Paranoia and insanity – by Jacob Aagaard

I believe a lot of you will have seen the crazy events in St Louis over the last 48 hours. I felt an obligation to share facts and thoughts with you, and then allow you to make up your own mind.

The background is that Magnus Carlsen lost a not-too spectacular game against Hans Niemann on Sunday. Magnus is the GOAT, Hans is 19 and rated just under 2700. With the win, he passed the mark for the first time.

Monday Magnus did not show up to the game and released a tweet with a Mourinho comment of “if I say what I want to say, I will be in big trouble – and I don’t want to be in big trouble.” Quickly the team of internet detectives combined this and increased anti-cheating

First of all, my personal relationship with Hans Niemann: I met him at a camp in St Louis in 2019. He was about 2450 and clearly a socially awkward character that had a feeling that all eyes were on him all the time. But he was smart, funny, and likeable. It was a good camp and we had some laughs. At the time he was talking about quitting chess a lot, but it was clear that the issue was he cared so much and had not found a mental position that worked for him.

We were sort of in contact on and off over the next two years. He was 2500 18 months ago and playing all the time. His attitude had changed. Instead of being scared of admitting that he wanted to be great, he now gave it his all. Traveling from event to event. Playing good games, bad games. Uncompromising. His rating increased a lot over the summer. Over 100 points. He reached 2630 or so by the autumn when he came to visit in Glasgow. At that time, he had also joined our academy, although I doubt he ever got around to using it much (and did not renew in 2022).

Our training session was a week. It was meant to be a camp, but no one else could make it. Hans was difficult to train. I tried to do calculation and endgame training with him (he had requested endgame training). At first, I showed exercises from recent games (last 18 months) that I really liked. He knew them ALL. I was astonished by his memory. I was astonished by his intuition. Both were off the charts for what I have seen training Shankland, Gelfand, and other 2600+ and a few 2700s.

There were obvious big holes in his chess, but to be honest, I see big holes in the game of Giri, Aronian, Mamedyarov, Firouzja, and other top players. When I get a 2650 student, I usually try to find out what part of their game is at a much lower level. There is always some area of chess where they are just blank. Maybe they cannot really visualise. They don’t know how to make simple decisions. They cannot calculate a line till the end. All three examples of real 2650 players I have worked with.

Hans’s confidence in his own intuition and his surprise when it was wrong was a recurring theme of the week he was here. Another was that whenever I came to his room, he was looking at chess. Playing through ALL games from all tournaments on Follow chess.

I have seen nothing out of the ordinary in the last two days. Hans playing reasonably well against opponents that are not playing that well. His big confidence. His awkwardness in front of the camera. His highly intuitive way of thinking. His lack of accuracy in variations. Him blundering when suggesting things, he thinks he might have looked at.

I also did not see anything out of the ordinary from Carlsen. Entitlement. Lack of responsibility. Lack of accountability. A Norwegian troll army ready to defame a man who only 400 days ago was a minor. Carlsen has acted badly in many situations after losing in the past. In that way, he reminds me of Federer, who was a badly behaved teenager. Become the best player in the world and behaved excellently. Then started losing to Djokovic and needed a period to adjust to reality.

People say that Carlsen does not behave badly when he is losing in his Meltwater Tour to Praggnanandhaa. It is partly because it is like Federer losing a set. It is partly because Praggnanandhaa is deferential to Magnus. Hans is not. Hans wants to kill the king. Wants to take the throne. He has no remorse over this at all.

Some people on Twitter is saying that Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi are backing up these accusations of cheating. I watched the Nakamura YouTube video and found it to be ridiculous, but also void of an actual accusation of cheating. When Nakamura is saying that no 2700 calculates this poorly, he is flat out wrong. I can also show positional mistakes from Nakamura that undermines the credibility of the playing strength of the former no. 2. Mistakes that Hans would simply not believe a GM had made. Because they are his strengths and Nakamura’s weaknesses.

There are many GMs who are suspicious. There are also many GMs who think this is ridiculous. There are also many GMs that are without real skills outside playing chess in exactly one way.

” This guy doesn’t look like cheater doesn’t behave like cheater and doesn’t play like cheater. Altogether this doesn’t provide 100% guarantee but still…” – Alexander Khalifman

“…It was more than impressive.” – Ian Nepomniachtchi

Comments about the preparation for the game with Carlsen were bizarre. Hans gave the reason he anticipated a g3-line. Which for me is already reason enough to check various g3-lines. He showed additional moves he remembered from his preparation. Sure, one of them was a blunder and his memory was inaccurate regarding the actual evaluation. The narrative for this being indications of cheating must include an explanation of how the game reference came in. First, it was that there was no such game. Then it was some other nonsense.

We all know that it is possible to send signals of moves in a highly sophisticated operation. It requires technology. It requires an accomplice. It requires a high level of risk-taking and stupidity. But what it does not offer is a reasonable way for a game reference to be conveyed. This is a sign of preparation.

So far, what we have seen is a case of a young man overperforming and being awkward. Especially, in the situation where he is asked about the game with Firouzja. Trying to point out that he looked and felt awkward in the situation created by Carlsen’s withdrawal.

My main argument is that it always has to be about the moves. The moves were nothing special. The thinking was fully consistent with what I have seen when discussing chess with Hans.

“Magnus behaved like an entitled brat” is at least an equally reasonable theory. This is not new behaviour. Those saying he has never accused anyone of cheating, never withdrawn and never behaved badly (as if this alone would be evidence of anything), are simply underinformed. I don’t want to be a part of a smear against anyone, but to me, it is incredible that all just assume that Carlsen is a good guy. And this after 20 years of seeing how bad a loser can be.

There are people online who say that “Niemann almost definitely cheated” based on just utter rubbish. From those with little knowledge or competence, you will get the greatest certainty. It is called Dunning-Kruger.

Obviously, I do not have certainty that Hans did not cheat. Nor do I have certainty that Carlsen has never cheated. It is reasonably well established that Hans cheated online at some point. This is simply a different thing. Compare it to cheating in Homework Club. There are times when people have cheated on their homework and I ignore it. Because it is not a big thing. It does not make me believe that they will start on advanced Mission Impossible-style careers as advanced cheaters. It is of course possible to do it, but it requires advanced behaviour to beat top tournament security far beyond what we have seen from people cheating, which is usually compression socks and phones in the toilet, to point to a famous case.

What I have seen when people are cheating, is a loss of confidence in themselves and an acceleration in the cheating behaviour. And when accused, they usually get angry and go on the offensive. The innocent are confused and saddened.

In this case, I have not seen moves or behaviour that are out of character for Hans, nor have I seen anything that looks like computer-influence moves. I have not seen behaviour typical of losers.

What I have seen is the nasty side of the Internet and poor behaviour from various individuals, who are totally within my experience of them as human beings. You may disagree with my presumptions of what happened here, but the simplest explanation is often the right one. Magnus could not accept that he could lose to someone he thinks of as “a joke” and came up with a different explanation. And the internet is full of his fans, happy to make meat out of it and they all know that Hans’ hair works as an antenna. And they know it with certainty.

Jacob Aagaard

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To all those wondering, Nigel Short found the game, and as he points out, it is not a geography quiz.
https://twitter.com/nigelshortchess/status/1567020771528130561?s=20&t=mKUH00z9F0g1Go-lXw_Trw

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Well said Jacob “Let the Chess do the Talking”

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Some fair points, but connecting cheating online to cheating at homework is a bit of a weak comparison. The ramifications of brushing off online cheating are of course noxious to chess in general; with ever growing prize funds online and new opportunities to promote what is suppose to be the king of games.

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Hans’s interview from a few minutes ago. It’s well past midnight in Europe, so I’m sure by the time we wake tomorrow, everyone will have seen it

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I don’t know Hans, don’t know his personal circumstances or why he felt the need to cheat when younger, but he seems to be a bit of a chess hermit now and is totally dedicated to his chess goals, putting in 12 hours a day and only stopping twice a day to get food deliveries.

MVL, who seems to be a very calm and balanced person has commented in his Chess Tour interview, that the way it has all been handled seems like a bit of a witch-hunt and “the effect it can have on Hans is actually quite devastating”, and this is very true, for someone whose whole self-esteem is now connected to chess. He also stated that while he is a little worried as Magnus in general is not known for going on witch-hunts, he would like to see some evidence.

Yes, Hans has admitted to cheating online when aged 12 and 16, so that is a fact and whatever form that took and for whatever reasons is another matter. The Guardian newspaper has some context here.

Top chess player Hans Niemann admits cheating in past but says he is now ‘clean’ | Chess | The Guardian

Some people might feel justified in calling him a cheater, but we are not a “one chance” society, even for extreme acts of murder people are rehabilitated back into society. Kids often go through a phase of taking things that do not belong to them, should we call them thieves for life? or try to adjust their moral compass in the right direction.

Certainly people will naturally be more suspicious of those who have cheated before, but you need more than suspicion to accuse or imply someone has cheated. At a bare minimum, you need some circumstantial evidence, just because Hans seems not to be very articulate or cannot structure his thoughts well during these post-game interviews, does not mean he is guilty, maybe he it is just nerves. as he seems to be able to discuss the games well enough with his opponents at the table.

We still do not know as a fact the reason Magnus withdrew but obviously he had his suspicions and was not happy with the Organizer’s responses to those suspicions, so withdrew. There is also the possibility that Hans was trying to psych-out his future opponents by suggesting that he had deeply prepared that line that morning, for Magnus, Would it have made a difference, if he had said he had analysed that line weeks ago with the Engines as part of his preparation against the Catalan. In hindsight, If he knew those comments were going to be used as evidence against him, he may have phrased it differently, but maybe not, if it was true!

Anyhow I’m sure this story will run for a while and now that cheating in chess has been raised in the mainstream media again, I don’t think this is a good thing for the reputation of chess, for attracting potential future sponsors, or for chess players in general. We have the FIDE anti-cheating protocol and procedures in place, if this is not good enough update it, it not live by it.

I think you need to ask yourself, does it make sense that he would cheat now as an improving professional player, earning his living from the game and about to potentially have a breakthrough performance against the world elite, also knowing that people know you have “cheated” in the past and therefore under likely enhanced scrutiny adds extra pressure for him.

Hans must feel that putting the whole incident out in the open for discussion, is the only way he will ever get some kind of closure on his “sins” as a 12 year old, If he does not get it, I’m sure it will likely impact his chess and future career.

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very honest,
i feel here truth speaks for itself,
Thank you for sharing it @Kallia

** also many thanks to @JacobAagaard for speaking up, here and on the twitter,
well written, reasonable and fair

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Grischuk actually said more or less the same as Davies.

I agree with Susan Polgar’s husband (she does not do her own social media as far as I understand) that this will go on and on. I have personally disconnected from it.

Notice that Erigasi had a quicker rise to the top than Niemann. As did others. It is only unprecedented if you start with exactly the rating Hans had. Otherwise many top players had a jump that was out of control. Carlsen from 2300 to 2700 was pretty quick, for example.

The Atlanta King’s Statistics is the most serious angle I have seen yet. But it seems to me they started and stopped at convenient moments. I have followed Hans’ games for the last few years and they are desperately uneven. You don’t cheat and then win with a knight for the queen. That’s already a swing of 10 rating points. But of course, you could do that. All I know is that Regan, the official guy for checking these things, has found nothing.

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that statistics is reminding me of “summer sale increase in ice-cream and crime” :face_with_raised_eyebrow: :sweat_smile:, not serious stat! with that one may draw many conclusion…

I agree, it should be gone, and in my opinion shame will remain for the website which closed his account. :zipper_mouth_face:

Data are data. What the focus is, determines the result. I saw the workings if someone is taking Hans’ trajectory from September 2020. It really tells a story! But, if you take the results from when each of the top 100 GMs crossed 2450 until they reached 2680, the results are not surprising. Hans is not an outlier in this case.
Regardless if he cheated or not against Carlsen, a cheating allegation should come with at least some impartial evidence. Which can be hard to find!

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I do think access to live games are more relevant than ice cream sales. But as Kallia says: there are a lot of decisions made to make the statistics match. The Atlanta King decide to start and end at a specific place. Which makes the statistics work. Now I have not checked them, or the information they are based on, and have a feeling I should not trust it. But let’s say for the sake of argument it is correct.
The argument would then be that he only cheated in that period? But why did he continue to play games that don’t have live coverage? Why did he stop cheating? Why did he improve immensely after he stopped cheating and not while he was cheating?
The same trick was done with “no one ever went from 2480 to 2700 like this before.” Well, first off, he was 2450 for about 2 years. Why start at the end of that period? And why start at 2480? Why not 2530 to 2730, where Aronian and Erigasi pop up. Or 2300 to 2700 (Carlsen), or Giri, or and or and or. If you change it to 200 point increase to 2675-2750 you will find a lot of strong players did this. Not all, but a lot. Remember that Kasparov’s first rating would have put him as no. 4 in the World, if FIDE had not removed 50 points strictly against the rules.
None of this is a solid argument for cheating or against it. I based my lack of belief in systematic high tech cheating on a number of factors.

  1. The games don’t look like cheating
  2. Hans continues to lose a lot of games
  3. I know that Hans is 2650+ level. Maybe he is having a good period and will soon enter a difficult period. This is normal and should not be used as an indication of cheating. If she drowns, she is a witch is not a good method.
  4. Those saying it is easy to beat the anti-cheating measures in St Louis often make fundamental mistakes when describing the technology.
  5. There are also all the questions of why would Hans act as he does if he is a cheater. The confidence followed by a loss is not that of a cheater. The losing is not. The total absorption in working on chess, which many have testified to. There is no credible narrative to the preparation nonsense that was floating. (Peter Heine would not give the preparation to Hans, and he is the only other person who would know what Magnus was planning to play).

It all started with an accusation of “Hans cheated against Magnus, we just don’t know how.” Now it is a mining expedition, trying to find anomalies in the win/loss ratio over years and years.
The same goes with the chess.com statement. If they have clear evidence of cheating from Hans, which is what they would need to throw him out of an event, why do they look forward to talking to Hans about it? Why so cryptic? The chess.com anti-cheating operation looks like a complete mess. People are stating that they have been offered to sign a NDA and then they would be able to see the list. Others are indicating of leaks. There is no legitimate process and it is not obvious that minors are protected with anonymity, which for reference, they are after being convicted of homicide in most countries.

I don’t see evidence of OTB cheating. But I do see the Internet coming together as one big hit-squad relying mainly on the argument that “Magnus would not do this without serious reasons”, which is so incredibly poor a statement. There is a first for everything. And Magnus has behaved poorly a lot of times. So, why not like this? Hans is a flawed individual for sure, but most of us are.

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Hello Friends!
Hope all are well…
Don’t get me wrong but we should just focus on our chess improvement and not on who is cheating and who is not as it is not our matter of discussion TBH :sweat_smile:

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Yes!!

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