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Chess: Hans Niemann Struggles In US Championship Amid Beefed Up Security

Hans Niemann, the controversial 19-year-old named as a probable cheat by the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, made a fast start at the $262,000 US championship in St Louis, but then fell back, and was next to last after eight of the tournament’s 13 rounds.

The teenager won in round one, calling it “such a beautiful game that I don’t need to describe it.” He should have won in round two as well, emerging as White against the French Defence with an extra passed pawn. It would have made him the clear championship leader on 2/2, but a blunder at move 25 cost both the pawn and the win.

Since round two it has been mostly downhill for Niemann, who lost to the former world No 2 Fabiano Caruana in round four, was crushed by Ray Robson’s counterattack in round six, and went from an even position at move 20 to resignation at move 28 in round seven before a round-eight draw on Thursday against the out-of-form Levon Aronian.

Caruana, who leads the table with 6/8, half a point ahead of Robson, is a St Louis resident and says people often recognise him in the street and “ask about beads”. The championship continues daily (7.30pm start) and is live online.

Awonder Liang, 19, used the 19th century Scotch Gambit to defeat Aronian, while a 10-mover was one of the shortest wins at a US Championship (Leinier Domínguez Pérez v Elshan Moradiabadi: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nxe5 d6 4 Nf3 Nxe4 5 d4 d5 6 Bd3 Be7 7 0-0 Bf5 8 c4 0-0? 9 cxd5 Qxd5? 10 Bxe4 1-0 If 10…Bxe4 11 Nc3 or 10…Qxe4 11 Re1 wins at least a piece). The shortest win ever record remains intact, however (Kamran Shirazi v Jack Peters, US Championship 1984: 1 e4 c5 2 b4 cxb4 3 a3 d5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 axb4?? Qe5+ 0-1).

The St Louis organisers paid several thousand dollars to strengthen their security systems with metal detecting wands, radio frequency scanners, and even scanners that check for silicon devices. Spectators were banned apart from a handful of organisers and media. A 30-minute delay on the live internet broadcast counters any possibility of computer analysis of the current position being passed to a player.

Fide has convened an inquiry team, which is expected to report back within weeks, on the Niemann v Carlsen episode. It could rebuke Carlsen for withdrawing from the Sinquefield Cup after losing to Niemann with no hard evidence of cheating. Fide’s required standard of proof is over 99% and its anti-cheating specialist, professor Ken Regan, has said he found no evidence against Niemann, so significant action seems unlikely unless a smoking gun emerges in the next few weeks.

The best guess now barring new developments is that the scandal may subside into an uneasy stalemate. Niemann’s poor US championship performance makes it highly unlikely that he will reach the world top 10-20 any time soon, so Carlsen should be able to avoid meeting him in future. Beyond that, the American teen’s future tournament opportunities may be limited, but he only risks a ban from over-the-board chess if concrete evidence emerges against him.

Carlsen, meanwhile, continues to play with remarkable energy. Last week he won the individual board one gold medal with 5/6 at the European Club Cup. It was the first time in 15 years that the Norwegian had gained rating points at a team event.

This week the world champion won’s weekly Titled Tuesday with 9.5/11, playing exclusively 1 g2-g4 as White and 1….g7-g5 as Black. On Friday he is top seeded for the online Aimchess Rapid, the penultimate event on the Meltwater Tour, where he is aiming for a hat-trick of tournament wins following the Julius Baer Generation Cup and the FTX Crypto Cup. Play starts at 5pm daily, and is live 0nline.

3837: 1 Be5! If Kxe5 2 g4! c3 3 d4 mate. If c3 2 Bf4! cxd2 3 g4 mate. If Kg5 2 Bf4+ Kh5 3 Rh6 mate.

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