The ostensibly quaint world of Chess has lurched into turmoil and rancour over the past month in the aftermath of World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s allegations of cheating levelled at American teenager Hans Niemann – and now this week, a 72-page report by Chess.com proved to be the latest twist in this never-ending soap opera that’s dividing the chess world and overspilling into the mainstream-media.
The main claim in the report is that rising star Niemann, 19, has several more instances of cheating online than the two instances he previously fessed up to, with the Chess.com investigation claiming it was “likely” he cheated in more than 100 games online.
Niemann’s, currently playing in the $250,000 U.S. Championship being held at the Saint Louis Chess Club, defiantly insisted he is “not going to back down” after making his first comments on the scandal in nearly a month. Speaking on Wednesday during a brief post-game interview after winning his opening round game, Niemann said his victory was “a message to everyone”.
Following his convincing win over 15-year-old Christopher Yoo, Niemann was asked about the “elephant in the room” – without addressing the allegations directly, Niemann said: “This game is a message to everyone. This entire thing started with me saying ‘chess speaks for itself’ and I think this game spoke for itself and showed the chess player I am.”
“It also showed I’m not going to back down and I’m going to play my best chess here regardless of the pressure.”
Meanwhile, this week Carlsen is representing his Oslo club, Offerspill, in the European Club Cup in Mayrhofen, Austria. The world champion began with a draw against an opponent rated nearly 300 points lower, but then turned on the style with an eye-catching win in the second round against Alexander Naumann – a win where many were quick to wryly observe that the Norwegian opponent’s surname was just a couple of vowel changes from his bogeyman, and he seemed to revel in the similarity by taking his wrath out on the jobbing German GM.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Alexander Naumann
37th ECC Open, (2)
Scotch Opening, Mieses Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 The world-famous 1824-28 correspondence match between Edinburgh and London chess clubs gave birth to the Scotch Opening/Gambit – but after being in the wilderness for almost a century at top level, it was very dramatically rehabilitated by World Champion Garry Kasparov, who used it as a stunning secret weapon against Anatoly Karpov during their 1990 title match, scoring 1.5/2 with it. 3…exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 The Mieses Variation is the traditional big battleground in the Scotch, but the the newer, more modern approach with 4…Qf6!? has gained in popularity in recent years. 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.Nd2!? Not the usual move here, more common has been 8.c4 Ba6 9.b3 and another complex and dynamic struggle ahead. But Carlsen diverging so early in the opening from known paths should have sent alarms going off in Naumann’s head that he could well be walking into a potential minefield. 8…Nf4 Despite being both Scottish and a regular imbiber of Scotch, I have never exactly been au fait with the Scotch in opening theory, but apparently the main line here is 8…g6 where one recent game went 9.c4 Nf4 10.Qe3 Ne6 11.b3 Bg7 12.Bb2 0-0 13.Ne4 and a complex struggle ahead, which is so common in these Scotch lines. 9.Qe3 Carlsen is clearly up to something, as the more natural move is 9.Qe4 saving a tempo, otherwise we would have seen the queen on e4 and the continuation 9…Ng6 10.f4 d5 11.Qa4 Qc5 12.Nf3 where again, there’s chances for both sides. 9…Nd5 10.Qe4 f6 The serious alternative here had to be 10…Nb4!? where White can go very wrong, very quickly, with 11.Nf3?! d5! 12.Qe2 Bf5 13.Nd4 Nd3+! 14.cxd3 Qb4+ 15.Bd2 Qxd4 16.Bc3 Bb4! etc. And all of this makes you wonder what Carlsen intended playing after 10…Nb4!?, as it seems to me it leads to easy equality for Black. 11.c4!?N Carlsen took a lengthy time-out here and came up with a big novelty that involved a daring double pawn sacrifice. I don’t for one minute believe the world champion created this all at the board – I think he was aware that something like this was possible, and he was just double-checking analysis he’d perhaps previously seen here. 11…Nb4 12.Kd1 The only move. After 12.a3? d5! 13.cxd5 cxd5 Black is well on top with both e5 and c2 under threat. 12…Qxe5 13.a3 Qxe4 14.Nxe4 Na6 15.b4 c5 16.b5 Bb7 17.Bd3 Nb8 18.Re1 Kf7 19.Nc3 Bd6 20.f4 Bxg2 21.Kc2 The position is opening up so dynamic and quickly – and one can only deduce from this that Naumann had to have inadvertently fallen into some fiendish past world championship deep opening prep from Carlsen! 21…g6 22.Bb2 Bxf4? [Taking the second pawn is only asking for it, as it opens more lines in front of Naumann’s king that allows Carlsen to swiftly come in for the kill. Better looked trying to keep it tight with 22…f5!? 23.Nd5 Rf8 24.Nf6 h6 and taking the fight up from here – but after 25.Re2 Bb7 26.Rae1 and with the looming threat of a Ne8, the elephant in the room is how the hell is Black ever going to get his …Nb8 back into the game? 23.Re2! [see diagram] One of those subtle yet deadly ‘little moves’ in chess, with the mini-rook lift smoothing the way for the queenside rook to come into the game with deadly affect. 23…Bb7 24.Rf1 g5 What else is there? If 24…Bg5 25.Ne4! Bxe4 26.Rxe4 d6 27.Rg4 and Black’s position collapses. 25.h4 d6? Naumann cracks under the relentless Carlsen pressure. The critical survival try was with 25…h6! 26.Ne4! Bxe4 27.Bxe4 (This time 27.Rxe4 is not so effective, as after 27…d6 the knight timely swings back into the game via …Nb8-d7 to defend f6.) 27…c6 28.Bf3 where White has a lot of pressure for his sacrificed three pawns and Black, still unable to bring his entombed …Nb8 back into the game, has to defend with great care. 26.hxg5 Be5 27.Ne4 All roads lead to Rome now for Carlsen, and 27.Nd5! was equally just as good if not a little better. 27…Nd7 Black could have lived on a little longer with 27…Bxb2 28.Kxb2 Nd7 29.Nxf6 Ne5 30.Nd7+ – but then again, why prolonged the agony? 28.Nxf6! Nxf6 29.Bxe5 dxe5 30.Rxe5 1-0 Naumann resigns, the point being that White will pick up a couple of extra pawns after 30…Rhe8 31.Rxc5 Rac8 32.Rxf6+ Kg7 33.Bf5 Be4+ 34.Bxe4 Rxe4 35.Ra6! leaving a truly horrible double rook ending for Black to defend.