Despite his strong showing in the preliminary rounds of the 2022 Generation Cup, chess Grandmaster Hans Niemann lost to Chinese player Liem Le in the quarterfinals Thursday and will not advance. Meanwhile, reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen lost his first game against Levon Aronian but made a furious comeback in later games to win and move on.

If both players had won, they may have met in a final that would have represented the payoff of a white-hot feud. Instead, Carlsen will move on without the burden of the most intense drama in recent chess history.

The scandal surrounding Carlsen and Niemann has been complex and shadowy since it first began earlier this month, but it was immediately clear that the stature of the players involved gave it the power to completely change the game forever. The feud between the two players is far from over and could escalate even further in days to come.

An Upset And A Withdrawal

It all began on Sept. 4 in the fourth round of the Sinquefield Cup, a high-level invitational tournament in St. Louis. Carlsen, the highest-rated chess player in human history and five-time World Champion, was naturally a heavy favorite going into the event.

In the fourth round, the Norwegian champ faced off against 19-year-old Niemann, an American who has enjoyed a nearly unprecedented meteoric rise through the ranks in his later teenage years. in a game where many high-level players become grandmasters before their 16th birthday, Niemann improved dramatically late in his teenage years and earned the title at 18.

In a stunning upset, Niemann defeated Carlsen in the fourth round of the Sinquefield Cup, a huge victory for one of chess’ rising stars. At first, it appeared to be a crowning achievement for the young player in one of his first tournaments against the world’s best players. It soon became a nightmare.

The following day, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament without providing a solid explanation. Many were quick to speculate, however, that he was withdrawing under the suspicion that Niemann cheated in their game. His tweet announcing his forfeit included a viral clip of soccer coach Jose Mourinho refusing to speak to the press for fear of getting in trouble.

In the ensuing days, Niemann continued to compete in the Sinquefield Cup while speculation continued to grow. Supporters of Carlsen’s alleged theory, like grandmaster and popular chess streamer Hikaru Nakamura, began to scrutinize Niemann’s post-game analyses and suggested that he wasn’t properly evaluating some of his own moves. One particularly salacious rumor claimed that Niemann used a vibrating sex toy as a signaling device during games. The unfounded story was publicized by a number of media outlets and has become one of the foundational details of the scandal.

Niemann Admits Wrongdoing

In an interview on Sept. 6, Niemann admitted to cheating in online tournaments at the ages of 12 and 16 but adamantly denied cheating over the board. There is still no evidence to prove that Niemann cheated against Carlsen, but officials from Chess.com, a popular chess website that hosts many high-level online tournaments, disputed other parts of his story.

Chess.com Chief Chess Officer Danny Rensch released a statement on Sept. 6 claiming that Niemann cheated online far more often than he claimed. As a result, Rensch said that the organization had privately removed Niemann from the website and barred him from all future online events.

“We have shared detailed evidence with him [Niemann] concerning our decision, including information that contradicts his statements regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com,” Rensch said.

Facing immense pressure beyond the tournament, Niemann struggled in the later rounds of the Sinquefield Cup and finished sixth, still an impressive result for the teenage prodigy. The next event for high-level chess players is the Generation Cup, an online tournament pitting established players again junior competitors. Niemann had already agreed to compete before the scandal began. So had Carlsen.

The Three-Move Rematch

In the preliminary rounds, in which all 16 players compete in a round robin tournament and the top eight move on, Carlsen and Niemann were scheduled to play in the third round on Sept. 19. Before the tournament, Carlsen arranged for a media blackout and refused to speak to the press, prolonging his absence from the public eye while speculation about Niemann ran rampant. As a result, many saw their matchup as the only way Carlsen could possibly convey a message. The reigning champ delivered.

Niemann began the game by moving a pawn to d4. Carlsen moved his knight to f6. Niemann moved another pawn to c4. Carlsen resigned.

It was another victory for Niemann over Carlsen, but it wasn’t earned. It was a protest. Carlsen was refusing to play against Niemann. He remained silent for several more days before finally making a cryptic statement about his forfeit in a broadcast interview on Sept. 21. He referred directly to chess player Maxim Dlugy, Niemann’s former mentor who was accused of cheating on Chess.com in 2017.

“Unfortunately, I cannot particularly speak on that, but people can draw their own conclusions, and they certainly have,” Carlsen said. “I have to say I’m very impressed by Niemann’s play and I think his mentor Maxim Dlugy must be doing a great job.”

Header: Carlsen Moves On, Niemann Denied

Following Carlsen’s forfeit, both players played spectacular chess over the remaining preliminary rounds. Niemann earned the third most points to qualify for the quarterfinals, but Carlsen was even more impressive, ranking first by a wide margin. He won 10 of 15 games, and his one loss was the forfeit against Niemann.

Now, Niemann is out of the tournament following his loss to Le while Carlsen will move on to the semifinals Friday. He will play 17-year-old German Grandmaster Vincent Keymer. It may not be the result many were hoping for, but those seeking more intrigue won’t have to wait long. At this point, Carlsen has all but accused Niemann of cheating, but reports suggest that he plans to make an official statement following the tournament’s end on Sept. 24.

If he can present credible evidence that Niemann cheated to defeat him in the Sinquefield Cup, Carlsen will irrevocably ruin Niemann’s career and pave the way for massive changes to current chess tournament procedures. Until then though, spectators merely have to wait.

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