Tuesday evening, The Wall Street Journal published a high-level overview of a report produced by Chess.com, all about Hans Niemann, the player suspected of cheating at the Sinquefield Cup against the reigning five-time World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. (Perhaps, the internet has repeatedly joked, with the help of anal beads.) Not only did the chess site defend its decision to ban Niemann from online play, it also made the shocking allegation that it concluded the young grandmaster had cheated in more than 100 online games.. Now the full report is out, and it is 72 pages full of graphics, appendices and evidence that more or less says the same thing, but in more detail. The report also features plenty of other cheating cases beyond the ones that make the headlines, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
I’m sure many will debate whether or not it’s fair to punish Niemann without proof that he ever cheated in a real setting, and why Chess.com saw fit to let Niemann go in the first place. continues to play on its website when, in fact, there are dozens of pages of information that suggest he is a perpetual and habitual cheater. The evidence is immediately overwhelming, and was for years, however, Chess.com insists that its system is world-class in finding cheaters, to the point that many who come under the site’s scrutiny end up admitting their wrongdoing. Chess.com clearly discovered that Niemann was a cheater, of course, but didn’t think his history was a danger until it became a huge controversy. Niemann was temporarily banned from the site in 2020, but continued to play in real settings along with online tournaments that awarded prize money not long after. Somehow it took until now for events to really turn around, as Niemann was re-banned from the site and also banned from playing in a Chess.com championship, with a prize pool of $1M, to which he was previously invited. .
The site’s report literally says, emphasis ours, “… we had suspicions about Hans’ game against Magnus at the Sinquefield Cup, which were intensified by the public fallout from the event,” meaning that public perception played a role in the timing of all of this. And the introduction of the document has Chess.com positioning itself as a steward of the game itself, with responsibility for growing the game’s fan base and keeping things fair. With $1 M on the line in the Chess.com Global Championship, he argued, he simply could not ignore the explosion that was on the way.
To the site’s credit, the introduction to the document also admits that the organization probably could have made better decisions about this situation; it is, after all, run by people. But if you’re confused about how or why events unfolded the way they did, I point you to “Exhibit C” of the report. It contains a series of emails that Chess.com cites as an example of an interaction it had with another top player who apparently cheated, and I think it’s pretty illustrative of how the site works in general.
“This person competed in a single event with 10 total games in 2020. Their Strength Score alone was not necessarily sufficient to act, but indicated that there was the potential to cheat,” the report reads, in reference to the scoring system the site uses. uses catch fish business. “Even considering this player’s Elo rating of almost 2700, our fact team was able to discern the truth that this player was indeed selectively cheating with a chess engine. When confronted with our accusations that they used outside help, they admitted it, as shown in the redacted email exchange attached as Exhibit C to this report. This email chain reflects the conscientiousness of our process and how we deal with players like Hans who are suspected of cheating on the platform.”
While the player initially plays dumb, it later becomes clear that they have been caught red-handed. But here’s where it gets really interesting, because instead of simply banning the cheater, Chess.com gives him a chance to come clean:
As a titled player, we would like to offer you an opportunity to re-establish yourself within the Chess.com community, and as such, we have made no public statements regarding the reasons for your account closure or our findings. If you choose to acknowledge any of the behaviors that lead to your account being closed within the next 72 hours, we may try to work with you privately to open a new account, equipped with a title and Diamond Membership.
And here is the player, obeying (grammatical errors theirs):
Hello, I already wrote to you in the previous emails that I will fully cooperate. I only used help in a few games not because I wanted to win an award but because I was bored and just wanted to see how good your team is. Before that I was sure that everyone was doing it, now I see that your team is very serious and good. I want to apologize for my behavior, it will never happen again! I am sorry for what I did and ashamed of the fact. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity and not making this public. I’m actually surprised you caught me because I only cheated in 5 games in this one. I cheated games. I haven’t done the others, so I think you’re doing a great job. Again I apologize for my behavior.
Of course, this whole thing is mostly here for Chess.com to brag about its cheat detection: not only has it caught a lot of players before, some of those players were top notch! You should trust its methodology when it says Niemann cheated profusely, that’s its whole spiel. Even the cheater gives the detection team props for how good they are. But what I want you to take away from this is that there was a great element of trust placed with the cheater, as long as they were willing to admit what they had done. Consequences were suffered, but they still let the player continue to use the site under the assumption that, as promised, they would never violate again. It didn’t matter that they were a top 100 player, they still got a chance to redeem themselves.
Which now brings us to Niemann. The site says that Exhibit C is a showcase for how it approaches situations like Niemann’s, and supposedly something very similar happened back in 2020 when he was originally caught. Chess.com says in the report that, even more recently, “It has historically been Chess.com’s general policy to handle account suspensions/closures and invitations for titled players (such as Hans) in a non-public manner.” Clearly it trusted him to come back and play and hoped he would keep it clean, as the original ban only lasted six months. Maybe it’s not so much that this is coincidental timing as that the people who see themselves as managers of chess have always wanted to create a healthy community where it is possible to rehabilitate. Niemann may have been a cheat, but they wanted to give him a chance to be a better player.
It may seem like pulling this now is a breach of Chess.com, but remember, because of the allegations, Niemann assured the public that he had only cheated a few times, and that these incidents happened a long time ago, when he was younger. If Niemann lied about this, and by doing so very recently, you could argue that he first broke the pact here and therefore could not be trusted to further Chess.com’s larger goal of keeping the game honest.
Of course, many observers will still have their doubts, especially when you consider that the site made an offer to buy Magnus Carlsen’s company for millions of dollars. The report repeatedly tries to assure the reader that it in no way favors Carlsen, with one of the first large sections devoted to whether or not its decisions were influenced by the grandmaster. Never mind that we still have no evidence that Niemann ever cheated in an over-the-top setting, with theoretical anal beads or not.
Still, I encourage you to spend some time reading Chess.com’s massive 72-page report: Whatever you take away from it, it’s a fascinating and unprecedented look into one of the biggest competitive scandals of the year.