Hans Niemann, the 19-year-old chess grandmaster accused of cheating in a scandal that has shaken the game’s elite echelons, filed a lawsuit in US federal court seeking at least $100mn in damages from defendants including reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen.
The suit, filed Thursday in federal court in Missouri, brings claims including slander, libel and civil conspiracy against Carlsen, Chess.com, the popular online playing venue, and Hikaru Nakamura, the American grandmaster and popular live-streamer.
“[Niemann] brings this action to recover from the devastating damages that defendants have inflicted upon his reputation, career, and life by egregiously defaming him and unlawfully colluding to blacklist him from the profession to which he has dedicated his life,” the complaint said.
Chess.com’s attorneys said there was “no merit” to Niemann’s allegations. “We believe his lawsuit hurts the game of chess and its devoted players and fans around the world.”
Representatives for Carlsen and Nakamura did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit comes amid accusations and speculation against Niemann from all corners of the chess world. He beat Carlsen, 31, in a game at an elite tournament in St Louis in early September, an unlikely result for a young player considered to be an underdog.
After the game, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament, a career first, and posted a cryptic tweet with video of football manager José Mourinho saying, “If I speak, I’m in big trouble, and I don’t want to be in big trouble.”
The chess world widely interpreted his tweet as an accusation of cheating against Niemann. Carlsen resigned after one move in a subsequent game against Niemann, in an apparent act of protest, and later said he believed that “Niemann has cheated more — and more recently — than he has publicly admitted”.
“This got spicy really fast,” said Nakamura on his stream after the initial game, adding: “Am I suggesting that something happened? I’m saying Magnus is suspicious.”
Niemann admitted to cheating in certain online games, and early this month Chess.com released a 72-page statement that found Niemann “likely cheated” more than 100 times on the site.
Chess.com acquired Carlsen’s company, Play Magnus, in an $82mn deal this summer. Play Magnus is also named as a defendant in the suit.
Niemann has denied cheating in St Louis and other in-person events. Since the allegations have surfaced, security at top events has been increased, with players, including Niemann, subject to rigorous scans for electronic devices. The game’s international governing body, Fide, vowed to stop cheating from become a “plague”.
The lawsuit strikes a defiant tone, and claims Carlsen’s accusations were the behaviour of a sore loser with a bruised ego: “Notorious for his inability to cope with defeat, Carlsen snapped.”
“Defendants have destroyed Niemann’s life simply because he had the talent, dedication and audacity to defeat the so-called ‘King of Chess,’” Niemann’s lawyers, Oved & Oved, said in a statement. “We will hold defendants fully accountable and expose the truth.”