Hans Niemann, the American 20-year-old chess grandmaster at the center of a scandal involving Magnus Carlsen, the game’s reigning superstar and former world champion, will not have the chance to seek damages over allegations of cheating that have hurt his professional standing. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Fleissig threw out his $100 million defamation lawsuit against Carlsen, the gaming platform Chess.com and another grandmaster, Hikaru Nakamura.
Niemann did not immediately return a request for comment or indicate whether he would continue to explore his legal options in the matter, and he has not tweeted since sharing his suit, filed in October.
The chess community was shocked last September when the Niemann defeated Carlsen, considered the best player of the 21st century, at the Sinquefield Cup tournament in St. Louis, snapping the Norwegian’s 53-game winning streak in classical chess. But that was just the start of the drama: Carlsen, in an unprecedented move, then quit the tournament altogether and cryptically hinted on Twitter that something was suspicious about Niemann’s win. Among chess enthusiasts, this fueled closer analyses of the in-person match and all manner of speculation about how Niemann might have cheated. Nakamura, the most popular chess streamer on Twitch, was among those advancing the argument that Niemann had some kind of unfair advantage.
After beating Calrsen, Niemann admitted to having cheated in online Chess.com matches between the ages of 12 and 16, for which he’d received a temporary suspension, but never since or in any “over the board” tournaments like Sinquefield. He even said he’d “strip fully naked” to prove he wasn’t concealing any means of cheating.
Carlsen and Niemann then squared off in an online rematch for the quarter-finals of the Julius Baer Generation Cup — except Carlsen withdrew after a single move, later releasing a statement explaining that he refused to play Niemann anymore. “I believe Niemann has cheated more — and more recently — than he has publicly admitted,” he wrote.
While no one has conclusively proven that Niemann cheated in an OTB match, Chess.com permanently suspended him amid the controversy, releasing a report that found he had “likely cheated” more than 100 times on the site and had not been forthcoming about “the amount and seriousness” of his infractions. The International Chess Federation (FIDE) opened an investigation into both players in September, though their report has been delayed in part because of Niemann’s civil suit.
That lawsuit, in which Niemann blames Carlsen, Nakamura, and Chess.com for “devastating damages” to his career, accuses the grandmasters and chess company of “unlawfully colluding to blacklist him from the profession to which he has dedicated his life.” It suggests that Carlsen cooked up the scandal out of embarrassment from losing to Niemann and retaliated by ruining his reputation with the help of Nakamura and Chess.com, which had weeks before Sinquefield made an offer to by Carlsen’s own chess company, Play Magnus, for $82.9 million. That deal was completed in December. Niemann’s suit described the merger as monopolistic, and further claimed he had been disinvited from tournaments while becoming unable to get work as a chess teacher.
“Niemann appears to argue that the merger is anticompetitive because it eliminates competition among online recreational chess platforms,” Judge Fleissig wrote in her memorandum and order. “Whether or not that is true, the alleged target of such an anticompetitive merger would be other online recreational chess platforms, not Niemann. Niemann claims his injuries were caused by his ban from Chess.com, Carlsen’s refusal to play against him, and the accusations of cheating leveled against him, but not by the merger between Chess.com and Play Magnus.”
Fleissig therefore dismissed Niemann’s antitrust claims “with prejudice,” effectively ending that legal strategy, but found that his complaints regarding libel and slander fell outside the jurisdiction of the Missouri federal court, meaning he can still refile them at the state level.
“We are pleased the Court has rejected Hans Niemann’s attempt to recover an undeserved windfall in Missouri federal court,” Craig Reiser, Carlsen’s attorney, said in a statement to the media. “Our clients are happy to see an end to this saga, and are pleased that all parties can now focus on growing the game of chess,” said Jamie Wine and Nima H. Mohebbi, from the legal team representing Play Magnus, Chess.com, and the latter’s chief chess officer, Daniel Rensch, who was also named in the suit.
Of course, whether Niemann is truly out of moves remains to be seen.