The cheating drama that has enveloped the chess world will have a new chapter in federal court: 19-year-old Hans Niemann sued Magnus Carlsen, Chess.com, and popular chess grandmaster and streamer Hikaru Nakamura on Thursday for slander and libel and is seeking at least $100 million in damages.
Niemann’s lawsuit claims that Carlsen, the top-ranked chess player in the world, is “notorious for his inability to cope with defeat,” and that he “viciously and maliciously retaliated against Niemann by falsely accusing Niemann, without any evidence, of somehow cheating” during the Sinquefield Cup chess tournament last month when Niemann defeated Carlsen in a decisive upset.
The chess cheating saga instantly became international news last month after Carlsen implied, then later outright stated, that he believed Niemann cheated against him in that tournament. The story has several twists and turns that have been previously reported on by Motherboard. Soon after the Sinquefield Cup, Chess.com banned Niemann, stating that it had evidence that Niemann cheated extensively on the platform (Niemann has admitted to cheating when he was younger on Chess.com). Earlier this month, Chess.com released a report detailing those claims.
Niemann’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Missouri’s Eastern District, where the Sinquefield Cup was held, calls Carlsen “corrupt and cowardly,” and “gutless.” It alleges “collusion” between Chess.com, Carlsen, Carlsen’s Play Magnus chess company (which was acquired by Chess.com), and Nakamura, and says that Niemann has been disinvited from various tournaments and that he “cannot obtain employment as a chess teacher at a reputable school.”
The lawsuit claims that “defendants’ defamatory accusations have Destroyed Niemann’s life,” as well as his “reputation, career, and livelihood.” It also states that Niemann believes Chess.com has violated the Sherman Antitrust Act because of its power in the competitive chess space.
“Defendants acted in concert to improperly refuse to deal with Niemann, as described more fully above, including Chess.com banning Niemann from its platform and sponsored events, Carlsen refusing to play Niemann in any tournaments or events, and Defendants acting collectively to cause organizers of professional chess tournaments to blacklist Niemann from participating in their events,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit itself is largely a recounting of Carlsen's, Chess.com's, and Nakamura's public statements over the last month. It also notes that "tournament organizers and arbiters of the Sinquefield Cup, FIDE, and the world’s foremost experts in cheat detection, have uniformly confirmed that there is no evidence that Niemann cheated in any of his games against Carlsen, including at the Sinquefield Cup, particularly given the more than ample anti-cheating security measures used at the event. Unbiased top chess analysts have dissected Niemann and Carlsen’s Sinquefield Cup game in excruciating detail and concluded that Niemann’s victory resulted more from Carlsen’s particularly poor play than Niemann’s particularly exceptional play." The suit also mentions a Motherboard article in which one of Niemann’s coaches, Maxim Dlugy, admitted to chess.com in emails that he cheated in his own matches (Dlugy’s emails had nothing to do with Niemann).
On Twitter, Niemann said "my lawsuit speaks for itself."
“We are saddened by Hans Niemann’s decision to take legal action against Chess.com. We believe his lawsuit hurts the game of chess and its devoted players and fans around the world,” Chess.com said in a statement through its lawyers at Latham & Watkins LLP. “Chess.com is proud of its reputation within the chess community and beyond, and will always defend the game, the players, and their mission of both growing and protecting online chess.
Hans confessed publicly to cheating online in the wake of the Sinquefield Cup, and the resulting fallout is of his own making. As stated in its October 2022 report, Chess.com had historically dealt with Hans’ prior cheating privately, and was forced to clarify its position only after he spoke out publicly.
There is no merit to Hans’ allegations, and Chess.com looks forward to setting the record straight on behalf of its team and all honest chess players.”
Carlsen’s lawyer, Craig Reiser told Motherboard in a statement: “Hans Niemann has an admitted history of cheating and his lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to deflect blame onto others. His legal claims are without merit and we will vigorously defend against them.”
This article has been updated with comment from Chess.com and Magnus Carlsen’s attorney.