The World Chess Federation FIDE has commissioned its Fair Play Commission to investigate Hans Moke Niemann in the Magnus Carlsen case. The three-man team, which also includes Klaus Deventer, anti-cheating officer from the German Chess Federation, is to investigate the allegations made by world champion Magnus Carlsen against 19-year-old American player Hans Moke Niemann.
Niemann surprisingly defeated Carlsen with the black pieces at the Singuefield Cup in early September. Subsequently, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament. When the two met again in the Julius Baer Generations Cup two weeks later, Carlsen abandoned the game after his first move.
Earlier, online site Chess.com explained that Niemann had been banned twice in the past for cheating. Niemann admitted to cheating in online tournaments when he was 12 and 16. However, he maintained that he always played fair in tournaments directly on the board (over the board).
On Monday, Carlsen issued a fuller statement accusing Niemann of cheating on more than two occasions. In this context, he also mentioned Niemann’s coach Maxim Dlugy that he was doing “a very good job”. Dlugy plans to sue Carlsen for defamation.
Since these incidents, chess experts around the world have been analyzing the games of Niemann and other grandmasters. They use chess engines to look for clues about atypical moves that a human player would not think of. Among other things, they consult Chessbase, a huge database that collects all games in official tournaments and leagues.
There you can use the “Lets Check” function to check how many moves a player has chosen just as well as the currently best computer engine Stockfish 15. If this value rises above 70 percent, the alarm bells ring, because only the absolute top of the world can do that consistently achieve values. With an ELO rating of 2699, Hans Moke Niemann is currently only one of the extended world top 50 best players.
The best-known anti-cheating expert, Keneth Regan, did not find any abnormalities in an analysis of the Niemann games that would suggest the use of computer aids. His best tournaments would still be within a statistical range achievable without cheating. Often Niemann’s opponents simply played badly and therefore lost – like Magnus Carlsen at the Singuefield Cup. But not because Niemann played superhumanly well.
According to Regan, one can only speak of cheating if a player’s statistical analysis of his games shows a deviation of more than four sigma above the expected value for his ELO playing strength. With this high bar, Regan wants to avoid accusing honest players of cheating because it would ruin their careers.
Eight times 100 percent
However, the French FIDE champion Yosha Iglesias comes to a different conclusion and lists eight games in her analysis in which Niemann executed 100 percent of the engine moves. World champion Magnus Carlsen, on the other hand, has only achieved such perfection twice.
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It is extremely difficult to prove that a player is cheating in chess. According to former world champion Viswanathan Anand, 1 bit of information is enough to decide a game – for example, when a player in a difficult position gets a hint as to whether or not he should sacrifice a piece for an attack. You don’t even need an electronic device for this. In the past, a helper would transmit such information to a player by standing in a specific spot in the auditorium.
Regardless of whether Niemann cheated or not, this case highlights a dilemma the chess world is currently in. Because there are no uniform investigative procedures with which FIDE and the two largest online platforms, Lichess and Chess.com, convict cheaters. According to Chess.com, 400 players with official chess titles – including grandmasters and FIDE masters – have been convicted of cheating and banned from the platform. However, Chess.com keeps the names on the list secret. It is possible that world champion Carlsen has further insights here, because at the end of August chess.com took over the Play Magnus Group with the online platform Chess24 and the training program Chessable.
It will be interesting to see what the FIDE Fair Play Commission will come up with. If she finds Niemann guilty, he faces a life ban and a fine of up to 50,000 euros. Should Carlsen’s allegations prove false, the FIDE Ethics and Disciplinary Committee would have to decide on a punishment for the World Champion.
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