Those who think that Mr. Niemann may be cheating can also point to circumstantial evidence from his past. In a recent interview that took place after Mr. Nakamura’s comments, Mr. Niemann acknowledged that he had violated rules of fair play at least twice in the past by using computer assistance in online games.
There were mitigating circumstances: He was young, and a friend was running a chess engine, a piece of software that determines the best move, and calling out those moves while Mr. Niemann played in a tournament online. But such a violation of trust in a community that prizes integrity and greatly discourages cheating makes a player’s reputation difficult to repair.
In addition to these past cheating incidents, Mr. Niemann is notorious in the chess community for his abrasive personality. As an arbiter in FIDE, or Fédération Internationale des Échecs, the governing body of professional chess, I have known Mr. Niemann since he was a talented scholastic player, and have had to navigate his difficult behavior on more than one occasion.Just a few years ago, Mr. Niemann was not yet a grandmaster and would play regularly at the Marshall Chess Club in New York City, where I work as an assistant manager.
Irina Krush, a grandmaster who has played against both Mr. Niemann and Mr. Carlsen, said, “I did play against Hans at the Marshall Championship at the end of 2019, where he made his second GM norm and tied for first in the tournament. So from that point on, I knew he was a very strong and up-and-coming player.” She added, “I think it would be good if Magnus also gave his side of things because it’s just a bad situation for the chess world to have this hanging without a resolution.”
Michael Rohde, a grandmaster, worked with Mr. Niemann as a student at Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School. “Hans was the captain of the C.G.P.S. chess team,” Mr. Rohde said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say I was his coach. He was autonomous and very hard-working.” He added, “It makes perfect sense to me that he is 2700 now.”
Regarding the most recent allegations of cheating, Mr. Rohde said, “I don’t understand exactly what the allegation is. I haven’t seen any evidence or anything specific. It’s just accusations based on his results.”