The Hans Niemann controversy 2.0?

by André Schulz
9/15/2023 – Vladimir Kramnik recently caused a stir with an online game against Hans Niemann, in which he wanted to let himself be mated quickly in protest of Niemann’s alleged cheating in the previous game. Kramnik, however, is not so much concerned with Niemann himself, but with the cheating problem in online chess in general. He estimates that the problem is much bigger than people think and presented his arguments in a long video interview. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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A systemic problem

Last autumn, Magnus Carlsen withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup after being defeated by Hans Niemann. Soon after, Carlsen refused to play Niemann in an online tournament. Carlsen resigned the game after the first move. The Norwegian dropped a few vague hints on Twitter after his withdrawal from the Sinquefield Cup and his behaviour in the online game. Without saying it clearly, he accused the young US grandmaster of cheating, of playing with unauthorised computer help.

The incident brought chess unprecedented headlines in the media worldwide. Magnus Carlsen found allies in his accusation against Niemann in Hikaru Nakamura, who left no doubt about what he thought of Niemann’s game management in his video stream commenting on Niemann’s games. published that Niemann had played with forbidden computer help in many online games in earlier years. Niemann admitted this, but explained that he had never cheated in over-the-board games. There was a large public discussion, with the usual division into two factions: one faction defended Niemann, pointing out that there was no evidence, while the other faction found Niemann’s games and successes before the Sinquefield Cup suspicious. Experts created additional confusion with their expert opinions.

The faction that found Niemann’s games and successes suspicious was much quieter, which was probably also due to the fact that Niemann sued Carlsen, Nakamura and through his lawyers for 100 million US dollars in damages. The suit was dismissed in part. Recently, the parties settled and resolved the dispute.

However, the controversy and discussion has now flared up again with a new participant. The new participant in the controversy is one of Carlsen’s predecessors on the World Champion’s throne: none other than Vladimir Kramnik.

In an online tournament on the platform, Kramnik recently played Niemann and was outplayed in the Berlin Defence — Kramnik’s special weapon, which had won him the World Championship title in 2000 when he beat Garry Kasparov.

Kramnik obviously felt that this defeat had not come about under regular conditions. In the following game against Niemann, Kramnik had black and played 1.e4 f6 2.d4 g5, thus expressing his protest. Niemann rejected the offer to give mate and resigned the game.

Niemann reacted to Kramnik's unspoken accusations by offering to have his understanding of chess examined by Kramnik in a personal training session.

The controversy over Niemann seemed to have flared up again. But Kramnik is not so much concerned with Niemann himself. Kramnik is generally of the opinion that in online tournaments that are open to all players, especially the ‘Titled Tuesday’ series from, there is a high degree of cheating. In his profile on, Kramnik had an intensive discussion about this with other users.

Other grandmasters also have the impression that many players use illegal aids in online tournaments, but they only say this behind closed doors. After all, they want to be allowed to continue playing in online tournaments, and unproven accusations — and how should they be “proven” — lead to messy discussions on social media and potential legal consequences.

The providers of online platforms naturally try to put a stop to computer cheating, with the help of monitoring programmes that measure the correspondence of the moves played with computer moves, and with statistical surveys. But the task remains difficult.

As a guest on the video podcast C-Squared by Cristian Chirila and Fabiano Caruana, Kramnik has now spoken again in detail and presented arguments for his view.

Kramnik had noticed that his opponents in online tournaments reach the high rate of 90% and more accuracy in their games much more often than, for example, against Carlsen, Nakamura or Caruana. Against Carlsen, the opponents would have played with great accuracy in only 3 out of 100 games. Against Kramnik, that would have been the case in 27 out of 100 games. But that was statistically improbable. The quota should be about the same.

Kramnik concludes that Carlsen’s opponents do not dare play against the Norwegian with computer help because a win over Carlsen would be too conspicuous. But against him, Kramnik, they did it much more often. There was no other way to explain the discrepancy in the accuracy figures, Kramnik said.

He also reported watching a rival playing a series of games with low accuracy, followed by a series of games with high accuracy in which the opponents had no chance. For Kramnik, this was a clear case of cheating, but the alleged cheater had been allowing himself this “fun” for over a year without being sanctioned.

Kramnik also expressed his conviction that the cheating problem in online chess is much bigger than previously assumed. He estimates that about 20% of the participants in the "Titled Tuesday" tournaments play with computer help at least some of the time.

Kramnik advocates tougher action against cheaters in online chess. Even if there is much less evidence of cheating, they should be disqualified.

The video interview

In the meantime, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has also commented on the topic on Twitter. The Frenchman demands camera surveillance of the players, at least in tournaments where there is prize money, and tougher penalties for convicted cheaters: for example, extending potential sanctions to over-the-board tournaments.

However, most online tournaments are private events and not official FIDE tournaments. Therefore, the desire for sanctions will probably remain unfulfilled outside the virtual world.


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.