Anal Beads And Vibrating Socks: Unpacking The Biggest Chess Scandal In History
It's like 'The Queens Gambit', but with cheating and butt plugs.
As the slow chatter of our daily lives increases with the annual arrival of spring, you could be forgiven for missing the biggest scandal to rock the international chess community in over 1,500 years.
But that’s exactly what’s happening at the moment; following a shocking upset in an American chess tournament in Missouri, institutions dedicated to the sport across the world are divided as to how to resolve the biggest cheating scandal the game has ever seen.
And, of course, it involves vibrating socks and anal beads.
If You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss
Chess Grandmaster and five-time world champion winner Magnus Carlsen probably wasn’t expecting to lose against 19-year-old Hans Niemann. The young American competitor was ranked the lowest of the 10 players competing in the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, and was reportedly living out of a suitcase at the time, drifting from one chess tournament to the next.
Carlsen’s 53 game unbeaten streak was nonetheless broken after Niemann thrashed the world champion, the first to do so in over two years. “[Carlsen] played quite poorly, I didn’t do anything special,” he said in a post-match interview.
The following day, the 31-year-old Grandmaster responded by unexpectedly pulling out of the USD$350,000 ($519,000) tournament, his only justification for doing so being a cryptic tweet of a Portuguese soccer manager saying, “If I speak I am in big trouble”.
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) September 5, 2022
The following days would see Niemann unofficially dogged by accusations of cheating. While the tournament and other official institutions refrained from explicitly calling foul play, the St. Louis Chess Club anti-cheating arbiter quietly requested a 15 minute delay to be added to its official broadcast.
Niemann Had Been Caught Cheating Before
Niemann’s reputation as a cheater was solidified after the teenager confirmed reports that he had used computer assistance to win ranked games on Chess.com, despite attesting that the incident occurred when he was 16 and was the “single biggest mistake of my life”.
However, moderators for the chess website later banned Niemann’s online account and prohibited him for participating in an upcoming $1 million tournament in Toronto. In an official post on Twitter, Chess.com informed the community that they had privately shared information with Niemann which “contradicts his statements regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating”.
— Chess.com (@chesscom) September 8, 2022
While Niemann’s chess victories double as statistical anomalies, there’s zero concrete evidence to prove he cheated in his game against Carlsen. It’s difficult to even theorise how cheating could be possible, with spectators and officials watching the players’ every move during the event’s live stream, and throughly monitoring smartphone use during toilet breaks.
How could Niemann get away with it? Well, vibrations.
Lucky Socks And Anal Beads
Earlier this year, chess fan and computer expert James Stanley proudly announced a “new way to win at chess” on his website. Using his love of programming, Stanley had discovered a way to covertly communicate with a computer engine right underneath his opponent’s nose.
Dubbing the invention ‘Sockfish’, Stanley connected a mini computer running an AI chess engine to a rumble pack embedded in a pair of household socks, which communicated perfect moves to its wearer via a language of vibration akin to morse code.
But Stanley’s invention wasn’t perfect. For the wearer to receive the perfect moves, you had to input what your opponent was doing on the board by tapping a hidden button with your toes.
“Owen was very confused about why it took me 20 seconds of intense concentration to decide on my very first move,” Stanley recounted in his first trial of the device.
“He eventually surmised that I must have ‘revised’ and was concentrating hard to make sure I remembered the theory. In actual fact I was concentrating very hard to make sure I understood Sockfish’s outputs correctly and gave my inputs correctly!”
However, people have theorised that publicly broadcasted games of chess would be much easier to cheat in, as another person could easily assist a cheater by watching and inputing the opponents moves in real time.
Chess fans have also theorised that a more, ahem, concealed device could have been used in Niemann’s match against Carlsen — vibrating anal bead. Tech billionaire Elon Musk even threw his support behind the theory that Niemann was using wireless anal beads to cheat, linking a video to the concept in a since deleted tweet with the caption: “‘Talent hits a target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one else can see (cause it’s in ur butt)’ – Schopenhauer”.
Currently obsessed with the notion that Hans Niemann has been cheating at the Sinquefield Cup chess tournament using wireless anal beads that vibrate him the correct moves. pic.twitter.com/F48BXjtBlN
— Babble (@Babble____) September 7, 2022
Chess Community Stuck In A Stalemate
Even if you think that Magnus Carlsen was simply being a sore loser, future chess tournaments across the globe will have to reckon with the consequences of the last few weeks.
While it’s probably unlikely that players will be required to squat and cough before professional matches, experts have suggested that this incident may place greater emphasis on analysing player’s prior match rankings, rather than assuming someone is simply another child prodigy.
The only certainty at the moment, at least, appears to be the inevitable fact that this incident will become dramatised in a Netflix Original series within the next year or two.