We didn’t even have time to bask in the glow of the celebratory C Squared Podcast.
Fabiano Caruana, the man who is, at present, America’s greatest living chess player, won his second United States Chess Championship in six years Wednesday, scoring 8.5 out of a possible 13 points and going unbeaten in the process, posting four wins and nine draws. Rising star Ray Robson finished second with eight points via three wins and ten draws. Lanier Dominguez Perez and Awonder Liang finished tied for third with 7.5 points. Caruana celebrated by hosting his own podcast; rather than making the rounds with journalists, he invited them to join him on his own show “C Squared” with co-host and fellow chess grandmaster Cristian Chirila. The newly-crowned champion, who won his only other U.S. title in 2016, reveled graciously with the likes of Alejandro Ramirez, Maurice Ashley, and others long into the night with joviality, camaraderie, and insight.
“It felt a bit strange. At the end it felt like I coasted,” Caruana observed oddly. It might seem so to the naked eye, but only on the surface. Yes Caruana jumped out to an early lead in the tournament and then brought it home – “got it to the house” as we say in golf.Â But it was a horse race, not a coaster ride.Â Caruana finished the round-robinÂ tournament with a three-match run through a gauntlet of the tournaments highest rated players.
“I thought I’d have to win one of those three games to avoid a playoff,” he confided. After all, Caruana admitted that one of his worst regreats was the 2018 U.S. Championship. “That was kind of ridiculous. I was tied for the lead with three rounds to go, scored 2.5 points out of three, and didn’t even make the playoff. Is that not somewhat bad luck?”
As it turns out, the Chess Gods take away, but the Chess Gods can give right back too. This year, Fabi only needed three draws to take home the title. After ten rounds, Caruana was still alone in first, holding the lead he assumed sole command of in the fourth round of the tournament. With three rounds to go, eight players were still within 1.5 points of the lead. It was Fabi’s to win, yet should he falter, it was wide open. But after long, hard-fought slogs against Jeffery Xiang and Sam Shankland (both of whom finished in a five-way tie for fifth), only one player, Robson, could pass Caruana outright. Caruana’s final round was a lightning fast repetition draw against Levon Aronian, a pillow fight, not a chess match, and when Robson fell dangerously behind Xiang, his hard-fought draw and solo second felt a sort of victory in the end. Caruana was crowned a wildly popular and deeply respected champion for both his wisdom and his wit.
But the joyous celebration didn’t last long, and when the sun rose on the St. Louis Chess Club, (the de facto home of American chess), and the rest of the chess world, war had come to the game. Hans Niemann, who had played in the tournament and finished in that five-way tie for fifth place with seven points, seemingly harbored the secret of the forthcoming lawsuit for at least part of the tournament if not all. The suit, filed almost immediately upon conclusion of the tournament in Federal District Court in Missouri names five-time reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen, Chess.com, Chess.com’s “Chief Chess Officer” Danny Rensch, and GM, five-time U.S. Champion and podcaster Hikaru Nakamura.
The gravamen of the complaint are libel, conspiracy, and various acts of unlawful competition Ugly is a good word to describe the way the allegations are laid out: ugly, ham-fisted, and at times over the top, perhaps even specious, to use the term we lawyers like to use. Niemann, through his lawyers, accuses Magnus of hatching a scheme of revenge for beating him, and the revenge is essentially, YOU’LL NEVER WORK IN THIS BUSINESS AGAIN! (That’s the Cliff Notes version, to tide you over until our next in-depth report.)
Now that the first salvos have been fired, can a complaint from Max Dlugy be far off? Dlugy was dragged into the mess by a Carlsen name drop in an interview with Norwegian chess broadcaster Kaka Snare. At first blush, the allegations Dlugy could bring may even have more teeth than Niemann’s, especially if NiemannÂ is proved to have cheated,
***THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY. WE WILL BE FOLLOWING IT AND REPORTING MORE IMMINENTLY, AS WELL AS PROVIDING EXPERT LEGAL ANALYSIS***