has stated that there is no indication of any suspicious behavior or wrongdoing. The thing is Niemann has admitted to and been caught cheating online before, at least twice on, when he was 12 and 16.

Many in the chess community stood with Carlsen in this drama, from fellow grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura to itself. banned Niemann from competing on their website due to this incident.

Later, the two were matched in an online tournament in which Carlsen forfeited after two moves. Some people in the chess world say to participate and deliberately forfeit a game like that is dishonorable and unnecessary and puts his status as world champion in jeopardy. Other people in the community took it as someone who can not say what he knows and would rather lose than play in bad conscience. Some suspect that he opened a case with FIDE and can not say anything until the case is investigated. 


Ok, but how would you cheat at chess?

Cheating at chess online is relatively easy. An advanced AI or chess engine can predict moves and relay advice back to the cheater. However, cheating in person would require the use of a small computer device and/or the help of another person sitting in the gallery sending signals to the player. The issue with the latter is that there are very few other chess players on the same level as Niemann, which would make this method unreliable.  That leaves us with the hidden computer idea. Some speculate that an AI could be hidden in a shoe or a watch.

Speculation behind the cheating scandal has leaned towards a mole in Carlsen’s camp. Carlsen used an opening he had never used before in his professional career. This move showed one of a few things depending on how you look at it. Some say this opening was Carlsen’s tell that Niemann cheated, while others say this abrupt opening is what lost him the match.

This drama is still unfolding and no conclusion has been made. What do you think happened here?