Titanic chess legal battle over cheating ends in an uneasy draw

Titanic chess legal battle over cheating ends in an uneasy draw

The sensational cheating scandal that rocked elite chess has ended in a legal draw, one that might produce an uneasy truce between some of the game’s best players and its most powerful commercial interests.

Chess.com, the market leader in the thriving internet version of the game, announced Monday it has “resolved its differences” with American grandmaster Hans Niemann, who was banned from the site amid widespread accusations that he had somehow received illegal help from powerful chess-playing computers at the board.

As part of the agreement, Mr. Niemann’s playing account will be reinstated on Chess.com and the company formally declared that it had found “no determinative evidence that [Mr. Niemann] has cheated in any in-person games.”

The accusations against Mr. Niemann generated worldwide headlines and commentary last year when the then-world champion, Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, withdrew from a major tournament in St. Louis after losing to the lower-rated Mr. Niemann. The Norwegian champion subsequently made it clear he would refuse to play in any event in which the American participated.

Mr. Niemann, who turns 21 in March, later admitted he had inappropriately used computer help in some online tournaments early in his career, but denied having received over-the-board help in defeating Mr. Carlsen. No hard proof ever emerged of illegal help for Mr. Niemann, and chess players around the world debated whether the young American’s meteoric rise up the rating charts and his sudden success against players like Mr. Carlsen relied on illegal means.

After Chess.com published its own investigative report pointing to more unacknowledged instances of online cheating by Mr. Niemann, he filed a $100 million defamation suit in October 2022 against the company and its top officers, Mr. Carlsen and his PlayMagnus company, and Hikaru Nakamura, an American grandmaster and popular online streamer who had raised his own public doubts about Mr. Niemann’s honesty. The suit accused the defendants of “egregiously defaming [Mr. Niemann] and unlawfully colluding to blacklist him from the profession to which he has dedicated his life.”

A federal district court dismissed the suit in June, but Mr. Niemann’s lawyers were reportedly seeking to revive the case in a state court when Monday’s settlement was announced.

“We are pleased to report that we have reached an agreement with Hans Niemann to put our differences behind us and move forward together without further litigation,” Chess.com said in a statement. “At this time, Hans has been fully reinstated to Chess.com, and we look forward to his participation in our events.”

Mr. Carlsen, who remains the world’s No. 1-rated player despite declining to defend his world title earlier this year, said in his own statement that he “acknowledged” the finding that there was no “determinative” proof Mr. Niemann cheated in their now-infamous St. Louis encounter.

“I am willing to play Niemann in future events, should we be paired together,” the Norwegian grandmaster said.

For his part Mr. Niemann, who has not received invitations to the few big-money tournaments on the international circuit since the scandal broke, also said he was ready to move on.

“I am pleased that my lawsuit against Magnus Carlsen and Chess.com has been resolved in a mutually acceptable manner, and that I am returning to Chess.com.,” the statement read in part. “I look forward to competing against Magnus in chess rather than in court and am grateful to my attorneys … for believing in me and helping me resolve the case.”

The most recent world ratings list published by the international chess federation FIDE ranked Mr. Niemann 77th in the world and 11th among all U.S.-based players. Mr. Carlsen was ranked first and Mr. Nakamura was No. 2.