Finally, the world’s leading chess platform, chess.com, has issued a 72-page report on Hans Niemann and alleged cheating titled Hans Niemann Report. This report makes an exhaustive analysis of the #chessdrama that has occurred in recent weeks in the world of chess. It all started with the abandonment of world champion Magnus Carlsen after losing in the third round of a tournament on the board with Hans Niemann. Then, in an online game, Magnus Carlsen left after two plays against Hans Niemann. In a later interview he said he was not going to play with this player again since he did not want to play with cheaters.
This chess.com report was previously published by the Wall Street Journal a few hours before the official launch on the platform. In this way, the audience is global and people who do not have an account in chess.com can know the story.
Hans Niemann is a 19-year-old American player who has become overnight a figure in the chess world. Its progression has been meteoric and it has statistically significant patterns that something abnormal occurs in its progression. So far there is no evidence that has cheated in face-to-face tournaments, but there are more than reasonable indications that it has.
The player has acknowledged that he cheated with 12 and with 16 years, two specific facts. However, the report of chess.com, speaks of having found abnormal results and that their traps were not punctual, but that there are more than 100 games where their accuracy with respect to a chess analysis module is practically perfect.
The Long Road to become a Grandmaster
Possibly one of the most difficult sports in the world is chess. Playing is simple, you have to know the rules and you can start playing, but its system to climb in the classification is one of the most complicated that exist. It is based on the ELO ranking. A player receives ELO points and those points refer to his strength in chess. If you win, for example, a game of a player of 2000 of ELO your strength must be 2000 or about that value.
In open tournaments, the Swiss matchmaking system is often used. It is a system that matches players who have the same or similar points. At the end of the tournament the arithmetic average of the ELO points of your rivals is made and with some table’s points are added or subtracted and added to your score.
To climb in the ranking, you must go through stages in the form of steps. Each step increases in difficulty. There is the Candidate Master stage (CM), there is the FIDE Master stage (MI) and finally there is the Grandmaster (GM) stage. To be a GM you have to have a performance of more than 2500 ELO points in 3 different tournaments and also play against other GMs. You can’t skip steps and therefore you must play chess well and do it for quite some time.
In the ELO system, the fastest way to make big leaps is to earn a lot and beat the people who are qualified above you. Over the next 18 months, Niemann has earned more than 180 ELO points. Data collected by chess.com measuring the strength of their game shows a steeper increase than any of the world’s best young players.
Systematic cheating in more than 100 games
Chess.com’s report is devastating. It alleges that Niemann has received illegal assistance in more than 100 games, the most recent in 2020. These games include online tournaments with prizes. The website has a number of the most developed anti-cheat tools in the world. One such tool is to compare the moves recommended by chess analysis modules with those performed by the player under study.
It should be noted that Niemann is a self-confessed cheater and was banned twice by chess.com. A second chance is given to all players who confess that they have cheated and with the promise that they will not do so in the future, using a new clean account. To say that this tool to detect cheaters sometimes fails. I know the case of a player in chess.com who was banned for cheating and after analyzing his case the account was returned. He thus obtained a premium account on the platform.
Hans Niemann’s progress in chess has been statistically extraordinary. Statistics speak of an outlier. An outlier is one that does not follow an expected value, an extreme case. Chess.com says it is an online platform, therefore, it does not have tools nor can it know if Hans Niemann has cheated in a face-to-face tournament. Still, he points to several of the strongest gaming events by Niemann, which he believes “would merit further data-driven research.” FIDE, the international chess federation, is conducting its own investigation into the Niemann-Carlsen case by a committee of 3 people.
The power of graphics
We are very visual beings, and a graph can make us clearly see a trend or understand what is happening in an event. the chess.com report has several interesting graphs. One, in Fig. 1 shows how it improves the dexterity in face-to-face tournaments in several chess players between 11 and 19.25 years old (Niemann’s age). Hans’ red bar is remarkable, beating legends like Bobby Fischer, young stars like Alireza Firouzja or world champion Magnus Carlsen.
Online tournaments with suspicious results
Chess.com’s report contradicts Niemann’s statements in which he says he only cheated twice. Several events with cash prizes are included in the more than 100 suspicious games that the report points out and was broadcast live in 25 of them. One such match was with world chess runner-up Ian Nepomniachtchi, Carlsen’s most recent challenger to the World Chess Championship. The following table speaks precisely of these suspicions.
Trap detection tools
The chess.com report discusses how it performs trap detection, particularly at the highest level of chess. The process is statistical (based on numbers) as manual (a person in the end decides whether the person investigated has cheated or not. Although they will not share all the details, they do report in broad strokes how they do that detection:
- Comparison of the moves made with the moves recommended by the analysis engine of a chess program.
- Delete some movements (opening, some endings).
- It focuses on key/critical movements. The decision you make measures your strength in chess.
- It is discussed with a panel of trained analysts and strong players.
- Comparison of the player’s previous performance and the known strength profile.
- Compare the performance of a player with the performance of comparable peers, of the same level of chess.
- Observe the statistical significance of the results (e.g., “1 in a million chances of a movement happening”).
- See if there are anomalous behavioral factors at play. For example, “browser behavior”, several windows open while a game is being played.
- Review the use of time compared to the difficulty of movements on the board.
Chess.com employs highly skilled fair play analysts and Grandmasters (GMs) precisely because there are many situations in which humans are required to understand how a “human” versus “computer” movement really is. Human chess and computer chess are different, even at the highest levels. The best human players possess an Elo rating of 2800. “Stockfish”, the most powerful chess engine has an estimated rating of more than 3500 points. In a theoretical match between World Champion Magnus Carlsen vs. Stockfish, most likely Magnus Carlsen will lose all games, with no wins or draws.
Becoming a Grandmaster is one of the most important achievements a person can achieve. It shows that you understand anextraordinarily complex game and that you are able to defeat another person who starts the game with the same strength. Cheating is a serious problem nowadays since people without enough level win games that they should not win. The reward is on the way and going little by little playing chess and studying this game to keep improving is the way to progress. Cheating is a scam for the game, for your opponent and for yourself.
Finally, it should be noted that either Hans Niemann is the greatest talent in the history of chess, or he is the greatest talent in the history of cheaters. It’s either one thing or the other, but not both at the same time. Possibly we will never know the whole truth because proving that someone cheats is very complicated and more so nowadays in which you can take your mobile and recreate a game in it without anyone seeing you in some toilets. At least, we know that cheating in chess is extraordinarily complicated, not like in poker, in which someone in the audience can signal you in a live game and know if you must play a hand or not.
- Magnus Carlsen accuses Hans Niemann of cheating and will not play against him again
- Magnus Carlsen retires from the Sinquefield cup after losing to Hans Niemann