The chess world is currently consumed by a drama as lurid and compelling, in its way, as the Don’t Worry Darling fracas. Involving implications of cheating at the highest levels of play, the feud between the world champion and an upstart challenger has prompted speculation on the existential threat to chess posed by an AI engine tiny enough to be concealed somewhere on — or in — the body.
The idea — unsupported by any evidence, it must be emphasized — that a player could surreptitiously consult an unbeatable chess engine even when playing over the board has been batted around for years. But recent events have made people think seriously about the possibility and what it might mean for the future of the game.
The saga began two weeks ago, when current chess world champion and one of the strongest players in history, Magnus Carlsen (pictured above), began a match at the Sinquefield Cup with Hans Niemann, a 19-year-old grandmaster who has ascended from respectable to downright dangerous over a remarkably short period of time.
Carlsen was playing with the white pieces, and therefore going first — an advantage he is particularly adept at using, having not lost a game in years with white and seldom even taking a draw. Yet soon he had not just forfeit the game (which you can watch here), he had withdrawn from the tournament, cryptically tweeting what seemed to many took to be a veiled accusation of cheating by Niemann. He has not elaborated on these actions despite officials, fans, colleagues and even the likes of former world champion Garry Kasparov, asking him to speak out.