A chess drama: Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann

For a few months now, controversy has taken over parts of the chess world.

Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion, has indirectly accused his rival Hans Niemann of cheating.

He didn’t do it openly. But he did leave a game with Niemann shortly after sitting down at the table, and he posted cryptic messages on social media saying he can’t say more because it would give him legal troubles. And everyone in the chess world, and the mainstream media, understands that he is accusing Niemann of cheating. (There is a lot more to this story, see the link above.)

Everyone has to be considered innocent until proven guilty. That’s an important principle in our legal system and in society in general, and it’s one I apply in my own life. Unless I have solid data, I consider people innocent. I don’t take rumors and what people say about others very seriously because I know it’s always filtered and biased and often wrong. (And when I notice I don’t follow this, I explore what’s going on.)

In my view, Carlsen has acted in an immature way here. It may be that it’s a deliberate strategy. He may have strong suspicions that Niemann is cheating, he wants to bring attention to it, and he chose to do it that way. And it has certainly put Niemann in the spotlight.

At the same time, it sets a dangerous precedent. It’s not a good idea to publicly accuse others of something we don’t have proof of, whether we do it directly or indirectly.

Why? Because it may be wrong. And because most of us don’t want to live in that kind of society. We may think it’s fine as long as others are targeted, but we or someone close to us may be the next target.

So what could Carlsen have done instead? He could have gathered solid proof and given it to the correct chess authorities. If he didn’t have solid proof, not saying anything would be more honest.

And he could also have done what I would likely have done in his situation. He could have worked with others to gather and analyze statistics of Niemann’s games to look for anomalies, publish the findings without any comment, and allow others to investigate further and make up their own mind. That would, at least, be based on data.


It may feel good for Carlsen to go about it this way. He is sneaky and gets what he wants, which is putting the spotlight on Niemann. It may feel good for others to engage in this drama and the speculations around it.

And yet, is it what’s best for everyone involved? Is it what sets the best example for others? Is it what’s best for society? Is this the kind of society we want?

On social issues, my views are often conventional and boring.

Why? Because I am a child of my time and culture, and because conventional and boring views often have some wisdom in them.

In this case, the old-fashioned “innocent until proven guilty” principle seems very useful. And it’s not something we can take for granted. It’s easy to imagine a society where this principle is not followed, and we have many examples from history of just that. We even have many examples in our own society, and this situation is just one of many.

It’s a principle that needs to be renewed and applied over and over again by each of us.


A few more things about the Carlson / Niemann situation:

Niemann is obviously a very good chess player even without needing to cheat. (That doesn’t mean he hasn’t cheated, of course.)

He himself admitted that he cheated once, which is admirable, and he has – as far as I know – not been caught cheating by anyone.

He has filed a lawsuit against Carlsen, which is very understandable. He has lost reputation and income due to the Carlsen accusations, and these are accusations without any evidence, so it makes sense that he is taking that step.

People who have analyzed his games have found patterns that they interpret as signs of cheating.


  • Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann 
    • MC withdrew from a game with Niemann after one move, a clear demonstration of something
    • Then cryptic message on social media 
    • Then hinting that Niemann is cheating 
    • All immature, unprofessional, even unethical 
    • An example that can be brilliant in one area of life, and not so much in other, doesn’t always transfer 
    • (Similarly out-of-touch when wanted Norwegian chess organization to be sponsored by a gambling business, as if money is more important than where it comes from) 
    • Ruins someones career without proof, only based on suspicion, and uses position of power to do so, assumes guilt without evidence  
    • The more mature approach would be 
    • (a) gather solid proof and present it to the correct authorities 
    • (b) if cannot, then don’t speak about it or hint about it 
    • (c) or look at statistics, present the statistics, and let people make up their own mind, using public data that others can check  
    • I often take an old fashioned conventional view on these topics, often more grounded, simple, straight forward 
    • Seems to be an unfortunate fashion to abandon the “innocent until proven guilty” guideline, to not value it anymore, 
    • The emperor has no clothes
      • Chess and image building
      • Suits, intelligence etc. 
      • Build up an image and myth around it 
      • Ties into archetypes, projections
      • Make themselves into a good projection object 
      • To elevate the status, get more attention and money 
      • E.g. not allowed to wear t-shirt or jeans at bigger competitions, bc may change the image of chess, reduce its status and monetary value, and bring it down to a more appropriate status, 
    • Also, why are Russians allowed? 

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