For the past week, chess enthusiasts around the world have been looking in St. Louis' direction with raised eyebrows after accusations of cheating rocked a tournament at the Saint Louis Chess Club. Elon Musk has even weighed in on the situation, supporting an idea that anal beads were used to facilitate cheating.
The match in question happened on September 4, during the Sinquefield Cup, one of the longest running chess tournaments in the United States. It is the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour and features some of the world’s best chess players, as well as a $350,000 total prize fund.
In round three of the cup, Magnus Carlsen, 31, a chess grandmaster from Norway, played against Hans Niemann, 19, a chess prodigy originally from San Francisco.
Carlsen is a five-time grand champion and one of the greatest chess players in the world. He’s been a chess phenom since he was 13 and there is even a documentary about him, titled Magnus, that found a general audience beyond just chess players. Niemann is also a grandmaster, though according to worldchess.com, Niemann was the lowest-rated player at the tournament.
Niemann had beaten Carlsen before in an online tournament in Miami, where he famously said, “the chess speaks for itself” at his victory interview. He went on to lose two out of the next three games to Carlsen, and ended the event with 0 points.
So it shocked the chess world then when Niemann beat Carlsen in St. Louis. Vice called this "an upset for the ages." Carlsen had played 53 classical matches without a loss (the match where he previously lost to Niemann was a non-classical match) and Carlsen was playing white, which has a statistical advantage over black, since white moves first in chess.
In an interview posted to the St. Louis Chess Club's YouTube channel, Niemann said, “I think [Carlsen] was just so demoralized because he's losing to an idiot like me. It must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose to me. I feel bad for him."
The following day, Carlsen tweeted that he had withdrawn from the tournament. It was the first time he'd ever pulled out of a competitive chess event. He added that he enjoys the Saint Louis Chess Club and looks forward to coming back.
Carlsen included a short video of Portuguese soccer coach José Mourinho saying, "If I speak I am in big trouble” in his tweet.
But it's unclear how Niemann might have cheated.
The match, like all the matches in the Sinquefield Cup, was broadcast live.
American chess grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura created a YouTube video outlining his theory as to why Niemann's unusual strategy was, to Nakamura's mind, evidence he might have cheated. Right now, the video has almost a million views.
Vice referenced an idea involving a hypothetical player "using vibration-based buttons in a player’s shoes" to communicate with a chess engine. A chess engine is a computer program that can be used to analyze the configuration of pieces on the chess board and then suggest moves to human players.
The vibrating shoes morphed into the notion that Niemann was communicating using a "prostate massager."
Currently obsessed with the notion that Hans Niemann has been cheating at the Sinquefield Cup chess tournament using wireless anal beads that vibrate him the correct moves. pic.twitter.com/F48BXjtBlN— Babble (@Babble____) September 7, 2022
Tesla and Space-X CEO Elon Musk took that as his cue to enter the fray. In a tweet that has since been deleted, Grimes' ex-husband augmented a quote from 19th Century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer to fit the current controversy.
"Talent hits a target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one can see (cause it’s in ur butt)," Musk wrote in response to the above tweet.
Other theories about how Niemann may have cheated include that he was tipped off about Carlsen’s surprise opening of 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 g3. Niemann was prepared for the opening and some believe it may have been leaked. Analysis of the game play between Niemann and Carlsen shows both making mistakes, which would seem to indicate that Niemann did not use computer aid, according to the Guardian.
In the wake of the cheating allegations, Sinquefield Cup organizers began broadcasting the matches on a 15-minute delay and taking additional security measures. Plus, Niemann, despite Carlsen never confirming accusations of cheating, has been banned from chess.com, the largest chess site in the world, and was uninvited from the Chess.com Global Championship, a $1 million event.
On Sunday, Iranian-born chess grandmaster Alireza Firouzja won the Sinquefield Cup, taking home the $100,000 grand prize.
Firouzja, who like Niemann is 19-years-old, seems to have avoided any allegations of cheating in his victory.
The Sinquefield Cup is named for Rex Sinquefield, famed supporter of libertarian causes and very rich man. The tournament is a 10-player round robin with the top three winners taking home cash prizes.
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