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Hans Niemann pooh-poohs a chess cheating theory that's based on vibrating beads

"Obviously, it's very disheartening to be accused of cheating," chess grandmaster Hans Niemann said. Asked about a bizarre idea that vibrating anal beads could signal players about the best moves, he replied, "That is not a serious theory."
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"Obviously, it's very disheartening to be accused of cheating," chess grandmaster Hans Niemann said. Asked about a bizarre idea that vibrating anal beads could signal players about the best moves, he replied, "That is not a serious theory."

Chess prodigy Hans Niemann says he is "unfazed, perspicacious, and composed" as he competes in the World Junior Chess Championship. But Niemann is also answering questions about an improbable method of cheating, one year after controversy took over the chess world.

"Have you ever used anal beads while playing chess?" Piers Morgan asked Niemann on Monday's episode of his talk show.

"Your curiosity is a bit concerning, you know, maybe you're personally interested," Niemann replied as Morgan persisted in asking about the bizarre idea. "But I can tell you no."

The theory came up repeatedly during the nearly 20-minute interview, in which Niemann spoke directly about cheating allegations against him, his recently resolved lawsuit against five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen and the Chess.com website, and his attempts to move on after making mistakes.

The bead theory was amplified by Elon Musk

Drama erupted in elite chess last September when Carlsen called Niemann a cheater after losing to him. Niemann says his victory was fair and square.

Online, the drama generated slews of "what-if" theories, as chess players and fans debated whether and how it might be possible for a player to cheat during in-person — or "over-the-board" — games. Some discussed a buzzer that could fit into a shoe. But a next-level — and hopefully, purely hypothetical — idea got the most attention: anal beads that could vibrate via remote command to guide a player's moves.

The bead theory came from chess commentator Eric Hansen; it was then picked up by Elon Musk in a since-deleted tweet. That brings us to Piers Morgan, who did his best to get to the bottom of it all.

"Obviously, it's very disheartening to be accused of cheating after that victory" over Carlsen, Niemann said of the allegation. As Morgan pressed for more answers about anal beads, the young chess grandmaster added, "That is not a serious theory. That was something that was taken out of context and that was never a serious thing."

Niemann admitted cheating as a younger player

This month, Niemann, 20, entered the World Junior Chess Championship with the tournament's top ranking. Worldwide, he is currently ranked at No. 69, with Carlsen at the No. 1 spot.

Niemann says he has learned from his mistakes, and also from being pilloried by other chess players and some media outlets.

But he has also admitted to cheating during online chess games twice, when he was 12 and 16 years old. Niemann insists he hasn't cheated since, and never in an over-the-board game. Last year, Chess.com released a report accusing him of cheating in more than 100 games — an accusation Niemann says is unfounded.

In a sport long associated with young prodigies, suspicions have spread beyond Niemann's case. Consider former world champion Vladimir Kramnick's recent announcement that he will no longer play matches on Chess.com, saying there were "[just] too many obvious cheaters here and nothing is done to clean the platform from those small crooks."

One week before Kramnick made those comments, he lost two games to Niemann. But Niemann notes that Kramnick didn't single him out. And he says he has proven himself in the past year.

"In over-the-board tournaments, I have continued to play chess at a very, very high level," he told Morgan.

Niemann says he'll beat Carlsen again

When Niemann's $100 million lawsuit was resolved, Chess.com issued a statement saying that while it stands by its report on Niemann from last October, it also reiterated, "we found no determinative evidence that he has cheated in any in-person games."

Carlsen also seemed ready to move forward, stating, "I am willing to play Niemann in future events, should we be paired together."

Niemann says Carlsen and others tried to bully him. He also says he's ready to play the Norwegian again if and when they're matched against each other in a tournament.

"You know, it's not gonna be the last time that I beat him," Niemann said during the interview with Morgan.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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