Hikaru Nakamura, the world’s top speed chess player, piled in – claiming Carlsen withdrew because he suspected Niemann had “probably cheated” and alleged the teenager had previously used computer assistance to cheat online in casual games.
Niemann strongly denied cheating in serious games and even offered to play naked to prove his innocence. However, he was forced to admit Nakamura’s charge of cheating online when he was younger – and in chess, mud sticks.
That was when rumours began swirling about Niemann having inserted a device capable of vibrating into his body, with an ally on the outside feeding him cues from the computer.
Amid all the furore, Carlsen still has not publicly accused Niemann in any direct way of cheating. Yet the world champion’s suspicion appears to have fallen on the 19-year-old after his rapid, but inconsistent, rise up the rankings since competitions started up again after Covid.
Despite Carlsen being seemingly convinced, data analysts scouring Niemann’s games for clues that he had computer help have found no conclusive evidence that he did.
Prof Ken Regan, considered the authority on cheat detection in the chess world, told chess24: “Niemann played well. But not too well.”
He added that his reaction to the events was “very much regret, it’s not proper”.
Prof Regan has posited another theory to explain Niemann’s rapid rise – that at 19, Niemann is simply more able to absorb the benefits of AI learning in chess than Carlsen.
Speaking about the new generation of chess players who have grown up with access to computer help, he said: “I have other measurements that suggest the quality has become a little higher.
“There has not been rating inflation or deflation, but with computerised opening prep, this could be the case, as Lewis Carroll wrote in his book Alice in Wonderland, of having to ‘run faster just to stay in the same place’.”