HANS NIEMANN IS nowhere to be seen.
It's 12:56 p.m. in the chess capital of America, four minutes before the start of the U.S. Chess Championship at the Saint Louis Chess Club. In the past half hour, most of the 13 other Americans competing in the championships arrived, some with coffee in hand, others with bags of fruit, and were escorted to the tournament hall. But the teenage prodigy at the center of a bombshell cheating controversy? Will he even show?
Then, a whisper of shaggy brown hair becomes visible through the glass front door. Niemann walks in and scurries to the front desk, where players drop off their cellphones. He doesn't have his phone on him, he says. He speaks fast and soft and his words stick to one another, making them hard to decipher.
Niemann is the penultimate player to walk into the club, entering as though he was hoping to avoid talking to his competitors -- or even bumping into them. His first-round opponent, Christopher Yoo, is checking in before him, but Niemann doesn't make eye contact. His eyebrows are arched, a downward pout to his lips. He looks tired, but he's well-dressed, wearing a black shirt with fall flowers and a dark suit.
One of the tournament managers escorts Niemann through the back entrance of the club and through a parking lot, where the entrance to the makeshift tournament hall is located while the club undergoes construction. The round-robin tournament features 14 of the best American players, and a national title is on the line. But nobody takes up more space than Niemann, the target of a report not yet 24 hours old that claimed his cheating was more prevalent than previously known.
Niemann enters a narrow corridor and is immediately stopped by two men wielding metal detectors. Enrique Huerta, one of the arbiters, stands with his security wand and waves Niemann toward him and asks him to raise his arms to the side. Then, he goes on to slowly move the wand from the top of Niemann's head to the tip of his shoes. Niemann stands erect, watching the security chief intently, a stoic look on his face. Then, Niemann is asked to turn around, and he's scanned all over again, top to bottom, side to side.
It's already past the match's 1 p.m. start time now, but the chief arbiter had said at the opening ceremony on Tuesday that it didn't matter how long the security process took; the round would begin only when it was thoroughly completed. There was too much at stake.
About 30 seconds later, Niemann walks into the corridor and waits. There is another machine. This one is a bulky square machine with a screen. It's a non-linear junction detector, and it detects the presence of silicon in electronics, whether they're turned on, radiating energy or hard-wired. The Saint Louis Chess Club overnighted the machine from a manufacturer in London and flew an employee to Virginia Beach on Tuesday to pick it up so it would arrive in time for the tournament. It came together in a matter of days, according to tournament director Tony Rich. The club bought the machine for around $11,000.
Chief arbiter Chris Bird places the machine around Niemann and slowly scans him from top to bottom. Bird nods and asks Niemann to enter the tournament hall, where the club also uses a radio frequency machine, which detects infrared radiations -- signals to and from the players.
Niemann takes his time, waiting by the corridor, grabbing a glass of water. Then, after the rest of the players have taken their seats, he shuffles toward his chair where Yoo awaits. The hall is shaped like an uneven octagon, and Niemann and Yoo are seated in one of the nooks.
Niemann looks flustered, fidgeting with his hair and rubbing his face. Photographers, a videographer and a handful of reporters swarm his table, some taking notes, some intensely looking at him and others sitting down to get a close-up photograph. He places his left hand on his forehead to cover his face, his eyes darting back and forth from the board to the reporters. He finishes his glass of water in the first few minutes of play, taking big swigs.
Ten minutes after the round begins, the reporters and photographers are escorted out, a standard practice at in-person tournaments. The reporters move to the club's lounge, where the tournament is being broadcast -- on a 30-minute delay to ensure players don't have either a machine or a person help them with their next move after watching the telecast in real time.
Back at the table, the Niemann-Yoo match begins to unfold. Directly above them on the wall is a photo of a younger Niemann, smiling widely. It was taken long before Niemann found himself tangled in a cheating scandal that has left him fighting for his credibility and the 1,500-year-old game of chess fighting for its future.
TONY RICH WAS getting ready for bed on Sept. 4 when the Saint Louis Chess Club's executive director and organizer of the Sinquefield Cup received a phone call from the tournament's chief arbiter.
It was unlike any call he has received in his 12-year tournament organizing career. Magnus Carlsen, the No. 1 chess player in the world, was strongly considering withdrawing from the Sinquefield Cup, one of America's most prestigious events, with a $100,000 first-place check at stake.
What? Rich thought. Where is this coming from?
Hours earlier, Carlsen had suffered a shocking loss to a relatively unknown 19-year-old American named Hans Niemann, who was ranked last in the tournament. Niemann had ended Carlsen's 53-match unbeaten streak. Even stranger, Carlsen had played with white pieces, which is an advantage because it gets the first move.
Toward the end of the match, Carlsen, his hands on his head, looked defeated, never recovering from a couple of blunders early in the match. After the last move, a disheveled Carlsen shook Niemann's hand, let out a long exhale, signed his record sheet and left. If he had any suspicions, he did not make that clear at that time.
When Rich walked into the club the next morning, he waited as the clock ticked toward and then past Carlsen's start time. Carlsen was a no-show; he had withdrawn. A cryptic tweet from Carlsen followed, quoting Portuguese soccer manager Jose Mourinho -- "If I speak, I am in big trouble" -- suggesting, rather vaguely, that Niemann might have cheated.
The chess world -- and beyond -- spoke for him. Loudly. Grandmasters began taking sides, coming up with their own analyses of what happened. Elon Musk chimed in with a tweet. News articles were written about how anal beads could be used to assist a player. (More on this later.)
Bird, the Sinquefield Cup's arbiter, said in a statement that no unfair play was detected by any player at the 2022 tournament. Computer scientist and mathematician Ken Regan, who developed one of the algorithms to detect cheating in chess, told ESPN late last month that he did not find any anomalies in Niemann's results (either online or in-person) over the past two years.
For his part, Niemann gave an impassioned interview at the Sinquefield Cup, saying that he had cheated in online chess at ages 12 and 16 but that he had never cheated in over-the-board chess, and that he would be willing to play naked to prove that he was clean.
Amid all the shouting, Chess.com quietly issued a new ban on the American and removed him from the field of the Global Chess Championship, a $1 million tournament that began online on Sept. 14 and will end in Toronto in November. Chess.com's co-founder and chief chess officer Daniel Rensch confirmed to ESPN that Niemann was banned twice in the past, once at age 12 and then at age 16. This was his third ban from the site.
"We have shared detailed evidence with him concerning our decision, including information that contradicts his statement regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com," Rensch, via Chess.com, posted on Twitter.
The drama didn't end there. Carlsen and Niemann played each other again on Sept. 19 -- this time in the Julius Baer Generation Cup, an online tournament -- and Carlsen resigned on the second move, turning off his camera immediately after. A protest. Carlsen continued playing in the tournament -- and won -- but did not respond to any questions about his withdrawal.
For another week, Carlsen remained quiet, giving the world ample time to speculate. Meanwhile, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) released a statement disagreeing with how Carlsen handled the situation given his status as the global ambassador for the sport. Later, it announced a panel to investigate his allegations against Niemann.
On Sept. 26, Carlsen put out a statement on Twitter accusing Niemann of cheating and saying he was unwilling to play the American.
"I believe that Niemann has cheated more -- and more recently -- than he has publicly admitted," Carlsen wrote. "His over the board progress has been unusual, and throughout our game in the Sinquefield Cup I had the impression that he 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. This game contributed to changing my perspective."
In addition, Carlsen made a broader statement that cheating today poses an "existential threat to the game," and that cheating needed to be weeded out from chess as soon as possible.
On Tuesday, 24 hours before Niemann returned to the Saint Louis Chess Club for the U.S. Chess Championship, Chess.com released a 72-page report stating Niemann "likely cheated" more than 100 times in online chess, as recently as August 2020, when he was 17 years old, and in several games involving prize money. The report cites mathematician Regan's analysis that Niemann had cheated in 2015 and 2017 and in several games until August 2020.
The report directly contradicted Niemann's interview after his victory against Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup, where he admitted to cheating at ages 12 and 16, but said he never did in tournaments involving prize money or when he was streaming his matches live.
Chess.com, which is in the process of buying Carlsen's Play Magnus App for $83 million, stated in the report that it reached out to Niemann privately in 2020 -- as it says is its protocol -- and that Niemann confessed to cheating and accepted the ban in 2020. Then, he was allowed back on the site, and even accepted Chess.com's invite to its 2022 Global Chess Championship. But once the scandal with Carlsen broke, Chess.com said it reconsidered its decision and issued Niemann a fresh ban, but didn't plan to announce it to the public. But once Niemann spoke about the new ban during his interview at the Sinquefield Cup, Chess.com decided it was important to explain how it had come to its decision -- which was why it released the detailed report on Tuesday.
In addition to Niemann, the report states that Chess.com's cheating detection system has been used to identify cheating among hundreds of titled players and dozens of grandmasters. It has elicited cheating confessions from four players in the FIDE top 100, the report said.
As for Niemann's performance in his win over Carlsen, the report stated, "there is no direct evidence that proves Hans cheated at the September 4, 2022, game with Magnus, or proves that he has cheated in other [over-the-board] games in the past."
ACCUSATIONS OF CHEATING in the world of chess are as old as the game itself. Early in the 11th century, King Canute of the North Sea Empire apparently ordered the killing of a Danish nobleman over a disagreement involving cheating at a chess-like game. In southern India at the turn of the 16th century, the famous court jester Tenali Rama, who worked under the rule of King Krishnadevaraya, often played chess against the king. On one occasion, as legend has it, when the king dozed off between moves, Rama repeatedly yelled out that he had won until the king woke up and conceded defeat.
Cheating allegations in chess had made their way to American soil by 1880, when Americans Preston Ware and James Grundy were accused of collusion and bribery during a tournament at the 5th American Chess Conference.
Until recently, the main form of cheating was through collusion. That meant players, usually from the same country, agreed to lose or draw games to help their teammates in tournaments. During the Cold War, Soviet players were accused of colluding in tournaments by drawing games against each other so they could focus their energy and preparation on games where they played against non-countrymen. The most famous accusation happened at the 1962 Candidates Tournament, when American Bobby Fischer, widely considered the best player to ever play the game, accused Soviet players -- who finished by drawing every match they played against each other.
The cheating allegations took a bizarre turn at the 1978 World Chess Championship between Soviet Anatoly Karpov and his challenger Viktor Korchnoi, who had fled the Soviet Union in 1976. Korchnoi accused a member of Karpov's team of staring at him continuously, trying to hypnotize him. He even wore dark sunglasses to his games, irking Karpov. Then, during one of the games, Karpov's team sent him a cup of yogurt right before his move; Korchnoi complained that Karpov's team was sending him signals. The accusations got so severe, the players refused to speak to each other during the games.
The 1990s and early 2000s saw a sudden proliferation of artificial intelligence -- such as Fritz, a chess program for Pocket PC (a handheld PC) and Deep Blue (a chess supercomputer, the first one to beat a reigning world champion when Garry Kasparov played against it and lost in 1997).
The earliest case of cheating in chess involving artificial intelligence was at the 1993 World Cup. A player was found with a device in his pocket that buzzed during certain points in his matches. He was disqualified.
At the 1998 Böblingen Open in Germany, 55-year-old Clemens Allwermann from Germany came out of nowhere to beat some of the best grandmasters and win the tournament. Immediately after, cheating accusations piled up against him. "Was a pocket Deep Blue used for brain doping?" one newspaper asked. Most of his moves resembled the moves Fritz would have made, so did he use Fritz? How could he have? Then the speculation began -- it was warm inside the tournament venue, but Allwermann always wore a suit and a tie. Did he have a tiny camera attached to his blazer and an earpiece that was covered by his long hair? Did the camera send signals of the moves to somebody on the outside, who then relayed what his next move should be via the earpiece? Upon investigating, no unfair play was detected, but the Bavarian Chess Federation still banned him from future tournaments.
The cases only multiplied from there. At the 2006 world championship between champion Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik, Topalov and his camp accused Kramnik and his team of planting an electronic device in the bathroom Kramnik used -- quite frequently -- during the match. Kramnik wound up forfeiting a game after organizers eliminated his access to the bathroom in question but he wound up winning the championship in a tiebreaker.
At the 2010 FIDE Olympiad, three French players were caught cheating in tandem. One player watched the match at home, plugging in the moves into a computer program. Then, he sent the next move via SMS message to the French coach, who signaled the proper move to the French player. They were suspended by the FIDE Fair Play Commissions for one to three years.
In 2018, a visually impaired player, Stein Tholo Bjørnsen, received a lifetime ban from the Norwegian Chess Federation after being caught with an earplug (in the palm of his hand) during a game against a 9-year-old girl.
And that paved the way for a series of players to be implicated in toiletgate -- the practice of hiding a cellphone (usually outfitted with chess software, or perhaps simply open for tips via texts) near a toilet. In July 2019, Latvian-Czech player Igors Rausis was caught using his cellphone in the bathroom.
But none of these scandals prepared the chess world for what it would encounter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
IN APRIL 2020, Chess.com reported to Forbes that it gained 1.5 million new users that month, compared to 670,000 in January before the pandemic set in. With in-person competition impossible, rising players and elite players clung to the one way they could still play the game they loved: online. There was a steep proliferation of chess games played online -- with little to no supervision, at a time when advanced artificial intelligence could give players every single move in every single chess game ever played right at their fingertips.
The result: cheating chaos.
To be sure, online chess, and online chess cheating, existed long before the pandemic. Chess.com booted accounts suspected of cheaters every day before COVID-19, including Niemann twice.
The difference between now and then is the stakes. Before the pandemic, online chess was mainly a playground for new and emerging players. The serious business was still being conducted over the board.
But the pandemic drove elite players online. And with them, the money moved as well.
As early as May 2020, top U.S. grandmaster and world No. 2 Fabiano Caruana talked extensively about how the opportunity to cheat in online chess is exponentially higher.
"In online chess, if a player is not on camera, if they're not being monitored in any way and there's a lot of money on the line, there are players who are tempted to cheat," Caruana told Forbes. "For very large tournaments, I don't know if there's a solution for it because you can't have 1,000 people on camera."
Says grandmaster Levon Aronian, "One day people think you're untalented and a loser -- and suddenly you're a champion and a genius, so it's really tempting to want that level of [fame] and money, especially if you can do it without getting caught."
Recognizing the environment was vulnerable, FIDE, Chess.com and other websites scrambled to set new rules. In some cases, players had to sit directly in front of a camera for the duration of the game and couldn't even leave to go to the bathroom until the game was finished. In others, they couldn't look away from the camera (which could potentially mean they're looking at other devices). In addition to the physical restrictions, organizers came up with an algorithm that detected cheating based on the quality of a player's move. Alex Colovic, FIDE's Fair Play Commission councillor, told ESPN that the "assumed cheating" metric for online play was lowered from the over-the-board number. In over-the-board chess, if the probability of cheating is 1 in 3.5 million, officials consider it suspect. That number is slashed to 1 in 100,000 in online chess, according to Colovic.
By August 2020, Chess.com had blocked 400,000 accounts for cheating, including 500 titled players.
But for every example of a player being caught, it is likely that many more went undetected. "You basically feel like you're one or two steps behind," says Colovic, who is himself a grandmaster. Adds 21-year-old American grandmaster Jeffery Xiong: "The biggest thing stopping somebody from cheating online is really their own conscience, because honestly, there are so many methods nowadays, and it's incredibly difficult to tell -- is this person using a computer, or is he just playing really well?"
To be clear, there's a big difference between a computer and a human "just playing really well." Stockfish, the most advanced computer engine, has an Elo score (the official measure of a chess player's skill) of 3,500. In comparison, the highest human score ever recorded is Carlsen's 2,882 in 2014. No human has exceeded 3,000 in the Elo ratings. In online chess, a hint from Stockfish is just a click away.
The worst part of this, says grandmaster Maurice Ashley, who has been a mainstay in the commentator's booth for chess tournaments for many years, is that cheating -- by a few -- creates an environment of paranoia for the rest of the players.
"The reality is any young chess prodigy -- you take Magnus Carlsen, for example -- they grow really fast, they get good really quickly, they can soak up so much information. They go from being a simple master player to an absolute chess gangster inside one or two years," Ashley says. "Are we going to suspect every last one of them now when we just thought they were geniuses before?"
Up until recently, Niemann fell into that category. Born in San Francisco in 2003, Niemann went to school in Laguna Beach, California, before moving to the Netherlands when he was 7. He started playing chess when he was 8 before moving back to the United States and attending Weston High School in Connecticut and Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in New York. He became a FIDE grandmaster at age 17 in April 2021.
He won the World Open in Philadelphia, crossed the 2,600 Elo rating and became the U.S. junior chess champion in July 2021, when he achieved his highest world ranking of No. 45. The Chess.com report published Tuesday called Niemann "the fastest-rising top player in Classical OTB chess in modern recorded history much later in life than his peers."
Niemann is an avid Twitch chess streamer and has said that he has lived out of suitcases and traveled throughout Europe the past two years dedicating his life to over-the-board chess.
Once COVID-19 vaccinations were rolled out and restrictions were eased, more top players began gathering in person for over-the-board chess tournaments again, first tentatively by the end of 2020 and more consistently once the vaccines were administered in spring 2021.
And that brings us to anal beads.
In over-the-board chess, with more security measures in place, cheaters need to get creative. So technically, could a person use anal beads during a game? A Reddit user seems to have pushed the theory. Could those anal beads aid with cheating? The jury is out. Even if the beads are connected to a computer that is following the match in real time and sending the next move in morse code, there is no proof that a person would be able to decipher the vibrations and apply them to their next move.
"We live in a social media age that's hungry for sensationalism. The greatest conspiracy theories get blown out of proportion," Ashley says. "Chess is the flavor of the moment -- and we are getting attention in a way we would never like to have."
Conspiracy theories aside, one thing is clear: Cheating using artificial intelligence is a threat to over-the-board and online chess. Maybe if the online and the over-the-board worlds had never collided, maybe if the online game had never become as high-stakes as it did during the pandemic, and maybe if Carlsen had never had to face Niemann, none of this would have snowballed. And maybe Niemann's past cheating would have stayed in the past. But online chess did become high-stakes, cheating did proliferate in that environment, and the future does involve a hybrid competing situation.
The internet made chess more popular. It made chess accessible. But is technology -- the thing that elevated the sport -- also the thing that's going to undermine it?
THREE YEARS BEFORE Jeffery Xiong was born in 2000, chess was forever altered. In 1997, reigning world champion Garry Kasparov (who declined ESPN's interview request), took on a machine, Deep Blue, for the second time in two years. He played the supercomputer in 1996 and won. Then they had a rematch.
It did not go well for Kasparov, who lost two games to Deep Blue, won one and drew three times. (It should be noted that Kasparov accused Deep Blue/IBM of cheating -- ironically saying that he believed humans helped Deep Blue win).
But how did Deep Blue actually pull it off? Turns out it took more than just data.
Kasparov was the king of getting into his opponents' heads, according to "Hello World" by Anna Frye. Oftentimes, when his opponents had their hands on their heads, breaking their brains in trying to come up with a winnable solution, Kasparov, appearing bored, would pick up his watch from the table and put it on, as though indicating his opponents were boring him. That they should resign. When IBM developed Deep Blue, one of its genius tactical moves was to have Deep Blue get in Kasparov's head. It made Deep Blue appear more uncertain about its moves than it actually was. After calculating and knowing the exact move, Deep Blue idled for minutes, making Kasparov think that it needed more time than it actually did to figure out its next move. It made Kasparov believe that he had confused its program. Kasparov spent a lot of time in those games trying to figure out just how advanced the machine was. He appeared distracted and, in some instances, horrified. Later, after the loss, he said in an interview, "[Deep Blue] played like a god for one moment," and added, "I became so concerned with what it might be capable of that I was oblivious to how my problems were more due to how badly I was playing than how well it was playing."
A deeply unsettling feeling settled over the chess community: Machines were now superior to humans.
So when Xiong started playing chess as a kid, he accepted that he could never beat a machine.
"Since then, it was clear that AI was simply stronger than humans, and as time passed, the gap just kept getting bigger and bigger," Xiong says. "Now everybody understands that you have to rely on them to guide you, because they'll tell you the best move in any certain position."
All around him, he noticed his peers working with AI to learn their opening moves. Xiong took his time with it. Until he turned 15, his coach, a Soviet era chess player, wanted him to get a taste of what chess looked like before computers started telling human beings how to play. So he studied the games of famous players like Fischer and Kasparov. And, when he began competing, he says he could tell the difference between when an opponent chose a move a computer would have chosen, and when they made a move that was creative, something they came up with on their own.
He began using a combination of both in his games -- his own creativity blended with what he studied from a supercomputer. If Fischer watched him play, he would think that Xiong was a product of the 21st century supercomputer. If a 14-year-old future grandmaster watched him play, he would think Xiong was old-school. It is all relative.
"I've never seen something this huge, this dramatic, and it is a scary time," Xiong says. "Because I feel like a chess player's worst fear is going to the board and having to worry, 'Who am I playing against? Am I playing a human, or am I playing [something] else?'"
Artificial Intelligence has dramatically changed how every sport functions. But for whatever competitive advantage it might provide, say, the Kansas City Chiefs in devising a gameplan, it can't transform a practice-squad QB into Patrick Mahomes. But AI can transform a marginal chess player into a grandmaster; all players need to do once the AI speaks is pick up a piece and move it, no exceptional physical or mental skills required.
Since the accusations against Niemann, two old ideas to cope with the AI intrusion have gained a foothold.
After losing to Deep Blue, Kasparov proposed an idea to join forces with computers. Kasparov suggested that a grandmaster should team up with a supercomputer to play another grandmaster who has the same supercomputer. That idea never took off 25 years ago. But today that idea -- in some variation -- has been top of mind for some grandmasters.
If that idea were to become a reality, then cheating would no longer be a problem in chess. Oh, AI told you what to do? Great.
But that also essentially would mean that the game as we know it would be dead.
Anybody with a supercomputer can be a grandmaster. There would be no need to perfect openings, to prepare your body physically and mentally for an eight-plus-hour competition, day in and day out. Everything that motivated chess players to wake up every morning for a chance to sit across from the best in the world and have an opportunity to beat them -- human to human -- would be gone.
"It may end up being the case," Ashley says. "I really hope that day doesn't come."
There are grandmasters and organizers who are more optimistic.
"We're better than that," says 40-year-old Armenian grandmaster Aronian, who sees the game evolving in a different way.
Titled Fischer Random Chess after its inventor Bobby Fischer, this variation uses the same board and pieces, and the only difference is that the starting point of each of the pieces is randomized before every game. Coupled with strict broadcast-delay rules, it would be nearly impossible for electronic devices to know where the pieces are located on the board.
But however the game evolves from this point on, the grandmasters who spoke to ESPN agree on one thing: Carlsen vs. Niemann might just have provided the wake-up call chess needs.
"My hope is that we're going to find some really advanced security measures that give people who were thinking about cheating the impression that, "You're not going to be able to get away with this, and if you try, you're likely to get caught, and that's going to be the end for you,'" Xiong says.
At the end of the day, sitting in front of a human being, knowing they're flawed and can be taken down -- even if they're the best in the world -- is what drove King Canute to order his opponent's killing, is what drove Fischer, and is what motivated a 9-year-old Tani Adewumi to stay up after bedtime to keep practicing his moves.
"All the young players have tremendous respect for chess," Xiong says. "We've all studied the legends in the past -- all their games very carefully and learned a lot from them, and also took what we learned from AI -- that's how you become a great player."
Or as Aronian puts it: Anybody can use a machine to play music, but it's human beings who give music its soul.
HANS NIEMANN SMIRKS as he glances at Cristian Chirila, a grandmaster and commentator at the U.S. Chess Championship. He is in a drastically different mood than when he walked into the Saint Louis Chess Club five hours earlier.
"Chess speaks for itself, y'all, that's all I can say," he says.
It is minutes after his first-round victory against 15-year-old Christopher Yoo. Just like at the Sinquefield Cup against Carlsen, Niemann won with black pieces. He skirted reporters waiting to talk to him before spending 30-some seconds in the broadcast booth.
"I think this game is a message to everyone," Niemann says. "This entire thing started with me saying chess speaks for itself, and I think this game spoke for itself and showed the chess player I am. And it also showed that I am not going to back down and I am going to play my best chess here regardless of the pressure that I am under."
When Chirila tries to move on to dissecting the game, Niemann abruptly stands up and says he is not interested in talking about the game -- or anything else. "It was such a beautiful game, I don't even need to describe it," he says. And leaves.
The game didn't seem as beautiful to Yoo. "I was actually a little bit annoyed that he was in this tournament," he says. "Not because I was thinking he was going to do anything, but because of his suspicious past."
To put it in perspective, Niemann is seeded eighth in the tournament, and Yoo is No. 12. But the intense media attention made Yoo feel like the match had a "lot more weight."
Yoo, who previously chatted with Niemann during tournaments, says it would be "weird" to talk to Niemann now.
"We're not friends in any way," Yoo says.
"I do think he should be held more accountable. I do think they need to really take more action on his past actions and take even more of a look into every single [game]."
Niemann has 12 more matches to go, and he will have to upset some giants like Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana for a chance at the $60,000 first-place prize, for a chance to show that his win over Carlsen was neither fluke nor fraud.
One thing is certain: The chess world will be watching. Its future is at stake.