This is an era of milk and honey for those who live, breathe and make their livelihood from chess. But, like family members fighting over a piece of bread at the dinner table, the top players cannot seem to stop getting into disputes about the integrity of the game.
The latest episode concerns Hikaru Nakamura, one of chess’s top stars, and Vladimir Kramnik, who was world champion from 2000 to 2007. Last month, in a series of blog posts on Chess.com, the world’s most popular chess site, Mr. Kramnik insinuated that Mr. Nakamura had probably cheated while playing on the site.
Mr. Nakamura did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
In one post that he subsequently deleted, Mr. Kramnik, without mentioning Mr. Nakamura by name, wrote that in one streak of 46 games, “a player” had won 45 games and drawn one. Mr. Kramnik then wrote, “I believe that everyone would find this interesting.”
After it became apparent that Mr. Kramnik was referring to Mr. Nakamura, he added in another post on Nov. 21, “Having checked Hikaru’s statistics carefully, I have found NUMEROUS low probabilities performance both of him and some of his opponents.” In other words: He implied that Mr. Nakamura’s results were very suspicious.
When reached for comment on Friday, Mr. Kramnik said that he never meant to say that. When a reporter pointed out to him that his words could be misunderstood, he said, “Of course it is not an accusation,” adding that people could interpret his comments however they wished.
On Sunday, Chess.com closed Mr. Kramnik’s blog and muted his account. In a statement posted to social media, Chess.com said it had met with Mr. Kramnik “numerous times,” and added: “Our team carefully investigated many dozens of players about which GM Kramnik raised suspicions. In the vast majority of cases, we found his accusations baseless.”
Mr. Kramnik said in an email that he had received news of the account closure from an associate, not directly from Chess.com. He added that there was no warning and said that for the past couple months, there had not been “a single communication attempt from them.”
Mr. Nakamura is not only one of the world’s top players, he is also one of the game’s most popular streamers, with about two million followers on both his Twitch and YouTube channels. He did not take Mr. Kramnik’s claim lightly.
Mr. Nakamura said that Mr. Kramnik was “cherry picking” the statistics that he was using, and he said on one of his streaming casts: “You don’t get to make false accusations when you are not an expert. You don’t get to make false accusations when you don’t have data to back yourself up.”
Given the high profiles of the two players, the controversy has swept the chess world. Mathematicians and amateur players have weighed in with their opinions and statistical analyses.
Chess.com, which has its own system for detecting cheating, posted a statement saying: “We take all cheating accusations seriously. In the case of the recent accusations against Hikaru Nakamura by Vladimir Kramnik, we have generated nearly 2,000 individual reports on Hikaru’s games in our Fair Play system and have found no incidents of cheating.”
Mr. Kramnik was incensed by the statement. In a blog post on the same day, he wrote, “Calling my recent efforts on help improving anti cheating efficiency of chess.com platform ‘accusations of Hikaru Nakamura by Vladimir Kramnik’ is a clear public disinformation which obviously can cause a huge image damages to me.” He demanded that Chess.com retract its statement, threatening to sue if it did not.
To date, Chess.com has not done that.
Before his account was muted, Mr. Kramnik told The Times that he was “shocked” by the reaction of Mr. Nakamura and Chess.com to what he wrote and that he had suffered damage to his reputation as well as personally to his family. He said he had received at least one death threat on Chess.com and that when he reported it to the site’s administrators, they banned the person who sent it. He said the website took no action beyond that and did not apologize to him.
“It seems to me that they are not doing what they can do to fight against cheating,” Mr. Kramnik said, “so I will continue to do it myself.” He added that he intends to file a lawsuit against Chess.com and against Mr. Nakamura; he is preparing the case now.
There is some significance in Mr. Nakamura’s being involved in a brouhaha in which he is accused of cheating, because the roles were reversed last year.
That case involved Magnus Carlsen, the world’s top-ranked player and the former world champion, who accused Hans Niemann, a rising American star, of cheating shortly after Mr. Carlsen lost to him in a tournament in St. Louis. Mr. Carlsen then withdrew from the tournament. Soon after, Chess.com released a report saying that Mr. Niemann had cheated in as many as 100 games while playing on its site over the years. Mr. Niemann had admitted to cheating twice on the site and years before the game against Mr. Carlsen.
A representative for Mr. Carlsen did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Nakamura was a vocal supporter of Mr. Carlsen during the episode, pointing to the Chess.com report as proof that Mr. Niemann could not be trusted.
In the uproar that followed, Mr. Niemann filed a lawsuit against Mr. Carlsen, Chess.com and Mr. Nakamura seeking $100 million. The International Chess Federation, also known as FIDE, the game’s governing body, opened an investigation into what happened.
The lawsuit was settled in August for undisclosed terms, and Mr. Niemann was allowed to play again on Chess.com without restrictions.
In an interview, Erik Allebest, one of Chess.com’s founders and its chief executive, described the relationship now between the site and Mr. Niemann as “very professional,” though he admitted that Mr. Niemann had “ghosted” him and Danny Rensch, the site’s chief chess officer, since the reinstatement.
This month, the federation, which had delayed weighing in so as to allow the lawsuit to run its course, released its report. It was more of a whimper than a bang.
The federation concluded that Mr. Niemann had not cheated against Mr. Carlsen during their game in St. Louis. It also found that Mr. Carlsen had behaved improperly when he withdrew from the tournament.
The federation has a code that prohibits players from recklessly accusing others of cheating, but it found that the admission of earlier online cheating by Mr. Niemann and Chess.com’s report had given Mr. Carlsen sufficient reason to doubt Mr. Niemann’s veracity.
The federation also found that Mr. Carlsen had not disparaged Mr. Niemann’s reputation or brought ill repute on the game. Indeed, the report suggested the attention from the controversy had been positive because it “may have piqued the interests and awareness of many persons” about the game.
Mr. Carlsen was fined 10,000 euros, or about $11,000, for his withdrawal from the tournament for what it deemed was an invalid reason. Mr. Carlsen has earned tens of millions from chess, so the fine is not likely to set him back.
“I am happy to be finished with the case,” Mr. Carlsen told TV 2 in Toronto, where he was playing in the Champions Chess Tour final this month. “It’s clear that there were worse scenarios.”
Terrence Oved, a lawyer for Mr. Niemann, wrote in an email on Friday that Mr. Niemann was not satisfied with the federation’s ruling against Mr. Carlsen. Mr. Oved said the federation had the facts wrong because Mr. Carlsen accused Mr. Niemann of cheating before Mr. Niemann admitted that he had done so in the past and before Chess.com released its report. Mr. Oved added that his client thought the fine was too low given the damage caused by Mr. Carlsen’s accusations.
As for Mr. Niemann, he had a bad competitive streak over the last 12 months as the lawsuit and controversy played out, and his world ranking slipped.
But in a tournament that ended Dec. 1 in Zagreb, Croatia, Mr. Niemann had an exceptional performance. In a competition filled with strong grandmasters, he won seven games and drew two, losing none. He finished in first place, three points ahead of his nearest competitor. It was the equivalent of a runner in a 1,600-meter race lapping the field when crossing the finish line.
Afterward, Mr. Niemann posted on the social media platform X a photo of himself alongside a photo of Bobby Fischer, the American world champion who had a dominant performance in the same city 53 years ago, with the comment, “Two lone Americans up against the world, facing immeasurable odds.”
That might have been the end of it, but one of the players he beat, Ivan Sokolov, said in a post that Mr. Niemann’s moves matched those of the best chess engines 98 percent of the time. Mr. Sokolov also wrote that there were few anti-cheating measures during the tournament.
Mr. Sokolov could not be immediately reached for comment.
The event organizers also posted on X, and seemed to implicate Mr. Niemann: “Niemann’s performance is out of this world, but we have no definite proof that he is cheating. We have some indications, but we don’t know if anyone wants to report him.”
The event’s organizers did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Oved, Mr. Niemann’s lawyer, said the comment from the organizers was part of the continuing fallout from the episode with Mr. Carlsen.
“Any time that Hans wins, someone will probably accuse him of cheating,” he said. “But Hans has proven to be incredibly resilient and strong.”
In the background of all of this, chess tournaments have bigger prize pools and more spectators than ever before. Chess.com just wrapped up the Champions Chess Tour, a yearlong series of tournaments featuring the game’s top players, with $2 million in prizes. It was won by Mr. Carlsen. The site is also approaching 160 million members.
Mr. Allebest said that Chess.com was doing what it could to stamp out cheating and was evolving its methods to find cheaters. He admitted that some people did still get away with it, though he was certain that number was very small.
What Mr. Kramnik has done is not helpful, Mr. Allebest said. “Being suspicious is not the same thing as being certain,” he added. “It doesn’t frankly help to spread suspicion. You create hysteria by going public.”
A correction was made on
Dec. 27, 2023
An earlier version of a caption with this article mischaracterized Vladimir Kramnik’s comments about Hikaru Nakamura. While his comments have been interpreted as an accusation of cheating, he has not directly made such a charge.
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I am a chess enthusiast with a deep understanding of the intricacies of the game and its community dynamics. I have followed the chess world closely, keeping abreast of the latest controversies, developments, and player dynamics. My expertise extends to both the technical aspects of the game and the social dynamics within the chess community.
Now, let's delve into the concepts and individuals mentioned in the provided article:
Hikaru Nakamura: A prominent chess player and one of the world's top stars. Nakamura is not only known for his skills on the chessboard but also for his popularity as a streamer with around two million followers on Twitch and YouTube.
Vladimir Kramnik: Former world chess champion (2000-2007) and a respected figure in the chess world. In the article, Kramnik is involved in a controversy regarding accusations of cheating against Hikaru Nakamura.
Chess.com: The world's most popular chess site, mentioned as the platform where the controversy unfolded. It has its own system for detecting cheating, and in this case, it investigated numerous players based on Kramnik's suspicions.
Magnus Carlsen: The current world's top-ranked chess player and former world champion. Carlsen was involved in a previous controversy where he accused Hans Niemann of cheating, leading to a lawsuit.
Hans Niemann: A rising American chess player who was accused of cheating by Magnus Carlsen in a previous controversy. The article mentions a lawsuit filed by Niemann seeking $100 million.
International Chess Federation (FIDE): The governing body of international chess. FIDE conducted an investigation into the Carlsen-Niemann controversy and released a report with its findings.
Cheating in Chess: The article addresses the issue of cheating in chess and the measures taken by platforms like Chess.com to detect and prevent it. Accusations of cheating can have significant consequences for a player's reputation.
Chess Tournaments: The article highlights the increasing popularity of chess tournaments with larger prize pools and more spectators than ever before. Chess.com recently concluded the Champions Chess Tour, a yearlong series with $2 million in prizes.
Chess Community Dynamics: The controversy involving Nakamura and Kramnik has sparked discussions and opinions within the chess community, with mathematicians and amateur players providing their analyses.
In conclusion, the article covers a complex chess-related controversy involving top players, accusations of cheating, and the broader dynamics of the chess community, shedding light on the challenges faced by the chess world in maintaining integrity and fair play.