19-Year-Old American Chess Grandmaster Hans Niemann Sues Chess World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Others for $400 Million


Last Thursday, in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Missouri, 19-year-old American chess grandmaster Hans Niemann filed a lawsuit accusing chess world champion Magnus Carlsen and others of maliciously colluding to defame him and ruining his career by blacklisting him from chess.[2] Niemann is seeking an award of at least $400 million in damages across five causes of action.[3] Named defendants in the lawsuit include Carlsen, his company Play Magnus Group, the online platform Chess.com LLC, its chief chess officer Daniel Rensch, and chess grandmaster and popular streamer Hikaru Nakamura.[4]

The lawsuit is just the latest move in a cheating scandal that has caused unprecedented levels of drama in the world of elite chess since early September when Carlsen and Chess.com suggested Niemann’s upset victory over Carlsen in the third round of the Sinquefield Cup tournament in St. Louis, which carries a $350,000 prize pool, was the result of cheating.[5] After Niemann defeated Carlsen, Carlsen withdrew from the event.[6]

Last month Niemann publicly admitted to using electronic devices to cheat in online matches, but he insists he only did so in isolated incidents at the ages of 12 and 16.[7] He called one of those incidents “an absolutely ridiculous mistake.”[8] However, Niemann claimed he has “never cheated” during in-person games or prize money events, calling it “the worst thing I could ever do.”[9] Additionally, Niemann, who like other top chess players hosts lucrative video accounts on Twitch and other streaming services, said he hadn’t cheated when streaming matches.[10]

But earlier this October, Chess.com, which bought Carlsen’s company Play Magnus Group for $83 million in August, issued a report rejecting Niemann’s version of events.[11] The report stated that Niemann “has likely cheated in more than 100 online chess games, including several prize money events. He was already 17 when he likely cheated in some of these matches and games. He was also streaming in 25 of these games.”[12] However, the report drew no firm conclusions on any of Niemann’s games, including the fateful one against Carlsen.[13]

In response to the lawsuit, Chess.com published a statement through its attorneys stating that the new allegations have no merit and that the company “looks forward to setting the record straight on behalf of its team and all honest chess players.”[14] The company added that “the resulting fallout is of [Niemann’s] own making,” noting his public confession to cheating last month.[15]

The lawsuit provides Niemann’s fullest account yet of his high-stakes dispute with Carlsen. It describes Carlsen, who is regarded as one of the best chess players in history, as being “notorious for his inability to cope with defeat.”[16] According to the lawsuit, Carlsen “gutlessly forfeited the game after making one move.”[17] Carlsen later stated that he refused to play Niemann because of his past links to cheating.[18] However, Niemann claims that Carlsen’s accusations have been motivated to preserve his status as the “king of chess.”[19] Furthermore, Niemann claims that  Carlsen’s stance amounts to blacklisting him, as tournaments that are either sponsored by companies affiliated with Carlsen or that want the world champion to appear would be motivated not to extend an invitation to Niemann.[20]

According to Niemann, his victory over Carlsen “should have propelled [his] career to the next level and allowed him to continue realizing his enormous potential as the next great American chess player.”[21] But, “unbeknownst to Niemann at the time, Defendants would do whatever it took to ensure that this would never happen.”[22] The lawsuit states that the “Defendants’ malicious defamation and unlawful collusion has, by design, destroyed Niemann’s remarkable career in its prime and ruined his life.”[23]

[1] Magnus Carlsen (left) and Hans Niemann (right). https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-10-21/chess-star-hans-niemann-sues-magnus-carlsen-for-defamation/101560422

[2] https://www.npr.org/2022/10/21/1130442319/hans-niemann-sues-magnus-carlsen-for-100-million-accusing-him-of-defamation

[3] https://frontofficesports.com/chess-grandmaster-makes-his-countermove-sues-for-100m/

[4] Id.

[5] https://www.npr.org/2022/10/21/1130442319/hans-niemann-sues-magnus-carlsen-for-100-million-accusing-him-of-defamation

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] https://frontofficesports.com/chess-grandmaster-makes-his-countermove-sues-for-100m/

[10] https://www.npr.org/2022/10/21/1130442319/hans-niemann-sues-magnus-carlsen-for-100-million-accusing-him-of-defamation

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] https://frontofficesports.com/chess-grandmaster-makes-his-countermove-sues-for-100m/

[14] https://www.npr.org/2022/10/21/1130442319/hans-niemann-sues-magnus-carlsen-for-100-million-accusing-him-of-defamation

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

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