Tracking a player's progress

by Frederic Friedel
9/30/2022 – A few days ago Europe's biggest news portal, SPIEGEL Online, had YACS – yet another cheating story. It concentrated on a portrait of the accused Hans Niemann, and traced his chess development over the years. Did you know you can easily track the Elo progress in the ChessBase Players service? And also his best games, his best and his most difficult opponents, his favourite openings and most/least successful openings. If not, take a look at what you have been missing.

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It features daily, in the mainstream media all over the world: stories about the cheating accusations raised by World Champion Magnus Carlsen against young upstart Hans Niemann. Europe's largest and most influential news magazine and portal has done multiple reports – the latest features a portrait of the accused. It is in German and behind a paywall. But we bring you excerpts, with kind permission. 

The career of Hans Moke Niemann 

But is his rise from the world's 1000 to the top 50 really that special? To cut a long story short: It is usually unusual. To understand that, you have to look at his story.

Hans Moke Niemann was born in San Francisco in 2003. His parents, the mother from Denmark, the father from Hawaii, worked as IT managers. For professional reason they the family emigrated to the Netherlands. Hans learned chess at the age of eight, comparatively late when compared to other grandmasters. He was then quickly discouraged when his chess teacher did not allow him to represent his school in the national championships, Niemann later wrote in an article for the magazine "Chess Life". He preferred to devote himself to cycling, racing dozens of times.

After the family returned to the USA, Hans, now nine years old, returned to chess. "I played a little over 100 tournaments in my first year back in the USA," he later recalled. He shot up the rankings, thanks in part to his mentor Maxim Dlugy, a Russian-born US grandmaster. "He was a traditional Soviet-style chess coach. He showered me with a lot of information and I soaked it up like a sponge," Niemann said in the "Chess Life" podcast. With him he raised his game to a higher level as a teenager, up to 2400 points in the world rankings. 

After a quick rise, Niemann's performance stagnated. On the one hand because of a lack of training, he says: his "curriculum" at times consisted of an American football game on the iPad, Netflix and a 15-minute look at chess books by Garri Kasparov. And on the other hand, the boring lessons at school had kept him away from chess. The turning point came for Niemann at the age of 16. He moved alone to New York City, went there thanks to a chess scholarship to a public school and earned money as a chess coach and Twitch streamer. But Niemann gave that up to pursue his dream: He wanted to become a professional chess player.

To achieve his goal, he rearranged his life. Getting up around 7 a.m., going swimming, then ten to twelve hours of chess training, eating on the side. He hardly had a social life outside of chess anymore, he said. Niemann learned and played a lot - and came to success with a courageous style. In October 2020, he was in the haze of the best 1000 players in the world with 2465 Elo points; today he is a grandmaster and is 49th in the world rankings with 2688 Elo points.

The rise

It is this rise of about 200 Elo points that some find suspicious. Yet it is not so extraordinary, according to former world champion Viswanathan Anand, among others. "Since there are a lot of promising young players who make dramatic leaps, he didn't particularly stand out for me," he told SPIEGEL.

Data surveys show that other grandmasters before Niemann made leaps from 2475 to 2675 Elo points even faster, such as super-grandmaster Anish Giri – or Magnus Carlsen himself. Niemann's performance is extraordinary compared to good chess players, but plausible in comparison with the top players.

We generated the curves above (click to enlarge) on the ChessBase Players Encyclopedia. There you can visualize the progress of any player in the FIDE list. 


So what does the rating progress of Hans Niemann look like, and how does it compare to other top talents in the current chess world? (Click ll images to enlarge)

Note that Hans Niemann and Arjun Erigaisi are both of the same age. Arjun is on an even steeper meteoric path and is now the second-highest ranked Indian grandmaster – and number eighteen in the world.

If you visit the ChessBase Players page, you will see that it has many additional functions. Let me show you some, using a dear friend from Holland as an example.

There are 20 pictures of Anish you can flip through. Here's one of the earliest, taken in 2010, when he was 15.

Moving your cursor over the progress curve will display the exact date when his ratings were achieved. For instance in April 2019 he reached 2797.

Now comes the interesting part. When we showed it to a top-ten grandmaster a few days ago his reaction was: "Hey, that is fantastically useful. I didn't know this function!" Which is why we are telling our readers about it here.

When you scroll down this is the first section you see:

It shows you how Anish has scored with white, black and in total. It also displays his favourite and least favourite opponent, and his most dramatic wins and losses. Scroll down further and you get the following:

"Oooh," said our top ten GM, "what happens when I click a link?"

You get a list of Giri games in the relevant opening, e.g. the C54 Gioco Piano, in which he scored - 46.5/76 = 61.18% against opposition rated an average 2714. You can load games from the list, and even start an engine to analyse. "Oooh", said our top player, whom I expect to climb even higher on the rating list now that he knows this feature. 

If you, too, want to make use of this utility, you can see all the functions described in the report: Online Player Encyclopedia - Players, profiles, and pictures (with video!)


Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 10/2/2022 03:47
Try to get a letter to the editor published anonimously in a serious newpaper. They only let you do that in very special circumstances. I don't see why it should be different for serious websites (meaning those who don't rely on clickbait, like chessbase).
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/2/2022 02:56
I had mistyped the moves earlier, I have written

"29... Nc4 allows 30. e3, drawing"

which was incorrect. This is what I should have written

"29... Nc4 29. Bxc4, close to drawing"

@Frits Fritschy

I believe it is enough to allow everyone to use a nickname if they choose to do so and ask only the persons who personally attacked others for their identity and proof for that identity. If they do not comply, ban their user and blacklist their IP address. I think this would be fairly discouraging for anyone if they have to step in the open after they personally attack someone. The threat is stronger than the execution, said the wise Aaron Nimzowitsch.
Aighearach Aighearach 10/2/2022 09:49
Ultimately, Niemann is being bullied by the cool kids because he has bad hair.

I sooo wish I was joking, but this is what it comes down to. Carlsen and Nakamura don't like the way he looks, the way he speaks, the way he acts, his lack of deference to Their Highnesses. And so they're trying their best to destroy his career by getting people to shout at him, make fun of him, and demand that he be excluded from chess society as part of the Out Group.

It is truly despicable behavior, and I'm very surprised that the chess world is so willing to tolerate this type of thing. Of all sports, I would have thought chess players would be offended by it, would defend the victim, because chess players are so often outcasts who have experienced bullying. How wrong I was!
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 10/1/2022 10:23
Frederic, I have said it before: demand everyone to controlably use their real name. That would solve most of the problems. People are more likely to cheat in online chess as they are more likely to get unpleasant if they are allowed to chat anonimously.
shivasundar shivasundar 10/1/2022 07:40
@Science22, I think what is happening with you is you are not recognizing the difference between evidence and proof. This is because evidence CAN be
a. Suspect
b. Half-truth masquerading as truth
c. Manipulated - either knowingly or unknowingly, directly or indirectly.
Most of the rest of us, are trying to sift through in our comments all of the evidence. Examples:
1. "Since Hans Niemann's ELO ends at 2700, we cannot measure anything at the very top around Magnus Carlsen's ELO. But we can see how quickly he moves from 2600 to 2700. As far as I can see on the curve, Niemann passes 2600 late in 2021, i.e. a year ago. Magnus Carlsen passed 2600 in the year 2004 and 2700 in the year 2007. " This cognitive bias is colloquially called "cherry picking". I have already pointed out clear counter examples: Kamsky:
365 days - 300 elo! (2650 at that time good enough for world top 10!)
Kacper Piorun: (~180 elo in like 17 mo. - the famous world solving champion). We have Gukesh and others as well. So, this evidence *seems not to be proved*!
2. "Niemann rises violently in ELO in tournaments with live transmission (ELO performance 2850 since November 2019) and loses rating in tournaments without live transmission (ELO 2400). You can't see that on the curve." Okay, fair enough. HOWEVER, this data is not *rigorously presented* - that is, no comparison (your other point) is offered with any other top player right :-)? Please read the list of cognitive biases I had put out to further understand how our own mind tricks us sometimes. I genuinely respect you if you were really a scientist/met some famous people you talk about. However, we have to agree to disagree with you right now. *Please* stop with the name-calling, constantly saying opinions not matching yours as "vicious", "lies" - you are the one that actually looks defensive, petty and angry.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 07:21
This Carlsen Niemann speculation is in Wikipedia. Jeee! It will be there for ever and our children's children can enjoy the drama as we do.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 06:50
We will behave better, for sure. Right, Science22 and your other side names?
Frederic Frederic 10/1/2022 06:46
Everyone, please be civil. I have switched on feedback in my articles in order to prove that it is possible. Please don't refute that and make me switch it off again. It's fairly important...
mc1483 mc1483 10/1/2022 06:37
I'm afraid Lajosarpad has indeed a good point (he's also well known in StackOverflow and LinkedIn), while Science22 lacks answers.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 06:22
Three moves with value of ?-mark, in one game does not give much chance to win or even draw the game. Carlsen has used computer's blunder configuration when playing against Niemann. Why?
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/1/2022 06:18
@Science22 care to answer my question? Gukesh jumped from 2599 (September 2021) to 2726 (September 2022). He therefore achieved the same thing you referred to as suspicious in Niemann's case (jumping from 2600 to 2700 in a year or less). Do you still believe that jumping from 2600 to 2700 in a year or less than a year is completely exceptional and suspicious? Because then you will have to conclude that Gukesh also did suspiciously well (if you care about consistency). Or do you revoke this statement (one of your main arguments here)? Or is it totally exceptional when Niemann does it, but not totally exceptional when Gukesh does it?

Firouzja had an Élő of 2702 in August 2019 and 2561 in August 2018. Is this suspicious?

Needless to say, I still await your real name or an apology for the slanders you made against my person and others here.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 05:45
Science22, stop trolling and using many different names. Use this one, fictional122, please!
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/1/2022 05:22
@Science22 29... Nc4 allows 30. e3, drawing. I have already told you who I am in another thread. I already told you who I am in the other thread (, I do not intend to repeat it. You still did not share your identity with us, but you personally attack me cowardly from behind your nickname. How are your personal attacks against me any different from trolling?
Science22 Science22 10/1/2022 04:30
Lajosarpad, I ask you to tell me where Niemann played imprecise against Carlsen. But then you just jump to a new subject.
You also want my real name. When one consider with what viciousness you bothers people without knowing their real names, what lies and manipulations you are willing to concoct , one can vividly imagine what it must be like if you also gets personal information.

Quid pro Quo : Who are you ? There are no chess players with ELO who have the name Lajos Arpad.

It is true that there was a Hungarian professor of physics Arpad Elo who played chess well, but he has long since passed away. Furthermore, I knew Professor Elo very well from my student days, where he developed the solid statistical model that from 1970 was used in FIDE to calculate rating numbers.

He was the most kind and gifted person one can imagine, and therefore he has absolutely nothing to do with the this diabolical lajosarpad, who time and again airs his incompetence in terms of statistical methods in order to intimidate me and others.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 10/1/2022 03:19
Obviously no one can write articles about computer chess cheating because methods have to kept proprietary.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/1/2022 02:51
@Science22 Gukesh had an Élő of 2599 in September 2021 and in September 2022 he has 2726. Do you suspect him of cheating as well?

@Jack Nayer "Regan has 11 articles on chess. One is 2 pages long, another is 5 pages long. None of his articles deal with cheating."

He is a well-known expert in the area of statistical analysis of chess cheating. I did not take the time to read all of his work, but I would not doubt that he knows his stuff.

"The IQ scale is not a linear scale, it is an interval scale. Suppose that Carlsen has an IQ of around 180. The average IQ is 100. That means that Carlsen is not almost twice as smart as the average person, but that he is ten times more intelligent. As far as I know, Carlsen never showed any sign of any personality disorder or other illness that impairs his judgment. Carlsen is far too intelligent to go around accusing people of wrong doing if he isn’t damn sure. It would be nice if those who attack him these days would stop exhibiting their averageness. "

So, to sum it up: according to you, Carlsen is too smart to baselessly accuse Niemann and anyone who genuinely believes it is only displaying his/her averageness. If we would accept this bogus and ridiculous position, then anyone having a very large Élő would get a free pass to baselessly accuse others. Didn't you think that a very smart person who has many fans would also predict that many of his fans would try to protect everything he does, no matter what? Carlsen knows he has a legion of fans and some of them would defend anything he does.
shivasundar shivasundar 10/1/2022 11:15
Ahem... @Jack Nayer, a fat ego is good enough to make a scene/have impaired judgement. I don't think any of us are accusing Magnus of 'losing it' - not YET at least! (like Fischer!)

In the style of Matthias Ruf:
Nobody taunts and plays drunk against lower rated players online
Nobody cusses unprintable words online for being a bad chess player
Nobody runs away from World Championship press conferences due to a loss
Nobody threatens to not play a World Championship match, but later does
Nobody gets mad at Maurice Ashley just because he said 'it was not a smooth game'...
Nobody refuses to sign the championship contract till the last possible moment (wait Kasparov did that - didn't he have a famous student?!)

Also, there is no correlation between high IQ and chess playing strength. Nor can it reliably predict 'moral judgement'.
shivasundar shivasundar 10/1/2022 11:00
Matthias Ruf - accepted that Hans DID take 630 days or so to go from 2500 to 2700. I think what people are asking is, what about Kamsky?
365 days - 300 elo! (2650 at that time good enough for world top 10!)
Kacper Piorun: (~180 elo in like 17 mo. - the famous world solving champion)

I have a joke/important quote too: "Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital."

Please read also the list of 'cognitive biases' we sometimes fall into:

It does look bad for Hans, but let's wait jusssst a bit longer....
Matthias Ruf Matthias Ruf 10/1/2022 10:09
Nobody is caught and needs to be punished.
Nobody is a multiple cheater, none mentor and trainer.
Nobody has the highest rating win in a short period of time.
Nobody didn't seem stressed or even paying close attention during the match.
Nobody can not explain his moves properly in analyses.
Nobody plays better online than in delayed OTB games.
Nobody is the most accurate player according to chess programs.
Nobody is lying in explanations of several body language experts.
Nobody blames his youth and a strange accent for everything.
Nobody has a questionable personality in screaming on his stream.
Nobody has a criminal as role model on Netflix.
Nobody is perfect.

Another joke:

Nobody, None and Jackass are playing poker. A fist fight arises after cheating. A policeman is called. “What happened?” “Nobody has beaten me and None has seen it!” “And what is your name?” “Jakeass” “All right, no more questions.”
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 10/1/2022 10:00
Jack Nayer,
Fischer was tested when he was 15; he had an iq of over 180. I wouldn't regard him as someone with balanced views, to say the least. On the other hand, you don't need a personality disorder for a strong opinion, even when this opinion isn't backed up by controlable facts.
adbennet adbennet 10/1/2022 04:47
Comparing the graphs for the four juniors, Niemann's is quite comparable to the others. Actually more "interesting" is that all four players basically lost a full year of improvement to Covid.
Jack Nayer Jack Nayer 10/1/2022 02:26
Regan has 11 articles on chess. One is 2 pages long, another is 5 pages long. None of his articles deal with cheating.
The IQ scale is not a linear scale, it is an interval scale. Suppose that Carlsen has an IQ of around 180. The average IQ is 100. That means that Carlsen is not almost twice as smart as the average person, but that he is ten times more intelligent. As far as I know, Carlsen never showed any sign of any personality disorder or other illness that impairs his judgment. Carlsen is far too intelligent to go around accusing people of wrong doing if he isn’t damn sure. It would be nice if those who attack him these days would stop exhibiting their averageness.
Science22 Science22 10/1/2022 01:02
As serious statistical material, the listed curves are not applicable, as they have very different axes. Neither the y-axis (ELO) nor the x-axis (time) is followed. One must also remember that the increase in ELO is not a linear curve. It is much more difficult to move from 2600 to 2700 than it is to move from 2100 to 2200.

Since Hans Niemann's ELO ends at 2700, we cannot measure anything at the very top around Magnus Carlsen's ELO. But we can see how quickly he moves from 2600 to 2700. As far as I can see on the curve, Niemann passes 2600 late in 2021, i.e. a year ago. Magnus Carlsen passed 2600 in the year 2004 and 2700 in the year 2007. In other words, the world champion spent 3 times as long for the same climb.

Therefore, the development for Niemann is completely exceptional.

What matters the most to me are the actual games. Niemann rises violently in ELO in tournaments with live transmission (ELO performance 2850 since November 2019) and loses rating in tournaments without live transmission (ELO 2400). You can't see that on the curve.
saturn23 saturn23 10/1/2022 12:12
Frits Fritschy,
Yes, I did hear about that. These people will do anything to attract more fools in order to make more money. I think the "solution looking for a problem" is a fair characterization of the whole crypto and NFT space.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 9/30/2022 10:45
Saturn, also of topic, did you read the news today about a Mexican billionaire who seems to havve destroyed a real artwork by Frida Kahlo because that made the NFT's of it worth more?
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 9/30/2022 10:39
Mr. Regan,
I had the same thing a couple of years ago. Not knowing the use of the black cross in the top right corner, I probably deleted one or more of my (critical) comments, accusing chessbase of censoring them...
arzi arzi 9/30/2022 08:58
Science22, have you change your name to RadioRealm? Same plaa, plaa, Lance, plaa, cheater before, plaa...
saturn23 saturn23 9/30/2022 08:26
@Frederic - I know it is not related to the article but if you don't mind I want to ask you, do you still think at this point that launching the Chessbase NFT collection was a good idea?

Many people (including myself) have expressed their disappointment when Chessbase decided to join the shady space of crypto and NFTs. Now we all know that the whole NFT space basically collapsed (for example the trading volume of NFTs dropped 97% from the peak).
RadioRealm RadioRealm 9/30/2022 08:17
ELO growth graph doesn't prove or exonerate cheating. To look closely at cheating, look at his games. Does he make human inaccuracies? Does he have games where he plays with super-human, engine efficiency, especially in openings and positions he is completely unfamiliar with? Also, fact that Neimann is a known prior cheater (as a teenager), raises the pre-test probability that he cheats. Cheater rarely reform and become honest, they usually just find ways to be more crafty and avoid getting caught. As example, look at Lance Armstrong in racing, whose improbable rise and ongoing dominance in racing had his defenders but also strong red flags of cheating going on.
KWRegan KWRegan 9/30/2022 07:47
I accidentally deleted my comment---it was to point out from Mihail Marin that Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana had also had similar spurts, Aronian's at a later age than Niemann.
IntensityInsanity IntensityInsanity 9/30/2022 07:34
Kamsky went from 2345 to 2650 in like one or 1.5 years. 2650 then (around 1990/1991) got you into top 10 in the world. No one accused Kamsky of cheating.
Jyde Jyde 9/30/2022 07:05
Thanks, Frederic for this important article.

While I agree with the core premise, it is important to note the quick rise observed in Hans's career since early 2021. From the chart, he had an ELO rise of about 200 points - from 2500 - 2700 ELO. (By the way, for better visual comparisons between, for example, Arjun and Hans, it is better that the y-axis are the same. In your article, the y-axis for Hans is different from the others) This is quite an incredible feat; even amongst the very few that are typically associated with meteoric rises in their chess careers. Now by itself, it proves nothing however past confessions of cheating by Hans and his coach do not help him.

I believe a man should be presumed innocent unless proven guilty however I also believe that there is a lot more investigation that needs to be done on this matter.
tauno tauno 9/30/2022 07:01
@Frederic, I accept your explanation. But you see my point: You can't use the auto-generated graphics as such to compare the progress of different players when the x and y coordinates differ so much for each player. The risk of seeing similarities or differences may just be an optical illusion.
PamH PamH 9/30/2022 06:35
the fact that it is said a lot, a lot and it remains in general, without any conclusions.
Frederic Frederic 9/30/2022 06:19
@tauno The graphs are autimatically generated for the players' Elo career. For Nigel Short, the Players Encyclopedia would show me this:

@goeland: did you click on the first link in the article to see how the world press is using the drama for marketing purpose!?
shivasundar shivasundar 9/30/2022 06:10
Thx for all this Frederic - your tech team has been awesome of late. I even notice the new "play through" board in the articles - LOVE IT!! Yes, Finally! (needs to be polished, but you will get there). On the online chessbase features, thanks for putting out so much free online - first of all.

What I like is there is an online database out there also, which I see from time to time - I hope more games came come there over time as well.

I think Chessbase software is also great with a feature that has just been made famous in the whole controversy :-). I think it is a wonderful feature, which can be standardized. I had a long time request for it though (told CBI I think...): please make it for Mac OS also! Nowadays as you know, they have newer Macs with these Apple chips that are REALLY powerful (16 cores - 64 cores I believe) - so I am sure people like me (I have an older Mac, but probably will upgrade one of these days) would love to have! I know you can run software to make it run - but as computer geeks will tell you "native is always best" - probably wud work better with the databases as well!

@tauno, I am sure he wud have wanted to make all the X-axes the same; but the years of development are different for each of them after all... it's probably a software thing as well.

@Frederic, the date of the Spiegel article publication is not mentioned - just curious. Thx, useful addition to the conversation.
ChessSpawnVermont ChessSpawnVermont 9/30/2022 04:26
So much for Carlsen and Nakamura's baseless hyperbole.
"Note that Hans Niemann and Arjun Erigaisi are both of the same age. Arjun is on an even steeper meteoric path and is now the second-highest ranked Indian grandmaster – and number eighteen in the world."
tauno tauno 9/30/2022 04:19
Dear Fredrik. This is a bit embarrassing. At least you could use the same timeline on the x-axis. But ok, if you want to use this graphic to support your personal opinion and influence the public, fine.

But I have to give you credit for one thing: the graphic clearly shows at what age Niemann started getting serious about chess.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 9/30/2022 04:13
Niemann's path is different, but it may just indicate that he is not as naturally talented, but based on the fact that he played nearly 400 games in the last two years, just works harder.
ChrisHolmes ChrisHolmes 9/30/2022 04:10
I was trying to use the players directory from the crosstable in the article about the Women's Grand Prix that just finished in Astana.
When I click on Dinara Wagner's name, I can see her rating curve, but it says there are no stats available.
However when I click on Vaishali Rameshbabu's name I am sent to an alphabetical index of players in the players directory, with her last name suggested as Vaishali & her first name as Rameshbabu, in itself odd. In the players directory she in not listed under either R or V.
The same problem arises with Bibisara Assaubayeva, though at least the right choice was made for the name order. Since Dinara has no title, unlike Bibisara & Vaishali I find this omission strange.
What's gone wrong ?