Chess cheating scandal: Hans Niemann files $100 million lawsuit against Magnus Carlsen

A report by Chess.com stated that Hans Niemann had cheated more than 100 times on its platform. Tim Vizer/AFP via Getty Images

American chess grandmaster Hans Niemann, who found himself at the center of a bombshell cheating scandal last month when world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen accused him of cheating, has filed a federal lawsuit against Carlsen, Chess.com and others.

The lawsuit, which seeks no less than $100 million (£89m), was filed Thursday in the Eastern Missouri District Court. It accuses the defendants of libel, slander and unlawful boycott and tortious interference of Niemann's business.The controversy traces back to Sept. 4, when Niemann, 19, stunned Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup. The next day, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament and sent a cryptic tweet that suggested, rather vaguely, that Niemann might have cheated.

Niemann denied these allegations in an interview at the Sinquefield Cup, saying that he had cheated at ages 12 and 16 in online chess, but never in over-the-board chess. On Sept. 26, Carlsen put out a statement accusing Niemann of cheating in more games than Niemann had admitted to - and vowed not to play the American. On Oct. 4, nearly a month after Carlsen leveled the accusations, Chess.com issued a 72-page report alleging that Niemann had "likely cheated" in more than 100 online games, as recently as August 2020, when he was 17 years old.

Carlsen, Chess.com's chief chess officer Danny Rensch, and others, including grandmaster and streamer Hikaru Nakamura, are "colluding to blacklist" Niemann from the chess world, the federal lawsuit says. The lawsuit also shone a light on the relationship between Carlsen and Chess.com. The website is in the process of buying Carlsen's Play Magnus app for $83 million. Focusing on this acquisition, which was announced in August, the lawsuit says that Chess.com and Carlsen colluded in a merger that will "monopolize the chess world."

According to the federal lawsuit, the "false accusations" in the Chess.com report, which was released the day before the U.S. Chess Championship began, were "specifically designed to depict Niemann as a serial cheater, and thus reinforce Carlsen's accusations that Niemann cheated against him "over the board" at the FIDE-sanctioned Sinquefield Cup."

The lawsuit added that Carlsen's reputation in the chess world would ensure that the public believed his allegations, and that tournament heads and other players would boycott Niemann in the future.

"Chess is Niemann's life," the lawsuit stated. "His gift for playing chess earned him a scholarship to the prestigious Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School in New York City, a school he could only attend by simultaneously working full time to support himself financially."

The lawsuit also added that since 16, Niemann's sole means of supporting himself has been from the money he earned from participating in chess tournaments and teaching chess.

This lawsuit comes a day after the conclusion of the US Chess Championship in which Niemann competed and finished tied for fifth. Niemann refused to speak to reporters about the scandal during the tournament, telling one analyst after his opening match that he wanted his chess to do the talking.

In a statement to ESPN, chess.com's lawyers, Nima Mohebbi and Jamie Wine of Latham & Watkins said, "We are saddened by Hans Niemann's decision to take legal action against Chess.com. We believe the lawsuit hurts the game of chess and its devoted players and fans around the world."

Niemann confessed publicly to cheating online and the "Resulting fallout is his own making," the statement said. Reiterating what they said in the 72-page report, the statement added that chess.com has historically dealt with Niemann's prior cheating privately, and were "forced to clarify its position" publicly only after he spoke out at the Sinquefield Cup.

"There is no merit to Hans' allegations, and Chess.com looks forward to setting the record straight on behalf of its team and all honest chess players," the statement said.