On The Strange Exile Of Hans Neimann

As a rising young superstar in the world of chess, things seemed to be going up and up for Hans Neimann in the early 2020’s. As one of the top-ranked junior chess players in the world, 2021 found Hans Neimann being awarded the title of grandmaster, and through the course of 2022 and into 2023 he found his ranking increasing to just outside the top 30 of the world as this article is being written. The world of high ranked chess players can be a lucrative world, with invitations to serve in prestigious chess tournaments where the chess elite compete against each other regularly as frenemies, all of them enjoying a high level ecosystem where considerable money can be made by combining income from streaming as well as lucrative prize earnings and membership in high-level leagues and competitions. Yet an incident late 2022 threatened the place of Hans Neimann in this elite world of high-earning and high-level chess players and has led to a strange situation where the once rising star is now angry and seeking to make a living at the far less lucrative open tournament circuit mostly against players ranked far lower than he is.

What happened? In September 2022, Neimann had been invited to the Sinquefield Cup, an invitation-only high level cup that features competition between elite chess players. During the course of that competition, Neimann defeated then-world champion Magnus Carlsen, who then dropped out of the competition, widely viewed as a polite and implicit accusation of cheating. What has followed has been a tangled mess of lawsuits and snubbing, where Neimann has been unceremoniously dropped from all kinds of invitation-only competitions that allow players to earn a considerable living through popular streaming and advertising efforts and the infrastructure set up by chess.com and others. There have been massive lawsuits, including a $100 million lawsuit that Neimann has filed against Chess.com and its CEO as well as against Carlsen, American super GM and streaming personality Hikaru Nakamura, and the private chess league that serves as a major part of the income stream of elite chess players like Carlsen, Nakamura, and others like Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana, other elite-level American GMs who are nevertheless not parties to the lawsuit.

It is unclear what the truth of the matter is concerning the accusations of cheating, but it is clear that Neimann has made himself considerable enemies in the chess community. Running afoul of figures like Carlsen and Nakamura, to say nothing of Chess.com, has considerably damaged his economic prospects as a chess player, given that the private world of invitational tournaments offers a considerable more lucrative living, and that Chess.com itself hosts profitable tournaments that offer players of all levels a chance to gain new fans as well as earn money through winning events that are not available to Neimann at this point and for the foreseeable future. While it is clear that Neimann has suffered harm to his finances and reputation because of the controversy, it is unclear whether he can demonstrate that this harm was malicious or that the accusations are in fact false. It is by no means easy to prove one’s innocence of cheating, and also by no means easy to win defamation lawsuits in a world where the casual libel of public figures is viewed as a matter of course in the public discourse. Even so mediocre a chess player as one of the Botez sisters, also superstars in the world of chess streaming, used the cheating allegations as a means of fending off efforts by Neimann for flirtation, which demonstrates the hostility that exists between Neimann and his fellow public chess players.

It is unclear what a positive ending point for this sort of controversy would be. Concerns about the legitimacy of chess competitions are by no means new. There is, for example, a concurrent controversy about the possible use of supercomputers by players contending for the world championship and denying such an attempt to master chess lines through the most advanced chess computing software, and those players who engage in online chess competitions regularly have to face cheaters who try to use Stockfish and other chess engines to bolster their own accuracy and face bans as a result of the lack of fair play. Yet the use of engines as a means of improving one’s understanding of the game outside of competition is regularly encouraged and openly admitted by players at the highest level and well below. In such a world where chess engines offer powerful opportunities for developing insight and preparation but are also problematic in competition against others, it is unclear whether Hans Neimann will ever be entirely welcome in a world where personal relationships are of the utmost importance in providing opportunities for income as well as career advancement. Has the young GM already burned too many bridges to ensure a chance to sit at the tables where elites seek glittering prize monies and the chance to live well off of competitive chess? Or will his legal remedies provide him with cash and the chance to clear his name in court, where the he said, he said dispute may be played out in front of judge and jury and the interest of those who care about chess? Only time will tell.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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