Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann face one another at a chess board
Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann at the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis earlier this month © Fuller

The much anticipated Magnus Carlsen v Hans Niemann rematch on Monday evening ended abruptly when Norway’s world champion resigned after making just one black move and after less than a minute’s play in the Julius Baer Generation Cup. Carlsen then switched off his screen and left the board without making any statement. The moves were 1 d2-d4 Ng8-f6 2 c2-c4.   

This aborted sequence followed the controversial incident between the pair earlier this month at the $350,000 Sinquefield Cup in St Louis. There Carlsen was outplayed, suffered a rare defeat as White, withdrew from the tournament, then issued a tweet with a cryptic reference which was considered a veiled suggestion of cheating by the 19-year-old American, whose form has surged in the past two years. The St Louis organisers subsequently detailed all their many anti-cheating procedures and concluded that there was no suggestion of wrongdoing at the event.

Monday’s bizarre happening, which reignited the feud, is almost without precedent in international chess. Fifty years ago Bobby Fischer defaulted the second game of his famous match against Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, but that was in protest at the siting of television cameras. 

England’s leading woman player, Jovanka Houska, accused Carlsen of “pouring more fuel on the fire” of the controversy.

On live Norwegian TV, Carlsen’s former teammate and aide, Jon Ludvig Hammer, called for sanctions. “It’s the most unacceptable behaviour to lose on purpose”, he said. “It’s the most unsportsmanlike thing you can do.” 

It is believed that Carlsen chose to make a single move rather than none at all so as to technically fulfil his contract with the organisers. If one or both players fails to make a move, the game counts as a default and not as a completed game.

There was support for Carlsen from the world No10, the Armenian-born and now US grandmaster Levon Aronian, who had previously backed Niemann but who hinted in an interview last night that the teenager had not fully admitted all his online illegalities.

A third round of Carlsen v Niemann is possible this weekend. The format of the Julius Baer Generation Cup is an all-play-all of 16 from Monday to Thursday, followed by a knock-out among the top eight from Friday to Sunday. Despite his self-inflicted zero, Carlsen is expected to qualify for the quarter-finals, and Niemann may also do so. Play starts at 5pm BST each day.

The Carlsen v Niemann saga has overshadowed what would otherwise be a major chess news item. Garry Kasparov, who is for many fans still the all-time No1 ahead of the Norwegian, lost eight games in a row at the Chess 9LX Champions Showdown at St Louis. The 59-year-old was graciously philosophical about it: “Playing versus elite opponents as an amateur means “how can I not win this?” to “at least I cannot lose this” to “how did I manage to lose that?!” I still make some nice moves, but they are very poorly distributed! Caissa has no mercy for those who do not pay her full attention”.

Puzzle 2487

A two puzzles in one problem by Helgut Hjorth (1911): (a) White mates in three moves (b) What is the snag with this solution?

Click here for solution

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