“I have withdrawn from the tournament. I have always loved playing in Saint Louis and hope to return in the future.”
With that short announcement on Twitter, world champion Magnus Carlsen sent a shockwave through the chess world. The accompanying video of José Mourinho’s famous quote “If I talk now, I’ll get in trouble” added some more fuel to the fire.
But what exactly had happened?
Actually, we have to go back a few years, to the period before corona. Before chess would get a great boost thanks to the online tournaments.
The American Hans Niemann was then 17 years old and was known as a good chess player, but certainly not the greatest talent. The most remarkable thing was that he had reached the second tier without a real coach, just by making himself better.
That eventually seemed to pay off, because in recent months Niemann suddenly started to mix more and more between the real toppers.
In his interviews, Niemann was brimming with self-confidence. He has said several times that he already considers himself a top player, but that his rating just needs to be corrected a bit.
Niemann first went viral in the chess world a month ago when he defeated world champion Magnus Carlsen in an online tournament (which was played “live”). Like a (arrogant?) boss he left the room with the words “Chess speaks for itself”. The interviewer was left perplexed.
At the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, Carlsen and Niemann met again, but this time in a classic chess match, face to face. Based on his rating, Niemann was by far the smallest shrimp invited by the organizers. But here too he surprised with his game.
For the first time in 4 (!) years, Carlsen lost a match with the white pieces. Afterwards, Niemann said in his well-known laconic manner: “It must be embarrassing for Magnus to lose to an idiot like me.”
Just before the next round, Carlsen threw his bomb on Twitter. With the Mourinho quote added, the wildest speculations flew through the air in no time. That the organizers in Saint-Louis promptly tightened control against cheating fueled the rumours.
Suddenly, stories surfaced that Niemann had already been banned 2 times from the popular chess site chess.com due to suspicions of foul play. Numerous grandmasters left hints in their interviews, like pebbles, that cast the young American in a bad light.
Niemann himself, meanwhile, tries to remain calm amid the controversy. “I think it’s very strange what Magnus is doing. First he gives up his world title (he announced a while ago that he didn’t want to defend it, ed.) and now this. Fortunately I was able to beat him before he left the tournament.”
“Maybe he didn’t want me to win the tournament and decided to leave,” he said with a quip.
At least after 4 rounds, the amazing Niemann is still in the lead in the Sinquefield Cup. The tournament may have lost its biggest star, but the attention for it has never been greater.