Carlsen vs Niemann: the chess cheating scandal

Allegations involving vibrating anal beads have ‘set off waves’ in chess world

Magnus Carlsen at the chess board
World champion Magnus Carlsen at the chess board
(Image credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

A US teenager’s shock victory against the world champion has sparked extraordinary speculation in the world of chess.

Allegations have emerged of cheating, “including wild speculation involving vibrating anal beads”, which have “rocked chess to its core”, said The Guardian.

Musk and Mourinho memes

Two weeks ago the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, pulled out of the $500,000 (£433,000) Sinquefield Cup tournament in St Louis, Missouri, and then, on Monday he resigned from a game after just one move. The opponent on both occasions was the 19-year-old American Hans Niemann.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

After the St Louis event, Niemann, the lowest-rated grandmaster in the tournament, was less than gracious about his victory. “It must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose to me,” said the teenager. “I feel bad for him.”

Carlsen, 31, from Norway, then posted a cryptic tweet that included a video clip of football coach José Mourinho saying: “If I speak, I am in big trouble.” People interpreted this as a hint that Carlsen believed his opponent had cheated.

There was “frenzied speculation”, said The Guardian, with one theory, popularised by Elon Musk, suggesting that Niemann had “used vibrating anal beads to help him”.

Vibrating anal beads?

Yes, the suggestion is that Niemann was using wireless vibrating anal beads to read signals from a computer chess engine about what moves he should make, wrote Thomas Mitchell for The Sydney Morning Herald.

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit,” wrote Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla, in a since-deleted tweet, “Genius hits a target no one can see (cause it’s in ur butt).”

Although there is no evidence that Niemann had done this, he has admitted to using a computer chess engine to cheat at online chess in the past (when he was 12 and 16).

But he insists that is in the past and denies ever breaking the rules at a live tournament. “If they want me to strip fully naked, I will do it. I don’t care. Because I know I am clean,” he said.

The saga has caused shock, not least because Carlsen’s own organisation is hosting the tournament he withdrew from. “Carlsen effectively invited his apparent nemesis to his virtual home and then walked out the back,” said Kotaku.

The saga has “set off waves across the chess world”, said Forbes, while CNN said the tension between the pair “rocked the chess community”.

England’s leading woman player, Jovanka Houska, accused Carlsen of “pouring more fuel on the fire” of the controversy with his latest withdrawal, said the FT. The paper said this week’s “bizarre happening” is “almost without precedent in international chess”.

The story is so exciting for the media it is “as if a rogue editor has dropped a bunch of random, enticing words into a headline generator and waited to see what it would spit out”, wrote Mitchell.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.