Chess’s top-ranked player, Magnus Carlsen, has finally spoken about the ongoing alleged cheating scandal that has rocked the chess world for the last several weeks and was reignited when Carlsen resigned in protest after making one move against Hans Niemann. Niemann, of course, was accused of cheating against Carlsen earlier this month, but no one has been able to prove this, nor has a mechanism for the supposed cheating been proven.
“I think the whole world is wondering, what is the reason you withdrew [against Niemann]?” a newscaster with Chess24 asked.
“Unfortunately I cannot particularly speak on that,” Carlsen said. “But, you know, people can draw their own conclusion and they certainly have. 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.”
“I will not comment on that,” he added when asked if he was accusing Niemann of cheating. He was then asked if he was accusing Dlugy, who is a chess grandmaster, of helping Niemann cheat: “No, I will not say more about that subject … I hope to say a little bit more after the tournament.”
Carlsen was then asked if he thought cheating was a problem in chess. “I think individual people will answer the question differently depending on their own experiences. Regardless of whether it’s a massive problem or not, it’s, I think, fairly easy to cheat. On a general basis, cheaters in the future, it should not be taken lightly neither online nor over the board.”
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Even with as little as he said, the statement has already reinvigorated the debate around Niemann’s play, which has been, essentially, the only topic in chess since Niemann defeated Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup earlier this month. After that match, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament and tweeted this video of soccer manager Jose Mourinho, which many took to mean that Niemann had somehow cheated. It’s been a whirlwind since: Niemann has been banned from online platform Chess.com for still undisclosed violations; large swaths of the chess world have chosen to side with Carlsen, insisting that Niemann must have been leaked his plans or somehow used a “shoe computer” (or vibrating anal beads!) hooked to a chess engine to cheat during the match; others have said that Carlsen has let this go on far too long without making a specific accusation, and that Carlsen is ruining his legacy by beefing with a 19-year-old without showing evidence that he’s actually cheating.
That brings us to now, and Carlsen’s newest comments, which are the most extensive he’s made on the situation. Chess watchers believe that by namedropping Maxim Dlugy, Carlsen is putting down more breadcrumbs. Dlugy is is a Russian-born, American chess grandmaster who currently operates the Chess Max Academy in Manhattan. In July, Dlugy posted a photo with “my student Hans Niemann,” congratulating him on “becoming a top 50 player in the world! Go Hans!”
After Niemann beat Carlsen earlier this month, Dlugy posted a congratulatory message: “Just 16 months ago or so, I recommended to Hans to really focus on endings. He devoted a lot of time to this pivotal part of the game and today I am proud to say that his endgame play is sufficient to beat the reigning World Champion from a better position. That’s powerful! Hans Niemann - Chess speaks for itself!“
Redditors were quick to point out, however, that Dlugy has his own controversy. Dlugy has been removed twice from a weekly Chess.com tournament called Titled Tuesday, in 2017 and 2020. Benjamin Bok, a chess grandmaster and Twitch streamer, for example, made a whole segment delving into some of Dlugy’s old Chess.com matches and pointing out that Dlugy was suddenly removed from Chess.com with no explanation: “Generally that only means one thing,” Bok said, not elaborating on what it means, but heavily implying that it means he was caught cheating. “Draw your own conclusions. Draw your own conclusions. That’s all I’m going to say.”
“Question becomes: Is perhaps Dlugy Hans’ accomplice, in case Hans is cheating? We’ll have to wait and see,” Bok says. “But the fact that Magnus makes that statement and drops his name, it means that he knows something we don’t know. You can’t just drop someone’s name in there without really knowing stuff. I feel like he knows something really big.”
Dlugy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When asked by Motherboard why Dlugy was removed from two Titled Tuesday matches and why Niemann was banned, Erik Allebest, the CEO of Chess.com, said “Those are very good questions! Unfortunately we cannot comment on this situation at this time. We hope to be able to in the near future!”