He may be at the center of a raging global scandal with his accusations of possible cheating by a fellow grandmaster, but world champion Magnus Carlsen is showing no signs of stress at the chessboard.
Despite a subtle but clear rebuke from FIDE, the international chess federation, over his heavy hints that young American GM Hans Moke Niemann had outside help in his sensational upset of the champ at the recent 9th Sinquefield Cup, Carlsen was in a familiar place — first — at the just-concluded Julius Baer Generation Cup, a strong rapid online event that is part of the Meltwater Chess Challenge series.
The Norwegian champ made his feelings clear in his game against Niemann in the Baer Cup preliminary rounds, logging off after playing just one move with Black and effectively forfeiting the point.
Niemann has acknowledged cheating incidents as a junior player in online events, but has emphatically denied Carlsen‘s accusations.
On Monday night, Carlsen offered his most expansive statement to date on his conduct and the controversy, admitting, “I know that my actions have frustrated many in the chess community. I’m frustrated. … I believe cheating in chess is a big deal and an existential threat to the game. I also believe that chess organizers and all those who care about the sanctity of the game we love should seriously consider increasing security measures and methods of cheat detection for over-the-board chess.”
“I believe that Niemann has cheated more — and more recently — than he has publicly admitted,” Carlsen continued, although he again failed to offer hard proof, other than to cite the American’s meteoric rise up the ratings chart in recent months and the champ’s “impression” during the fateful Sinquefield Cup game that his opponent “wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions, while outplaying me as Black in a way I think only a handful of players can do.” He tweeted that he was constrained from saying more “without explicit permission from Niemann to speak openly.”
“For my part going forward,” Carlsen declares, “I don’t want to play against people that have cheated in the past, because I don’t know what they are capable of doing in the future. … So far I have only been able to speak with my actions, and those actions have clearly stated that I am not willing to play chess with Niemann. I hope that the truth on this matter comes out, whatever it may be.”
Carlsen, in addition to being an all-time talent, has been a huge asset for promoting the game in the West, but it’s not clear if the latest statement will mollify chess officials who want him to put up or shut up about his cheating suspicions.
While saying FIDE takes all reports of unethical play seriously, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich last week said in a statement that Carlsen’s recent actions “impact the reputation of his colleagues, sporting results, and eventually can be damaging to our game.”
“We strongly believe that there were better ways to handle this situation,” Dvorkovich added.
Give the champ credit for an ability to compartmentalize, for he bulldozed through the Baer event (even with the 1-0 forfeit to Niemann), making a statement by defeating a slew of rising superstars in the field along the way.
Indian GM Arjun Erigaisi, one of the hottest young players on the top circuit in 2022, was the champ’s final victim, getting just a half-point in the five games of the finals. The high point of their clash may have been the second game, where Carlsen as Black unleashed a new move 8. Bh4 Bd7!? and a new plan — castling queenside — that quickly led to sharp, complex play.
In crunch time, White thinks he has caught out the champ, but Carlsen finds the way: 24. Nd4 e3!? 25. fxe3 Rxe3 26. Bf2 Qe7 (see diagram) 27. Bxe3!? (ingenious but flawed; either 27. h3 or 27. Bf1 keeps it competitive) Qxe3+! 28. Kf1, and now the ultra-tempting 28…Ng4?? loses to 29. Nc6+!! bxc6 (Kc8 30. Rd8 mate) 30. Rd8+ Kb7 31. Qa6 mate, while 28…N6d5?? (to block the d-file; also bad is 28…Bxd4 29. Rxd4 c6 30. Qd1, and White is the exchange and a pawn to the good) 29. Re1!, and the check on e8 will be fatal if Black’s queen gives way.
But Carlsen being Carlsen, he regrouped and found 28…N4d5!! (the only winning idea) 29. Bxd5 Ng4! (again, the only move the wins), and suddenly White can’t stop the twin threats of 30…Qf2 mate and 30…Nxh2 mate; Erigiasi resigned.
The win also pushed the champ’s rating past the 2900 mark, the first human player in history to reach that milestone. For what it’s worth, Stockfish, the top-rated computer program in the world, currently sports an ELO rating of 3535.
The 75th edition of the Russian Chess Championship was a much-depleted affair, especially compared to the golden age when you could find a Tal, a Spassky, a Karpov or a Kasparov in the field. The event failed to attract most of Russia’s best players, and the fallout from the war in Ukraine didn’t help.
GM Daniil Dubov (one of dozens of Russian GMs who have bravely condemned the war) claimed the title in a tie-break win over GM Sanan Sjugirov. Dubov, a fine player and second to Carlsen in two world title defenses, scored well against the weaker field, including a dominating performance in a Petroff’s against GM Ilia Iljiushenok.
White quickly wins back his gambited pawn and Black’s awkward queen maneuvers take up time without improving his position. The opposite-colored bishops prove no hurdle for White in the final assault, as Black’s paralyzed defenders can’t hold back the flood.
Thus: 25. Rg3 Qh5? (a mistake in an unpleasant position; 25…Rxd6 26. exd6 Qf6 27. f3 holds out longer, but White still enjoys a definite edge) 26. Rg5 Qh7 27. h4! Rxd6 (Bxc2 28. Rxe6 fxe6 [Rxe6 29. Qd8+] 29. Qd7 Bg6 30. Rg3 Bf7 31. Bg5 Bg6 32. Qc7, and Black’s queenside is defenseless) 28. exd6 Bd7 29. Be5 (Black is rapidly running out of moves) Qxh4 (g6 30. h5 Re6 31. f4! Kf8 32. Qd5! Re8 33. Qb7 Be6 [Bc8 34. d7! Bxb7 35. Bd6+ Kg7 36. dxe8=Q is winning) 30. Bf6 (Rxg7+ was good enough, too, but Dubov’s solution is more elegant) Qe4 31. Rxg7+ Kf8 32. Qh6, and Black resigned just ahead of the inevitable mate.
Erigaisi-Carlsen, Julius Baer Generation Cup finals, September 2022
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 d6 6. O-O a5 7. Bg5 h6 8. Bh4 Bd7 9. Re1 Ba7 10. Nbd2 g5 11. Bg3 Ne7 12. d4 Ng6 13. dxe5 dxe5 14. Nf1 Qe7 15. Ne3 O-O-O 16. Qc1 Rhe8 17. b4 a4 18. Nf5 Qf8 19. Qc2 Nf4 20. Rad1 Bxf5 21. Qxa4 Rxd1 22. Rxd1 Kb8 23. exf5 e4 24. Nd4 e3 25. fxe3 Rxe3 26. Bf2 Qe7 27. Bxe3 Qxe3+ 28. Kf1 N4d5 29. Bxd5 Ng4 White resigns.
Dubov-Iljiushenok, 75th Russian Chess Championship, Cheboksary, Russia, September 2022
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 Nxe4 4. Bd3 d5 5. Nxe5 Nd7 6. Nc3 Bb4 7. O-O Nxe5 8. dxe5 Nxc3 9. bxc3 Bxc3 10. Rb1 O-O 11. Bxh7+ Kxh7 12. Qd3+ Kg8 13. Qxc3 a5 14. Rd1 Re8 15. Bf4 Qd7 16. Rd3 Qf5 17. Qd2 Qh7 18. Rxd5 b6 19. Rd4 Be6 20. a3 Qg6 21. Re1 c5 22. Rd3 Bf5 23. Rd6 Re6 24. Re3 Rae8 25. Rg3 Qh5 26. Rg5 Qh7 27. h4 Rxd6 28. exd6 Bd7 29. Be5 Qxh4 30. Bf6 Qe4 31. Rxg7+ Kf8 32. Qh6 Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.