Interviews Sep 7, 2022 | 7:34 AMby Colin McGourty

Hans Niemann hits back at his critics

Hans Niemann pulled off a great escape against Leinier Dominguez in Round 5 of the Sinquefield Cup, but chess fans had stuck around not for the chess but the post-game interview. It didn’t disappoint, as Hans admitted cheating online in the past but denied ever cheating over-the-board. He hit out at Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura and Chesscom, who he revealed had banned him after Carlsen’s withdrawal.

Hans Niemann's post-game interviews were always entertaining, but his Round 5 interview is an unmissable defence of his career | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

“Hans, we’ve got to speak about the elephant in the room,” said Alejandro Ramirez 8 minutes into the Round 5 interview with Hans Niemann. What followed was a long, passionate and sometimes bewildering response to the furore created by Magnus Carlsen withdrawing from the Sinquefield Cup after losing to Hans in Round 3.

You can watch the interview in full above, while below we’ve transcribed the majority of Hans’ comments.

On his accent

The surprise was that Hans started off by something that had clearly stung him, though it wasn’t connected to the serious allegations.

First of all, my accent. This is just the most funny thing, because if you want me to speak like an American… for the last two years I have lived in a suitcase travelling around Europe, playing chess non-stop. I’ve spent so much time working on chess that I simply don’t go outside and socialise with people who speak fluent English. This is just one thing I want to talk about. I have spent the last two years not spending any time in America, and even when I’m in America I don’t go outside other than when I pick up my food. I’m just too busy with chess.

So all these things saying that I’m faking an accent, and that I’m putting on some façade, that is like the most ridiculous thing ever said, and anyone using my new-found accent to make any conclusions about anything chess-related is absolutely insane. I live, I don’t spend any time in America, I only speak to chess players who have bad English, so maybe think, maybe I’m a product of my environment.


On the opening against Magnus

Hans Niemann’s Round 3 game against Magnus Carlsen would have gone down in chess history even if nothing had followed. Hans won with the black pieces, ended a 53-game unbeaten streak for Magnus, and crossed 2700 for the 1st time. He also at the time called it “a ridiculous miracle” that he’d looked at the rare 4.g3!? on the morning of the game and was prepared deeper than Magnus.

Hans now pointed out it wasn't quite such a miracle.

People were saying that there was no idea why I checked this. First of all, people were absolute idiots, because the explanation I’m going to give is going to make all the top GMs look like total idiots. First of all, they said there were zero games, there was a game, check the database, there’s this thing in chess called… transpositions. When he played the move a3, of course I’m expecting the move Nf3. Let’s show it, because this is just embarrassing. This is absolutely embarrassing, and I’m sorry if I’m coming off hostile, it’s just a passionate thing for me.

(Hans goes into detail on the moves played)

It's not a miracle, it’s actually me being extremely tedious and going through every single possible transposition or line that he could play in the Catalan.


On making mistakes in post-game analysis

The day before Hans had gone for a spectacular piece sacrifice against Alireza Firouzja, but when asked what he’d have done if Alireza accepted, he gave a variation as winning that was in fact losing — 19...dxc4 20.Bxh6 g6 21.f4?

He now addressed that topic.

The fact that my analysis is not at the level of a top player. In my game against Firouzja... You need to understand that when I played the move 19.Qg3, I did not elaborate this during the game, this is a purely psychological move. Clearly people don’t know anything about Firouzja, his style, how to beat him. The way to beat him is to attack him. He really, really hates being attacked, and the main way he loses is by being attacked.

Now we had a game in Miami where I got an attack and he completely collapsed (but Hans then blundered his queen and lost), and I’d studied previous games, so when I see the position and I say Qg3, and I think to myself, I highly doubt, based on my intuitive feeling, that I’m losing here. I don’t feel the need to calculate every single variation, because I’m confident that there’s no way he’s going to take, and if he takes he’s going to be scared shitless.

Has Hans Niemann discovered Alireza Firouzja's kryptonite? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

After the games, first of all, you’re extremely tired, and it’s extremely difficult sometimes to recollect the things that you’re talking about, the moves, the variations. It’s not like I’m coming in here full of energy, and especially in the analysis, sometimes you just simply just miss things. The notion that I simply can’t speak about chess at a high level is completely ridiculous. I’m a very intuitive player, I made a gut call to play Qg3, and it paid off. Even if you look at the pattern of my games, I’m clearly missing many, many chances and it’s extremely human chess.


On cheating online

When the scandal broke in St. Louis, Hikaru Nakamura commented in a much-viewed clip:

This is probably something I should not say, but I will say this anyway, which is that there was a period of over six months when Hans did not play any prize-money tournaments on Chesscom.

The implication was that Hans had been banned for cheating online, and that’s something Hans confirmed after Round 5:

I noticed throughout social media a lot of people who I once had respect for, who I once looked up to, a lot of my heroes, have decided to hop on this bandwagon. There has been a lot of speculation, and there’s been a lot of things said, and I think I’m the only one who knows the truth. So, there’s a few things that need to come to light.

First of all, there’s the situation with Chesscom. People have said that my Chesscom was banned twice, so this is what happened.

When I was 12 years old, I was with a friend and I was playing Titled Tuesday. I was playing, and he came over with an iPad with an engine, and I was 12 years old, and he said, sort of giving me the moves. I was a child, I had no idea what happened. This happened once, in an online tournament. I was just a child, and nothing happened then.

Now four years later, when I was 16 years old during my streaming career, in an absolutely ridiculous mistake, in an unrated game… other than that, after I was 12, I had never, ever in my life cheated in an over-the-board game, in an online tournament. They were unrated games, and I’m admitting this, and I’m saying my truth, because I do not want any misrepresentation. I am proud of myself that I learned from that mistake, and now I have given everything to chess. I have sacrificed everything for chess, and I do everything I can to improve.

Hans Niemann at work in St. Louis | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

When Hans here referred to unrated games he may have meant games not played in prize-money tournaments, given how he followed up:

I wanted to gain some rating, I just wanted to get higher-rated so I could play stronger players, so I cheated in random games on Chesscom. Now, I was confronted, I confessed, and this is the single biggest mistake of my life and I’m completely ashamed, and I’m telling the world because I do not want any misrepresentation and I do not want rumours. I have never cheated in an over-the-board game.

Other than when I was 12 years old, I have never, ever, ever, and I would never do that, that is the worst thing I could ever do, cheat in a tournament with prize money. Now I made that mistake, and it’s not something I was doing consistently, never when I was streaming did I cheat, never did I misrepresent my strength.

So I made this mistake. I was confronted by Chesscom, I fully admitted, and I stopped playing Chesscom. Now what I want people to know about this is that I’m deeply, deeply sorry for my mistake and I know that my actions have consequences, and I suffer those consequences.

During that time I completely stepped away from a very lucrative streaming career. I stopped playing in all events and I lost a lot of close friendships and relationships that meant a lot to me, so I ensure you, maybe I did not suffer, but I’m putting myself in the public now, I could be ruining my reputation for my life, but I want to tell the truth.

Now this happened, I’m deeply, deeply ashamed of it, but keep in mind I was 16 years old, I never wanted to hurt anyone, these were random games. I would never even fathom doing it in a real game.


On being uninvited from the Chesscom Global Championship

The Chesscom Global Championship is a $1 million event starting with online qualifiers and culminating in an 8-player final in Toronto, Canada for a $200,000 top prize. Hans brought it up as he continued:

Unfortunately now there has been a targeted attack and some recent events have made it really, really difficult for me to not stop speaking. After the game against Magnus, obviously Magnus puts his tweet, clearly some insinuations, and everybody starts to pile on. I get an email from Chesscom saying that they’ve privately removed access to my Chesscom account and that they have uninvited me from the Global Chess Championship. Now, three days ago, I’ve met with someone very high up in Chesscom at the Sinquefield Cup, had amazing words, but because of this game against Magnus, because of what he said, they have decided to completely remove me from the website.

This is after I have already fully admitted, and they have the best cheat detection in the world, they know that I’m not a cheater, and that I have given everything to chess, I worked so hard and chess is my entire life. Now if they’re going to try that I’m going to be silent about what has happened it is completely ridiculous.

I met with Danny Rensch in Miami, and Danny Rensch was the person who confronted me, and I was deeply, deeply indebted to him for handling the ban privately and giving me the chance to redeem myself. Now after not playing Chesscom events I went to over-the-board tournaments, and I decided to myself that the only way to make up for my mistake was to prove to myself and to prove to others that I could win myself.

The life of a chess player isn't easy | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Now that has been my mission, and that is why I’ve lived in a suitcase for two years, that is why I have played 260 games in one year, that is why I’ve been training 12 hours a day, because I have something to prove, and now that Chesscom has suddenly decided to hop on Magnus’ insinuations, Hikaru’s very direct accusations, now they see the opportunity, now we’re just going to get rid of this.

I believe this is completely unfair. This is a targeted attack, and if you look at my games, this is not, it has nothing to do with my games, so why does the CEO of Chesscom come to me and say we’re looking forward to having you at the Global Chess Championship, we’re looking forward to you playing in our events, and then right when I beat Magnus they decide to remove my account and not let me play in the tournaments. This is absolutely ridiculous and they’ve only done this because of what Magnus has said, what Hikaru says, and the entire social media and chess world is completely attacking me and undermining me.

And they maybe would think that I’d be afraid to tell the entire world that I cheated in some random games, and I cheated in a tournament when I was 12 years old, but I’m not afraid, because I know who I am, and I know the chess player that I am, and I know what I give to chess. So I’m not going to be scared, to be manipulated and to be conspired against, to try to ruin my chess career, when I know what has happened.


On Magnus Carlsen’s withdrawal, Hikaru and Chesscom

As far as Magnus, the fact that he did it without saying it, he knew the insinuations that would follow, if you look at social media, every single platform, there are thousands of tweets, everyone is attacking me, and some people are defending me, and I really appreciate those, but when I see people attack me with absolutely zero evidence, I’m the only person who knows what happened, and I’m telling you guys that this is the truth.

I really do not think that I’ll have the courage to say this, but some people, I’m very thankful to the people who helped me make the decision, and this is the truth, and now Magnus and Hikaru. I’ve never, ever cheated against you in an online game, it never happened, and the most ridiculous part is that the same players that in this tournament are insinuating that I’m cheating have also made insinuations about people who are making insinuations about me, so let’s just say the people who are saying these things about me, they’re not that innocent themselves, so it’s very ridiculous.

I’m sorry if I’m rambling, but the main thing that I want to say is that I’m not going to let Chesscom, I’m not going to let Magnus Carlsen, I’m not going to let Hikaru Nakamura, the three arguably biggest entities in chess, simply slander my reputation because the question is, why are they going to remove me from Chesscom right after I beat Magnus. What’s with the timing?


On telling his truth

I’m deeply, deeply sorry for what has happened, it’s the biggest single regret of my life, and even now to look back on it I can never recognise myself. To give context, I was 16 years old, I don’t want to make excuses, but I was living alone in New York City, it was the peak of the pandemic, and I have been financially independent since I was 16 years old. I left my family and I was living alone at 16, I had rent to play, and I was willing to do anything to grow my stream.

So of course I made a childish mistake, and I’ll have to live with that, but I’d rather live with that with everyone knowing the truth instead of people making simple speculation about me, because this is the full truth and I’d like to see if everyone else can actually tell their truth.


On why he was uninvited

Alejandro asked if Chesscom gave a reason for the new ban.

No reason. I tried to log in to my chesscom account, I wanted to check the games, and I couldn’t log in. I sent an email, and a few hours later, “we have rescinded… we have privately…” They didn’t want to ban me publicly, because then they have to give a reason, and they think that they can scare me, because they think that I’m not going to talk about it, because I’m afraid to admit this, but I did this when I was 12 years old, and then other times when I did it it was not even in an over-the-board championship, it was not even for prize money, it was absolutely random games, and I understand that some people might lose respect for me for this, but it is my greatest mistake, and everything I’ve done in the past few years has been to make up for that mistake, and that is my entire purpose as a chess player, to prove to myself and to others that I’m trying to do better. I hope that my results and my commitment and my hard work has shown that I have learned from this and that I learned my lesson.


On the impact of what’s happened and the dream of playing Magnus

After the game I open social media and I can’t get my eyes off it, because every single person in the whole family has an opinion, and of course you sort of get dragged into it. I’m reading it, obviously it was really disheartening seeing so many…

Careful what you wish for? Hans got to play and beat Magnus in Round 3 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Sinquefield Cup

When I was 8 years old Magnus Carlsen came to an exhibition in California and my mom took me there, or maybe I was 9, I’d just started playing chess, and he was doing a blindfold simul and there was an option to bid on it. When they were bidding on it, it got to $1000, and became too much, and my mum was, no, no, if you really want it, we’ll do it. She was ready to make a financial sacrifice so I could play. And I said, no, no, no mum, one day I’m going to play him for free, and instead I got a signed big chess piece, and that happened.

But for me to see my hero, to see my absolute hero try to target, try to ruin my reputation, ruin my chess career, and to do it in such a frivolous way, is really disappointing, because you spend your entire life looking up to someone, and then you meet them. My dream came true, I lived my dream for a day, beating Magnus, and then all of this happened.

When I sit at the board it’s all chess, so even today, maybe there were moments during the game when my mind wandered, but when I’m playing chess that’s all that’s on my mind, and hopefully it’ll stay that way.


On whether he has extra motivation to prove himself

It absolutely fuels me. My fuel has always been, maybe not anger, but spite has been a strong fuel for me. When I started to play chess my school teacher once told me I wasn’t good enough, and that certainly fuelled me. I’ve always been one to prove people wrong and this absolutely fuels me and this makes me want to win the tournament even more.

I can come to the game, I can completely strip, you want to do any fair play check to me you want I don’t care, because I know that I’m clean. If they want me to strip fully naked, I’ll do it, I don’t care, because I know that I’m clean and I’m willing to subject myself. You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don’t care, name whatever you guys want. I’m here to win, and that’s going to be my goal regardless.


On what chess means to him

Hans summed up:

Just before I go, I thank you guys for giving me the chance to speak and I’m sure many people are going to be seeing this and I just would like to hope that everyone keeps an open mind and understands that chess is my entire life and I have sacrificed everything for this game and I’m willing to do anything to improve myself and to improve at chess, so I’m sorry but chess is everything to me, so that’s all I need to say.

It was one of the most extraordinary chess interviews we've ever witnessed, and perhaps we all need the rest day that now follows to recover. The Sinquefield Cup, now with 9 players, continues with Round 6 on Thursday.

Watch the Sinquefield Cup from 13:00 in St. Louis (20:00 CEST, 23:30 IST) here on chess24!

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