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

A top US chess player accused of cheating after Magnus Carlsen quit a prestigious tournament has admitted to doing so as 12 and 16-year-old – but insisted that he was now “clean” and was even prepared to play naked to prove his innocence.

Hans Niemann, the 19-year-old who stunned world champion Carlsen by beating him with the black pieces at the $500,000 Sinquefield Cup on Sunday, promised that he was a reformed character after revealing that he illegally benefited from computer assistance while playing chess on the internet as a child.

And in a remarkable interview on Tuesday night, Niemann also accused Carlsen and others – including the world’s best blitz player, Hikaru Nakamura – of trying to ruin his career as he offered to go to extraordinary lengths to show he wasn’t using a device to help him cheat during his games.

“If they want me to strip fully naked, I will do it,” said Niemann. “I don’t care. Because I know I am clean. You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don’t care. I’m here to win and that is my goal regardless.”

The chess world was plunged into confusion and turmoil on Monday when Carlsen withdrew from the tournament less than 24 hours after he was beaten by Niemann in the third round. The Norwegian did not explain why he had taken such an unprecedented step, but announced his departure in a tweet with a video of José Mourinho saying: “If I speak I am in big trouble.”

Shortly afterwards Nakamura made the stunning claim that Carlsen had pulled out because he suspected that Niemann had “probably cheated” – before revealing that Niemann had been previously banned by the world’s most popular chess website, Chess.com.

Speaking on Tuesday evening, Niemann denied any wrongdoing at the Sinquefield Cup. However he did admit that he had cheated in the past – first as a 12-year-old when a friend gave him some help in an online tournament and then as a 16-year-old playing unrated games while he was streaming. However he insisted that the improved standard of his play in the last year was down to wanting to redeem himself.

Explaining what had happened when he was 12, Niemann said he had wanted to get a higher rating so he could play some stronger players.

“I cheated on random games on Chess.com. I was confronted. I confessed. And this is the single biggest mistake of my life. And I am completely ashamed. I am telling the world because I don’t want misrepresentations and I don’t want rumours. I have never cheated in an over-the-board game. And other than when I was 12 years old I have never cheated in a tournament with prize money.”

Niemann admitted he had illegally used computers again playing in “random and unrated games” when he began streaming during the pandemic.

“To give context, I was 16 years old and living alone in New York City at the heart of the pandemic and I was willing to do anything to grow my stream,” he said. “What I want people to know about this is that I am deeply, deeply sorry for my mistake. I know my actions have consequences and I suffered those consequences. During that time I stepped away from a very lucrative streaming career, I stopped playing in all events and I lost a lot of close friendships and relationships.

“I decided the only way to make up for my mistake was to prove that I could win over the board events,” he added. “That has been my mission. And that is why I have lived in a suitcase and played 260 games in one year, trained for 12 hours a day, because I have something to prove.”

Niemann was also deeply critical of Chess.com, who he said had uninvited him from the global chess championship and removed him from their website after the furore began.

“They have the best cheat detection in the world,” he said. “They know I am not a cheater. I have given everything to chess. I work so hard and I have sacrificed everything for chess. But now Chess.com has hopped on Magnus and Nakamura’s accusations.

“I believe this is completely unfair. But I am not afraid to tell the world that I cheated as a 12-year-old and in some random games as a 16-year-old, because I know who I am.

“Everything I have done for the past few years is to make up for that mistake and I hope that my results, commitment and hard work have shown that I have learnt my lesson.”