Hans Niemann, the US 19-year-old accused by world champion Magnus Carlsen of being a cheat, made a strong recovery in the second half of the US championship in St Louis.

From next to last of the 14 players at half-way with 2.5/7, Niemann improved to tied fifth and 7/13 at the finish. Of the five members of the US Olympiad team, only the former world No2 Fabiano Caruana, who won the title with 8.5/13, defeated him.

Niemann even had opportunities to finish still higher. He should have won in round two, missed chances to keep a level game against Caruana, and stood better at one moment in the final round.

The Californian teenager followed up his round 10 win on Sunday with an emotional interview where he admitted that “I’ve definitely been humbled a lot in this tournament” but added “I’m a competitive chess player on the path to becoming a world champion”. He made no comment on the chess.com report which claimed he had cheated more than 100 times in online events.

Niemann has now countered his critics in the optimum way, by success at the board in conditions where cheating was virtually impossible. Sceptics had believed that his inability to describe his over-the-board games in concrete terms in post-mortem interviews was evidence that he was playing without understanding and therefore must have computer aid.

St Louis’s expensive and extensive security precautions, which included metal-detecting wands, radio-frequency scanners, and scanners for checking silicon devices, were probably the most thorough for any chess tournament in history. They did the trick. There were no serious suggestions that any game was played abnormally.

The outcome is that Niemann, competing without outside assistance as a US championship debutant, and playing under extreme pressure from all the many allegations before and during the tournament, has still performed at the level of the world’s top 40 grandmasters, and has maintained his elite 2700 rating. He is young enough to target becoming US champion in the next few years.  

The results from St Louis will put pressure on the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, whose actions and comments had indicated that he believed that Niemann was an over-the-board cheat, to withdraw or at least amend his words. Failing that, the global chess body Fide’s commission on the matter is due to report in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, England has a new international master, and he is only 13 years old. Shreyas Royal, of Greenwich, achieved his third and final norm for the title on Sunday at a tournament in Hull.  

Royal’s performances have surged in recent weeks, benefiting from coaching by GM John Emms, and his new breakthrough puts him in contention for English age records set by players who went on to become strong grandmasters.

The teenager’s journey to the top has been significantly helped by support from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a part of the Tata Group, which sponsors the annual “chess Wimbledon” at Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands.

Puzzle 2491

White mates in three moves, against any defence (by Fritz Giegold, 1958).  Black is down to a king and two pawns and there is virtually just a single variation to find, but Germany’s “riddle king” created a tricky solution which you’ll do well to work out in 15 minutes.

Click here for solution

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