The embattled American grandmaster Hans Niemann struck a defiant pose on Wednesday in his first public appearance since an investigation found that he had cheated in more than 100 online games, far more frequently than he had previously disclosed.
Shortly after defeating 15-year-old Christopher Yoo with the black pieces in the opening round of the US Chess Championship, Niemann spoke for less than a minute in a terse post-game interview and insisted he is “not going to back down” amid the allegations of foul play that have threatened to permanently stain a career that until last month was bursting with limitless promise.
“I think that this game is a message to everyone,” Niemann said. “This entire thing started with me saying chess speaks for itself, and I think that this game spoke for itself and showed the chess player that am. It also showed that I’m not going to back down and I’m going to play my best chess here regardless of the pressure that I’m under, and that’s all I have to say about this game. Chess speaks for itself, that’s all I can say.”
Niemann then cut off the interviewer when he started into a question about Wednesday’s game.
“I’m sorry, that’s it,” Niemann said before quickly exiting the studio. “You can leave it to your own interpretation, but thank you. That’s it. That’s all I’d like to say, because it was such a beautiful game I don’t even need to describe it.”
Fourteen players have agreed at the Saint Louis Chess Club to compete for $262,000 in prize money and title of US champion, an elite field that includes four of the top 10 in the Fide ratings: the holder Wesley So, the streaming megastar Hikaru Nakamura, former world title challenger Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian, a former world No 2 who changed nationalities from Armenia to the United States last year.
All of them played to draws on Wednesday’s first day of play, leaving Niemann atop the table along with Sam Sevian, who defeated Elshan Moradiabadi as white.
Niemann, who is seeded eighth in the classical round-robin tournament, has mounted a vigorous denial of the allegations since world champion Magnus Carlsen first suggested, then outright declared, the American was violating the rules of fair play by using the assistance of chess engines . Instead, the 19-year-old insisted he’d cheated only twice in the past: first as a 12-year-old in an online tournament, and then as a 16-year-old playing unrated games while streaming.
But a blockbuster 72-page report conducted by Chess.com and made public on Tuesday concluded that Niemann “likely received illegal assistance in more than 100 online games” as recently as 2020, including in events where prize money was at stake.
The investigation made no conclusions regarding Niemann’s over-the-board games, thought it did flag contests from six of his stronger in-person events, stating they “merit further investigation based on the data”.
Still, Ken Regan, an independent expert in the field of cheating detection in chess who was cited in Tuesday’s report, said Niemann remains in good standing with the three organizations behind the US national championship – Fide, the US Chess Federation and the Saint Louis Chess Club – and the lack of proof that Niemann has cheated outside of online competition validates his participation in the tournament, which has been staged under various formats since 1845.
“Cross-jurisdiction matters between online chess and in-person chess have not been resolved,” Regan told NPR.
Play is set to resume on Thursday with Niemann playing as white against Jeffery Xiong.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism