Since early September, the often genteel world of aggressive chess has descended into acrimony and suspicion. There have been accusations, and admissions, of dishonest. There have been (in all probability faulty) allegations of vibrating anal beads. There have been huge lawsuits filed. Most information shops on the earth have weighed in. And on the centre of all of it is Hans Moke Niemann, a 19-year-old US chess prodigy.
Niemann’s meteoric rise in world chess was capped by an upset victory over five-time reigning world champ Magnus Carlsen, the highest-ranked chess participant in historical past. Carlsen didn’t like what he noticed, hinting that he thought there was one thing improper afoot earlier than going a step additional and saying it outright.
In an impassioned protection, Niemann hit again at his critics, confessing to dishonest twice in on-line video games aged 12 and 16, calling it “the only largest mistake of my life,” and saying that “that is the total reality … I’d prefer to see if everybody else can truly inform their reality.”
Quickly after, Chess.com launched a blisteringly spicy report indicating that it was doubtless Niemann had cheated in additional than 100 video games – together with prize cash occasions and live-streamed video games, some in opposition to the world’s high gamers.
Six weeks later, the 19-year-old is now pursuing his reality to the tune of US$100 million in damages, with a lawsuit in opposition to Carlsen, Chess.com and fashionable chess streamer Hikaru Nakamura. Niemann says he’s been defamed and blacklisted from the game. The opposite events consider, within the phrases of Carlsen, that “Niemann has cheated extra — and extra not too long ago — than he has publicly admitted”.
On the core of this entire mess, actually, is that idea of ‘reality.’ Niemann has maintained his model of it, significantly in a September 7 interview – “There was loads of hypothesis, and there’s been loads of issues mentioned, and I believe I’m the one one who is aware of the reality,” he mentioned emphatically. Niemann maintains he’s by no means cheated in ‘over the board’ video games (versus on-line), and unbiased adjudicators are inclined to agree, even when there’s a complete lot of smoke across the integrity of his outcomes as much as 2020.
However is Hans Niemann a dependable narrator? And extra to the purpose, why are we writing about him (once more) at CyclingTips?
The reply: earlier than Niemann was a chess prodigy, he was apparently a high bicycle owner on the nationwide stage.
Was he nearly as good as he says he was? Effectively – that depends upon your model of the reality.
Verify your self earlier than Utrecht your self
When Hans Niemann out of the blue turned a family identify this yr, his previous outcomes as a chess participant had been pored over by Grandmasters, followers, and media attempting to work out the place he got here from and whether or not his rise was plausible.
Niemann’s ascent has been quick and he’s nonetheless in his teenagers, however in chess phrases, he’s seen as one thing of a late bloomer. The place that expertise sprouted was in Utrecht, the Netherlands, the place Niemann’s household as soon as lived.
His mother and father – one Danish, one Hawaiian – had been ex-pats working within the IT trade, and their son started chess lessons on the age of eight. At that stage, it wasn’t simply chess that had his consideration.
Based on De Volkskrant newspaper, “he additionally favored to get on his racing bike to take part in competitions.” Based on Niemann, in the meantime, he “was advancing rather more quickly [in cycling]” than in chess. All through his time residing and driving within the Netherlands, Niemann sat within the youngest two age classes, holding a license with the Royal Dutch Biking Union (KNWU) for 2 years, in 2011 and 2012.
Within the Netherlands, “from the age of eight it’s attainable to compete in races and be as aggressive as you want,” a KNWU spokesperson instructed me, when requested whether or not the main target within the youth ranks was on competitors or growth. “Some riders are focussed on outcomes from a younger age, others want and/or take extra time.”
Niemann appears to have fallen into the previous class. In a 2020 article he wrote for the US Chess Federation, he mentioned that “I’ve all the time been a single-minded particular person. I competed in biking within the Netherlands and was one of many high cyclists within the nation for my age after I moved again to California, so my aggressive spirit has all the time been what motivates me in every thing.”
“One of many high cyclists within the nation” is an ambiguous assertion, and the wording is a bit woolly – it’s not clear whether or not he was at that time referring to his ends in the Netherlands, or within the US upon his return, and there’s no numerical rating. Regardless, if it is the Netherlands we’re speaking about, we now have an issue: within the phrases of De Volkskrant, “his declare that he is likely one of the finest in his age group within the Netherlands is troublesome to confirm. There are not any outcomes on the web that point out this.”
So what do we learn about Hans Niemann’s biking within the Netherlands? Effectively, he rode for the WV Het Stadion membership, for starters – a membership that payments itself as “the nicest* biking membership in Utrecht [* and also the sportiest, most beautiful, most versatile and nicest cycling association in the Domstad]”.
The one outcomes of Niemann’s that CyclingTips may unearth had been from the 2012 Nationwide Championships – 5 laps of a brief circuit for a complete of seven km, the place Niemann completed a minute again from the winner in a 12 and a half minute race, 25th out of 35 entrants.
Quickly after, he was gone, forsaking him in Utrecht a raft of chess tutors who keep in mind him as “very fanatical” in his drive, paired with having a “very indignant” streak when he misplaced. An method to WV Het Stadion for details about his time with the biking membership went unanswered.
By the top of 2012, the Niemanns had left the Netherlands and returned to California, the place his biking continued into 2013. In most of his races, he was unaffiliated with a membership or group, though by means of June and July of that yr – his final aggressive outings – he’s listed as driving for WV Het Stadion, his previous Dutch membership, greater than half a yr after he’d left the nation.
There are clues of younger Niemann’s technological curiosity within the sport. He was a particularly early adopter of Strava, first logging a journey in February 2012 (he adopted only one rider, Joe Dombrowski, and Niemann’s account is lengthy dormant). However there are rather more latest clues of Niemann utilizing his biking background to construct his mythology.
In April 2021, Niemann relayed his life story to Chess Life journal, a prolonged monologue with a really particular declare – each numerically and geographically – initially of it. “I continued biking upon my preliminary return to the States, discovering myself ranked third for my age nationally,” Niemann says. Weirdly passive sentence development apart, that assertion is sharper than what he was saying a yr earlier, and simpler to disprove.
So, was he the third-best bicycle owner of his age within the US?
There’s nothing within the outcomes on USA Biking’s database that seems to assist that assertion. On the Northern California Nevada Biking Affiliation district observe championships, he completed fifth of 5 riders, in all six races. Within the Valley of the Solar Highway Race, he completed sixth of eight on the overall classification. In 24 races he began by means of the 2013 season, Niemann took no wins. Of his eight podium finishes, solely two races had greater than three riders.
USA Biking’s rankings are calculated on a rolling foundation and continuously in a state of flux, however on this proof it’s troublesome to see Niemann as one of many top-ranked riders of his age in his state, not to mention the whole nation. No nationwide championships appearances, few departures from the bubble of Californian biking, no indicators of a future biking star’s anointment.
Which, to be clear, actually doesn’t matter – forensic evaluation of the race outcomes of a kid just isn’t what youth competitors ought to be about. “Whereas USA Biking does supply aggressive alternatives for Juniors below the age of 12,” a spokesperson instructed me, “we consider that at that age it’s principally about talent growth and ensuring they’ve enjoyable on the bike.”
And by July 2013, Hans Niemann appears to have stopped having enjoyable on the bike, or discovered one thing in chess that drove him extra – “I give up biking and actually centered on chess,” he mentioned of a 10-year-old model of himself that already noticed the sport as a “profession”.
The tip of the street
That leads us to the top of Hans Niemann’s foray into biking – his dalliance with the game that’s principally outstanding for the way unremarkable it’s. And that’s high quality. Youngsters begin driving, and children cease. Youngsters win races and children don’t. Youngsters provide you with brash tales on the playground. Typically youngsters are instructed they’re particular at one thing, and a few of them in all probability internalise it and let the traces between reality and fiction blur.
However if you happen to have a look at issues a sure means – when a child grows into essentially the most controversial chess participant on the earth, staking his repute and thousands and thousands of dollars on absolutely the reality of his phrases and actions – an inflated set of biking outcomes from a decade in the past begins wanting a bit much less mundane, and a bit extra instructive.