Since early September, the normally gentle world of competitive chess has descended into sharpness and suspicion. There were accusations and confessions of cheating. There have been (possibly false) claims about vibrating anal beads. There were widespread lawsuits. Most news agencies in the world have their weight. And at the heart of it all is Hans Mock-Nemann, 19, the prodigy of American chess.
Niemann’s meteoric rise in world chess culminated in a surprise victory over five-time champion Magnus Carlsen, the best chess player in history. Carlsen didn’t like what he saw, hinting that he thought something inappropriate was afoot before he took a step forward and said it frankly.
In an impassioned defense, Neiman responded to his critics, admitting cheating twice in online games between the ages of 12 and 16, calling it “the biggest single mistake of my life,” and said, “That’s the whole truth… I’d like to see if I could Anyone else telling the truth.”
Soon after, Chess.com released a very hot report indicating that Neiman has likely cheated in more than 100 games – including prize money events and live-streamed games, some against the world’s best players.
Six weeks later, the 19-year-old is now pursuing his truth with up to $100 million in damages, in a lawsuit against Carlsen, Chess.com and famous chess player Hikaru Nakamura. Neiman says he was defamed and blacklisted from the sport. Other parties believe, in Carlsen’s words, that “Neman has cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted”.
At the core of all this chaos, really, lies the concept of “truth.” Neiman kept his version of it, notably in an interview on September 7 — “There has been a lot of speculation, there have been a lot of things that have been said, and I think I’m the only one who knows the truth,” he said emphatically. Niemann maintains that he has never cheated in ‘over the board’ games (as opposed to the internet), and independent judges tend to agree, even if there is a lot of smoke about the integrity of his results into 2020.
But is Hans Niemann a reliable narrator? And more, why do we write about it (again) in CyclingTips?
Answer: Before Neiman was a chess prodigy, he was apparently one of the best riders on the national stage.
Was it as good as he says? Well – that depends on your version of the truth.
Check yourself before Utrecht by yourself
When Hans Niemann suddenly became a household name this year, his past results as a chess player were panned by Grandmasters, fans and the media trying to figure out where he came from and whether his rise was plausible.
Niemann’s rise was rapid and still in his teens, but from a chess perspective, it’s seen as a belated mistake. This talent originated in Utrecht, the Netherlands, where the Niemann family once lived.
His parents—one Danish and one Hawaiian—were former patrons working in the IT industry, and their son began chess lessons at the age of eight. At that point, it wasn’t just chess that caught his attention.
According to de Volkskrant, “He also loved to ride his bike to take part in competitions.” According to Neiman, meanwhile, “He was advancing much more quickly [in cycling]From chess. Throughout his stay and riding in the Netherlands, Neiman sat in the youngest of the two age groups, holding a license from the Royal Netherlands Cycling Union (KNWU) for two years, in 2011 and 2012.
A spokesperson for the National Women’s Federation of the Netherlands, when asked if the focus in the youth ranks is on competition or development, told me in the Netherlands, “From the age of eight it is possible to compete in races and be as competitive as you wish.” “Some riders focus on results from a young age, others need and/or take more time.”
Neiman seems to have fallen into the former category. In a 2020 article he wrote for the American Chess Federation, he said, “I’ve always been a single-minded person. I took part in cycling in Holland and was one of the best cyclists in the country for my age when I came back to California, so my competitive spirit has always motivated me in every way.” something “.
The phrase “one of the best cyclists in the country” is ambiguous, and the wording is a bit ambiguous – it’s not clear at that point whether he was referring to his results in the Netherlands, or in the US upon his return, and there is no numerical ranking. Regardless, if it he is The Netherlands we’re talking about, we have a problem: In the words of De Volkskrant, “His claim to be one of the best in his age group in the Netherlands is hard to verify. There are no results on the internet indicating that.”
so what an act Know about Hans Niemann cycling in the Netherlands? Well, ride in the WV Het Stadion club, for starters – a club that considers itself ‘the most beautiful* cycling club in Utrecht [* and also the sportiest, most beautiful, most versatile and nicest cycling association in the Domstad]”.
The only findings from Niemann’s Championship motorcycle riding website that it was able to detect were from the 2012 National Championships – five short circuit laps for a total distance of 7 km, with Niemann finishing one minute off the winner of the 12-and-a-half minute race, which is 25 Out of 35 participants.
Soon, he is gone, leaving behind in Utrecht a group of chess masters who remember him as being “too fanatical” in his leadership, as well as having a “too angry” streak when he lost. WV Het Stadion’s approach to information about his time with the cycling club was unanswered.
By the end of 2012, Niemanns had left the Netherlands and returned to California, where he continued cycling in 2013. In most of his races, he was unaffiliated with a club or team, although during June and July of that year – his last racing competitive outings – Listed to ride for WV Het Stadion, his old Dutch club, more than half a year after he left the country.
There is evidence of young Nieman’s technological interest in this sport. He was an early adopter of Strava, first recording a ride in February 2012 (he’s only followed one contestant, Joe Dombrowski, and Niemann’s account has been dormant for a long time). But there is more recent evidence of Neiman using his cycling background to build his legends.
In April 2021, Nieman relayed his life story to Chess Life, a long monologue with a very specific claim—both numerically and geographically—in its infancy. “I continued cycling on my first return to the United States, and found myself third for my age nationally,” Niemann says. Oddly passive syntax aside, this statement is more straightforward than what he was saying a year ago, and easy to refute.
So, I was Is he the third best cyclist of his age in the United States?
There is nothing in the results in the USA Cycling database that appears to support this statement. At the Northern California Nevada Track Cycling Championships, he placed fifth out of five riders, in all six races. At the Sun Valley Raceway, he placed sixth out of eight in the general classification. In the 24 races he started during the 2013 season, Niemann didn’t win any. Of his eight races on the podium, there have only been more than three in two.
USA Cycling’s ratings are calculated on a rolling basis and in flux, but based on this evidence, it is difficult to see Niemann as one of the best riders of his era in his state, let alone the entire country. No national championships have emerged, few departures from the California cycling bubble, and no signs of the cycling superstar’s future.
And to be clear, truly It doesn’t matter – forensic analysis of a child’s race results is not what the youth competition should be about. A speaker told me, “While USA Cycling offers competitive opportunities for juniors under the age of 12, we believe at this age it is mostly about developing skills and making sure they have a good time on the bike.”
By July 2013, Hans Niemann apparently had either stopped enjoying the bike, or had found something in chess that pushed him more — “I quit cycling and really focused on chess,” he said of a 10-year-old version of himself who already considered the game a “profession.”
end of the road
This brings us to the end of Hans Niemann’s foray into cycling – and his foreplay with the sport that’s often pretty unremarkable because it’s so unremarkable. that’s good. Kids start riding, kids stop. Kids win races, kids don’t. Children come up with loud stories in the playground. Sometimes children are told that they are special at something, and perhaps some of them will absorb it and leave the lines between fact and fiction blurry.
But if you look at things a certain way — as a kid grows up to be the world’s most controversial chess player, betting his reputation and millions of dollars on the absolute truth of his words and actions — a bloated set of cycling results from a decade ago starts to look less benign, more statement.
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