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Hans Niemann is launching a counterattack in his dispute with world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, filing a federal lawsuit that accuses Carlsen of maliciously colluding with others to defame the 19-year-old grandmaster and ruin his career.
It is the last move in a scandal that has injected unprecedented levels of drama into the world of elite chess since early September, when Carlsen suggested that Niemann’s upset victory over him at the Sinquefield Cup tournament in St. Louis was the result of cheating.
Niemann wants a federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri to award him at least $100 million in damages. Defendants in the lawsuit include Carlsen, his company Play Magnus Group, the Internet platform Chess.com and its leader, Danny Rensch, along with grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura.
The lawsuit says that in the aftermath of Niemann’s upset victory in September, Carlsen was motivated to maintain his status as the “king of chess” so he could complete the buyout of his company by Chess.com – a deal worth tens of millions of dollars.
The court filing accuses Rensch and Nakamura of using their influence to bolster and bolster Carlsen’s claims that Niemann is a fraud. The suit seeking a jury trial was filed Thursday, one day after Niemann ended the US Chess Championship tournament in a five-way tie for fifth place.
Chess.com again rejects Niemann’s version of the events
Niemann has publicly recognized using electronic devices to cheat in online matches – but he insists he only did this when he was 12 and 16. He called one of those cases “an absolutely ridiculous mistake.” And except when he was 12, Niemann said, he had never cheated in a tournament with prize money. He called it “the worst thing I could ever do.”
Niemann, who like other top players hosts lucrative video accounts on Twitch and other services, also said he didn’t cheat when he streamed games.
But in early October, Chess.com issued a report rejecting Niemann’s storystating, “Hans probably cheated in more than 100 online chess games, including several prize money events. He was already 17 when he probably cheated in some of those matches and games. He also flushed in 25 of those games.”
In response to the new lawsuit, Chess.com published a statement of its lawyers saying that the new allegations have no merit, and that the company “expects to set the record straight on behalf of its team and all honest chess players.”
Noting that Niemann publicly admitted to cheating last month, the company added, “the resulting fallout is of its own making”.
NPR’s requests for comment from other defendants in the lawsuit were not answered before this article was published.
Niemann says that Carlsen could not handle a loss to him
The lawsuit provides Niemann’s fullest account to date of his high-stakes dispute with Carlsen. It describes the Norwegian, who is regarded as one of the best chess players in history, as being “famous for his inability to deal with defeat.”
Carlsen shocked the chess world in late September, when he was once again matched against Niemann in a tournament – but according to Niemann’s lawsuit, Carlsen “inexplicably lost the game after making one move.” Carlsen later stated directly that he would refuse to play Niemann due to his past links to cheating.
Niemann says that this attitude amounts to blacklisting him, because tournaments that are either sponsored by companies affiliated with Carlsen or that want the world champion to appear would be encouraged not to extend an invitation to Niemann.
“Defendants’ malicious defamation and unlawful collusion, by design, destroyed Niemann’s remarkable career at its peak and ruined his life,” the lawsuit states.
In Niemann’s opinion, his victory over Carlsen “should have propelled Niemann’s career to the next level and allowed him to continue to realize his enormous potential as the next great American chess player.” But, the lawsuit adds, “Unbeknownst to Niemann at the time, Defendants would do whatever was necessary to ensure that this never happened.”