It's a weird time in the world of chess. When players aren't getting their fingers snapped by chess robots, they're offering to play naked to prove they didn't win against a top chess player by cheating.
On Sunday, 19-year-old Hans Niemann took on world champion Magnus Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup, and won using black pieces. The win was a surprise, but the real shock came a day later when the two were set to play again. Before that could happen, the world champ pulled out of the competition. In his announcement on Twitter, he confirmed that he had withdrawn from the competition, adding a link to a video of former Chelsea manager José Mourinho saying "If I speak I am in big trouble".
The ambiguous tweet didn't really clear up the mystery. However, other players – including chess streamer and grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura – speculated that Carlsen had withdrawn because he suspected Niemann of cheating.
Though Carlsen has not accused Niemann of cheating himself, there has been a lot of speculation around his decision to withdraw, with the wildest being that Niemann had cheated by using anal beads, which vibrate to convey moves to the grand master. Cheating in a chess game would not be easy today, especially with surprisingly extensive security checks that saw Niemann's chewing gum inspected by security before the chess equivalent of kickoff. This hasn't stopped the anal bead theory, which has become a meme in itself in online chess communities.
"That's probably a good one. An anal bead would probably beat the [security checks]," grandmaster and chess twitch streamer Eric "chessbrah" Hansen said of the theory, adding "I really don't know. I told you it was a prostate massage, but I'm not an expert on that stuff."
The theory (which has no evidence behind it) caught the attention of Elon Musk, who tweeted (and then deleted): "Talent hits a target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one can see (cause it’s in ur butt)' – Schopenhauer".
Niemann's rise in the chess world has been impressive.
"He has gained the most rating points of any [grand master]-level player since 2021," as chess analysis blog Pawnalyze puts it, "by a lot".
"To date, there’s no evidence of Niemann cheating over the board, but we do know that his rise to 2,700+ is so incredible the chess community has collectively raised an eyebrow," they added on their blog, whilst concluding that his record was impressive but not significantly out of the normal to offer proof of cheating.
Following the controversy around Carlsen's withdrawal, Niemann has admitted to cheating in online games in the past in an interview with Saint Louis Chess Club. However, he says that this took place when he was 12 and his friend gave him help in online tournaments, and then later whilst streaming unrated games online during the pandemic while trying to grow his twitch stream.
“What I want people to know about this is that I am deeply, deeply sorry for my mistake," he said. "I know my actions have consequences and I suffered those consequences. During that time I stepped away from a very lucrative streaming career, I stopped playing in all events and I lost a lot of close friendships and relationships."
He added that he had not cheated in any over the board events – such as those played against Carlsen – and that he had been working non-stop on his game after he "decided the only way to make up for my mistake was to prove that I could win over the board events".
“That has been my mission. And that is why I have lived in a suitcase and played 260 games in one year, trained for 12 hours a day, because I have something to prove.”
Somewhat unusually for someone outside of the strip-chess community, he offered to play nude in order to prove his innocence.
“If they want me to strip fully naked, I will do it,” Niemann said. “I don’t care. Because I know I am clean... You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission, I don’t care I’m here to win and that is my goal regardless.”