What cheating? Chess champ who cries wolf

By Alex P. Vidal

“I believe that true beauty of chess is more than enough to satisfy all possible demands.”—Alexander Alekhine

FOR three days now, we have been waiting for chess world champion Magnus Carlsen to produce his evidence after he accused fellow grandmaster Hans Niemann of cheating in the recent Sinquefield Cup.

So far, nothing. Not even a follow up to his shocking accusation that made many heads turn.

We doubt if the Norwegian champion can show any proof especially if he was only crying wolf.

Even though there’s no hard evidence of cheating, the chess world has hogged headlines and is currently embroiled in the biggest cheating scandal it has seen in years.

It all started when the story focused on the Sinquefield Cup, part of the Grand Chess Tour of major tournaments, which the 19-year-old American grandmaster Hans Niemann had a wild card entry for.

Niemann is reportedly a highly rated player but far from a household name even within the chess world, and this was a chance to face off against the world’s greatest players over the board.

Carlsen, 31, had earlier dispatched one of his closest rivals, grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi.

On the other hand, Niemann had secured an impressive draw against grandmaster Levon Aronian, one of the chess world’s brightest prospects. Niemann faced Carlsen after winning his next game in round three.


Carlsen, usually unflappable, played white and reportedly experienced a bit of a nightmare.

“It seemed clear fairly early on that he’d either messed up or underestimated Niemann badly,” observed analyst Rich Stanton. “Carlsen was still in a position that should have led to a draw, and you’d expect the world champion to convert that, but instead he made a very bad move and lost. The 19-year-old Niemann had, unbelievably, beaten the best in the world.”

Stanton said the win raised eyebrows, “but chess is after all a game where history can be made by fantastical upsets. What happened next, however, has thrown the chess world into a spasm of accusation and counteraccusation.”

The world champion withdrew from the tournament. As is his wont, according to Stanton, he posted about it on twitter, along with a short clip of football coach Jose Mourinho, regularly used as a meme, in which the oft-petulant Portuguese coach says “I prefer really not to speak. If I speak, I am in big trouble… in big trouble! And I don’t want to be in big trouble.”

In a statement posted to Twitter on late on September 26, Carlsen said: “I’m frustrated. I want to continue to play chess at the highest level in the best events.”

He went on: “I believe that cheating in chess is a big deal and an existential threat to the game. I also believe that chess organizers and all those who care about the sanctity of the game we love should seriously consider increasing security measures and methods of cheat detection for over the board chess.

“I believe that Niemann has cheated more—and more recently—than he has publicly admitted.”


After my childhood favorite English grandmaster Nigel Short has spoken about the furor, I am convinced Carlsen wasn’t telling the whole truth.

Short, the only British player to compete in the final of the world championships, told the British Broadcasting Corporation last week he was skeptical about the claims of foul play, saying there was no evidence Niemann cheated in his victory over Carlsen.

He said: “I think in the absence of any evidence, statement or anything, then this is a very unfortunate way to go about things. It’s death by innuendo.”

This brouhaha reminded us of a Saturday Evening Post article, “King of the Board: The Soviet Collusion Against Bobby Fischer” written by Nicolas Gilmore on August 31, 2017.

The article described the late former world champion and American genius Bobby Fischer’s distrustful relationship with the World Chess Championship, citing that he “has never managed to win such a tournament, a failure he apparently attributes to a Communist conspiracy rather than to any shortcomings of his own.”

Two years earlier, the article said Fischer had described his experience in the Curaçao Candidates’ tournament in a Sports Illustrated manifesto (“The Russians Have Fixed World Chess”), claiming a rudimentary grasp of Russian allowed him to sniff out their cheating: “They would openly analyze my game while I was still playing it. It is strictly against the rules for a player to discuss a game in progress, or even to speak with another player during a game—or, for that matter, with anyone.”

Fischer also posed that the format of the tournament was problematic as it allowed the numerous Soviet players to collude in a series of draws and fixes, saving their energy for the finals. His suspicions were validated by several witnesses, including a Soviet grand master. One statement of Fischer’s from the article was proven false: his proclamation to never play in a World Chess Championship again.


In the World Chess Championship of 1972–the final game of which was played 45 years ago to the day—Fischer defeated Boris Spassky and ended the 24-year-long Soviet holding of the title.

The article said the event was hugely publicized as a pitting of the West and the Communists during the Cold War, and the game of chess as a metaphor of strategy and domination didn’t hurt. The Reykjavik faceoff was PBS’s highest-rated show at the time, and the whole experience even spawned a Broadway musical.

“After his win, Fischer—perhaps unsurprisingly—disappeared for two decades. In the years leading to his death his anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism became hyper-inflammatory, culminating in a rant on Philippine radio on 9/11 that caused the U.S. Chess Federation to denounce the once-great player,” the article stressed.

Fischer’s rise and fall is a tragic and puzzling tale of, perhaps, the only American household name in the game.

It runs counter to most perceptions of a quiet, friendly competition that Frank Brady, the 1964 editor of Chessworld magazine, call’s “more exciting than sex.”

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)