In a 72-page report made public on Tuesday, Chess.com states that GM Hans Niemann “has likely cheated in more than 100 online chess games, including several prize money events.” Chess.com also notes that Niemann is “the fastest rising top player in classical OTB chess in modern history” but didn’t find clear evidence that Niemann cheated over-the-board.
It is called the “Hans Niemann Report” (available here) and runs 20 pages of text, or 72 pages in total including appendices and exhibits. In it, Chess.com and its Fair Play Team give answers to questions such as why Niemann was removed from the Global Chess Championship, to what extent he cheated on the site, and what can be said about his over-the-board (OTB) play.
First, Chess.com explains its decision to remove Niemann from Chess.com and from the Global Chess Championship on September 5, the day after he beat GM Magnus Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup. After making clear that there was no communication involved between Chess.com and Carlsen, the decision was laid out as follows:
We based this decision on several factors. First, as detailed in this report, Hans admitted to cheating in chess games on our site as recently as 2020 after our cheating-detection software and team uncovered suspicious play. Second, we had suspicions about Hans’ play against Magnus at the Sinquefield Cup, which were intensified by the public fallout from the event. Third, we had concerns about the steep, inconsistent rise in Hans’ rank—set out in Section VII of this report—like others in the broader chess community. Finally, we faced a critical decision point at an unfortunate time: Could we ensure the integrity of the CGC, which was scheduled to start a few days after the Sinquefield Cup on September 14th, 2022, for all participants, if Hans took part in that event? After extensive deliberation, we believed the answer was no. The CGC has 64 participants and a $1 million prize. Under the circumstances, and based on the information we had at the time, we did not believe we could confidently assure the participants and top players that a player who has confessed to cheating in the past, and who has had a meteoric rise coupled with growing suspicions in the community about his OTB performance, would not potentially undermine the integrity of our event.
Fans might wonder why Chess.com chose to reveal so much about Niemann and their communication, and not about other players. That was because of the interview Niemann gave, a few days after beating Carlsen in St. Louis, says Chess.com:
“It must be emphasized that we never intended our concerns about Hans’ fair play violations to be a public conversation. It has always been our general approach to handle account closures for titled players privately, as we have done for Hans in the past. Indeed, his recent removal from Chess.com and the CGC was also communicated privately. He chose to make these communications public. As a result, we feel compelled to share the basis for our decisions publicly with the community.”
An important reason for bringing this report was what Chess.com already tweeted on September 9: that there was information that contradicted his statements regarding “the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com.” The site now goes into much more detail, saying that he
…appears to have cheated against multiple opponents in Chess.com prize events (beyond the Titled Tuesday event that Hans admitted to having cheated in when he was 12), Speed Chess Championship Qualifiers, and the PRO Chess League. We also have evidence that he appears to have cheated in sets of rated games on Chess.com against highly-rated, well-known figures in the chess community, some of which he streamed online.
According to Chess.com, Niemann has likely cheated in more than 100 online chess games, including in several prize money events, and including games that he was streaming. Below is a table that shows the data, showing that it entails the period July 2015-August 2020.
Ken Regan, an independent expert in the field of cheat detection in chess, agreed with Chess.com here and also thinks Niemann cheated in these games.
While Chess.com admits that its tools to detect cheating are specifically intended for looking at on online chess with faster time controls, they do make a few comments about Niemann’s OTB play, stating that “his results are statistically extraordinary.”
For starters, they note that Niemann is “the fastest rising top player in classical OTB chess in modern history.” Compared to other rising stars of his generation such as GMs Alireza Firouzja, Vincent Keymer, and Arjun Erigaisi (but also GM Bobby Fischer), Niemann is consistently above many of them in strength increases, even though he has only recently shown the same caliber of play. Also, Niemann “had the fastest and biggest increase in his score over time in comparison to his peers and other notable players, when considering all of their known classical OTB games played from age 11-19.”
Chess.com notes that, of the 13 players younger than 25 years old and currently ranked in the world’s top 50, Niemann is the only one to become a GM as late as 17.
As an active FIDE-rated player at ages 15, 16, and 17 (pre-pandemic years), Hans had ratings of 2313, 2460, and 2465, respectively. The conventional wisdom is that if you are not a GM by age 14, it is unlikely that you can reach the top levels of chess. While that statement may seem discouraging, it has been borne out in modern chess. Greats like Fischer, Kasparov, Carlsen, and almost all of the modern GMs who have been established as top five players, were notable GMs by age 15 at the latest.
Chess.com also analyzed a sample of Niemann’s recent OTB games but couldn’t find concrete evidence proving that he cheated, including in his game with Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup—although Chess.com does note that “this game and the surrounding behaviors and explanations are bizarre.”
In its conclusion, Chess.com notes that they have shared their findings with FIDE and “will cooperate with any investigation or requests they pursue.” A few days ago, FIDE announced plans to form an investigatory panel on the matter.
GM David Smerdon, a behavioral economist at the University of Queensland, commented on Twitter:
The report is good. It didn’t need to be that long for the HN [Hans Niemann] case, but on the other hand it’s great that CC [Chess.com] has publicly laid out more details about its cheat detection system, the human process behind detection/banning policies, and their broader philosophy towards cheating.
Unfortunately, the results of CC’s analysis are not what the chess world wanted to hear (not CC’s fault) because it means we are unlikely to ever get a resolution on whether HN cheated OTB. Super short summary:
1. HN cheated much more online than we knew, including up to age 17 and in $ events
2. No evidence of Sinquefield Cup cheating
3. Weak evidence that HN’s OTB rise is suspicious, but nothing concrete regarding cheating.
Unfortunately, the CC report shifts the probability that HN cheated OTB towards 50%, no matter which side you started on (FWIW, I and others had prior beliefs around 10-20%, while extreme other end include others with >80%).
Going forward, what new information could bring about the unlikely event of a resolution? I see two possibilities:
1. Hans confesses OR concrete physical evidence of OTB cheating revealed
2. Hans continues his OTB trajectory towards 2750+ in events with super-strict anti-cheating standards.
Given that both 1 and 2 are unlikely, we probably won’t get a resolution. HN will continue to play under a cloud, Magnus will not feel vindicated, and organisers are faced with an invitational dilemma. Not a good outcome for chess, but on the other hand, very good that the issue of cheating is in the spotlight and major chess orgs seem ready to work together to fix things.🤷♂️
The report is good. It didn’t need to be that long for the HN case, but on the other hand it’s great that CC has publicly laid out more details about its cheat detection system, the human process behind detection/banning policies, and their broader philosophy towards cheating. 1/
— David Smerdon (@dsmerdon) October 5, 2022
Chessdotcom’s report is marketing.
1. It’s 20 pages, not 72.
2. No evidence of OTB cheating at all, and their attempt to whip it up is embarrassing.
3. It challenges Hans’s version of prior cheating, but mostly w’ online blitz games in 2020, and reasonable doubt.#chessdrama https://t.co/Ehc3vuM0Iu
— Jonathan Rowson (@Jonathan_Rowson) October 5, 2022
Highly unlikely that there would be concrete evidence for OTB cheating but I would certainly feel very uncomfortable playing someone in an OTB tournament knowing these numbers
— Kevin Goh Wei Ming (@kevingohwm) October 5, 2022