He presents daily in major media around the world: stories about world champion Magnus Carlsen’s accusations of cheating against young upstart Hans Niemann. Europe’s largest and most influential magazine and news portal has produced several reports – the latest features a portrait of the accused. It’s in German and behind a paywall. But we bring you excerpts, courtesy.
The career of Hans Moke Niemann
But is his rise from the world 1000 to the top 50 really that special? Long story short: it’s usually unusual. To understand this, you have to look at its history.
Hans Moke Niemann was born in San Francisco in 2003. His parents, the Danish mother and the Hawaiian father, worked as IT managers. For professional reasons, the family emigrated to the Netherlands. Hans learned chess at the age of eight, relatively late compared to other grandmasters. He was then quickly discouraged when his chess teacher did not allow him to represent his school at the national championships, Niemann would later write in an article for the magazine “chess life“. He preferred to devote himself to cycling, doing dozens of races.
After the family returned to the United States, Hans, now aged nine, returned to chess. “I played just over 100 tournaments in my first year in the United States,” he later recalled. He climbed the rankings, thanks in part to his mentor Maxim Dlugy, a Russian-born American grandmaster. “He was a traditional Soviet-style chess coach. He gave me a lot of information and I soaked it up like a sponge,” Niemann said in the Podcast “The Chess Life”. With him, he raised his game to a higher level as a teenager, up to 2400 points in the world rankings.
After a rapid ascent, Niemann’s performance stagnated. Partly because of a lack of training, he says: his “program” sometimes consisted of an American football game on iPad, Netflix and a 15-minute look at Garri Kasparov’s chess books. And on the other hand, the boring lessons at school had kept him away from chess. The turning point came for Niemann at the age of 16. He moved to New York on his own, went there on a public school chess scholarship, and made money as a chess coach and Twitch streamer. But Niemann gave that up to pursue his dream: he wanted to become a professional chess player.
To achieve his goal, he reorganized his life. Getting up around 7 a.m., going swimming, then ten to twelve hours of chess training, eating on the side. He had almost no social life outside of chess, he said. Niemann learned and played a lot – and succeeded with a brave style. In October 2020, he was in the mist of the top 1000 players in the world with 2465 Elo points; he is now a grandmaster and 49th in the world rankings with 2688 Elo points.
It is this rise of around 200 Elo points that some find suspicious. Yet it is not so extraordinary, according to former world champion Viswanathan Anand, among others. “Since there are a lot of promising young players making spectacular jumps, he didn’t particularly stand out for me,” he told SPIEGEL.
Data surveys show that other grandmasters before Niemann jumped from 2475 to 2675 Elo points even faster, such as super-grandmaster Anish Giri – or Magnus Carlsen himself. Niemann’s performance is extraordinary compared to good chess players, but plausible compared to the best players.
We generated the curves above (click to enlarge) on the ChessBase Player Encyclopedia. There you can view the progress of any player in the FIDE list.
So, what does Hans Niemann’s ranking progression look like, and how does he compare to other top talents in today’s chess world? (Click on all images to enlarge)
Note that Hans Niemann and Arjun Erigaisi are the same age. Arjun is on an even steeper meteoric path and is now the second highest ranked Indian grandmaster – and number eighteen in the world.
If you visit the ChessBase Players page, you will see that it has many additional functions. Let me show you a few, using a dear friend from Holland as an example.
There are 20 photos of Anish that you can flip through. Here is one of the first, taken in 2010, when he was 15 years old.
Moving your cursor over the progress chart will display the exact date their grades were earned. For example, in April 2019, it reached 2797.
Now comes the interesting part. When we showed it to a top ten grandmaster a few days ago, his reaction was, “Hey, that’s incredibly useful. I didn’t know about this feature!” That’s why we tell our readers about it here.
When you scroll down, this is the first section you see:
It shows you how Anish scored with white, black and overall. It also displays his favorite and least favorite opponent, as well as his most spectacular wins and losses. Scroll down and you get the following:
“Oooh,” said our top ten GM, “what happens when I click on a link?”
You get a list of Giri games in the corresponding opening, for example the C54 Gioco Piano, in which he scored – 46.5/76 = 61.18% against an opposition scored on average 2714. You can load games at from the list, and even start an engine to analyze. “Oooh,” said our top player, who I hope to see climb even higher in the leaderboard list now that he knows about this feature.
If you too want to use this utility, you can see all the features described in the report: Online Gamer Encyclopedia – Players, Profiles & Pictures (With Video!)