US chess player Hans Niemann has rejected claims that he used a sex toy to beat Norweigan world champion Magnus Carlsen.
The streak of 53 games during which Mr Carlsen, 31, remained unbeaten was ended on 4 September when he was defeated by the 19-year-old US grandmaster in the Sinquefield Cup hosted by the St Louis Chess Club.
Mr Carlsen left the tournament the following day, something The New York Times called “an exceedingly rare move, especially among top players in elite events”.
Mr Niemann was accused of using anal beads connected to a computer that would use artificial intelligence to find the best moves and provide directions via vibrations in the toy.
The upset victory by Mr Niemann prompted the bizarre claims online.
“Do any fair play checking you want, I don’t care because I know that I’m clean,” he said in an interview with the chess club after the game. “They want me to strip fully naked? I’ll do it. I don’t care because I know I know that I’m clean and I’m willing to subject myself to what you want me to play.”
Mr Carlsen tweeted a video of the then-Chelsea football coach Jose Mourinho saying after a surprise defeat in 2014, “I prefer really not to speak. If I speak, I am in big trouble”. The footage shows the coach speaking to the press after a game that his team may have lost because of calls by the referee, prompting online speculation that Mr Carlsen was suggesting he had lost because of unspecified foul play.
The executive director of the St Louis Chess Club, Tony Rich, said in a statement that “a player’s decision to withdraw from a tournament is a personal decision, and we respect Magnus’ choice”.
“We look forward to hosting Magnus at a future event in Saint Louis,” he added.
“The Sinquefield Cup, as do all Grand Chess Tour events, feature the best chess players across the globe. We look forward to crowning a champion at the conclusion of this year’s tournament,” Mr Rich said.
That same day, 5 September, anti-cheating arbiter David Sedgwick asked that the club add a 15-minute delay to the live broadcast of the tournament, according to The New York Times.
While some raised questions over whether Mr Niemann violated the rules, there was little in the way of evidence.
US chess player Hikaru Nakamura was previously ranked second globally. On his livestream on Twitch, he said, “there was a period of over six months where Hans did not play any prize-money tournaments on Chess.com. That is the one thing that I’m going to say and that is the only thing I’m going to say on this topic”.
Danny Rensch, the chief chess officer at Chess.com, said in a statement posted to Twitter on 8 September that Mr Niemann had been removed from the site.
Mr Rensch wrote: “The last few days have been tumultuous for many in the chess community. At this time, we have reached out to Hans Niemann to explain our decision to privately remove him from Chess.com and our events.
“We have shared detailed evidence with him concerning our decision, including information that contradicts his statements regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com,” he added. “We have invited Hans to provide an explanation and response with the hope of finding a resolution where Hans can again participate on Chess.com.”
Mr Rich told The New York Times that there had been no formal complaint made and no cheating allegations had been lodged in writing.
“We try to make sure that any fair-play mechanism that we can implement, we do. If I did find that someone had been cheating, it would certainly be a blow, and I would take it very personally,” he told the paper.
Only ten players took part in the Sinquefield Cup, with Mr Niemann being the lowest rated player. He became the first player to beat Mr Carlsen using the black pieces in a classical game in person in more than two years, according to The New York Times.
In an interview with the St Louis club after the game, Mr Niemann said that he’s never cheated during an in-person game and that he’s been living out of a suitcase for two years going from tournament to tournament.
He said in a recent interview that he crossed fair play rules at least twice previously by using a computer to help him during games online, at the ages of 12 and 16.
He noted that when he was younger, one of his friends was operating a chess engine finding out the optimal next move, giving directions to Mr Niemann as he played in an online tournament.
“Other than when I was 12 years old I have never cheated in a tournament with prize money,” he said.
“I’m admitting this, and I’m saying my truth, because I do not want any misrepresentation,” he added. “I am proud of myself that I learned from that mistake, and now I have given everything to chess. I have sacrificed everything for chess, and I do everything I can to improve.”
“As an arbiter in FIDE, or Fédération Internationale des Échecs, the governing body of professional chess, I have known Mr Niemann since he was a talented scholastic player, and have had to navigate his difficult behavior on more than one occasion,” Greg Keener wrote for The New York Times, calling his personality “abrasive”.
The assistant manager of the Marshall Chess Club in New York noted that Mr Niemann would regularly play there.
Grandmaster Michael Rohde worked with Mr Niemann at Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School. He told the paper that “it makes perfect sense to me” that his rating has skyrocketed in record time.
Concerning the cheating allegations, Mr Rohde said that “I don’t understand exactly what the allegation is. I haven’t seen any evidence or anything specific. It’s just accusations based on his results”.
The chief arbiter at the Sinquefield Cup, Chris Bird, said in a statement on 10 September that there was nothing indicating that any player had been “playing unfairly”.
“I have never cheated in an over-the-board game,” Mr Niemann told the St Lous Chess Club after his game against Mr Nielsen.
Concerning Mr Carlsen’s withdrawal, Mr Nakamura said on his Twitch stream, “Magnus wouldn’t do this in a million years. He won’t do this. He is the ultimate contender, he is a champion of the world”.
“He wouldn’t do that unless he really believes strongly that Hans cheats with a very strong belief. I think he simply thinks that Hans is cheating,” he added.
“I’m not going to let Chess.com, I’m not going to let Magnus Carlsen, I’m not going to let Hikaru Nakamura, the three arguably biggest entities in chess, simply slander my reputation,” Mr Niemann said. “Chess.com has suddenly decided to hop on Magnus’s insinuations and Hikaru’s very direct accusations. I believe this is completely unfair, this is a targeted attack.”
“They know I am not a cheater and that I give everything to chess. I work so hard and chess is my entire life,” he added.
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