IM Joachim Birger Nilsen (29) resigned as the president of the Norwegian Chess Federation, a day after admitting to cheating on Chess.com during one match in the 2016-2017 season of the PRO Chess League. Nilsen was part of the Norway Gnomes team, as was GM Magnus Carlsen at the time.
Nilsen admitted to cheating after three different sources had told Norway’s main public news and radio station NRK that he had cheated for the Norway Gnomes. On Friday, he told NRK that in one of the matches of the preliminary group stage, during three of the four rapid games, he was receiving assistance from another person in the room where he was playing.
“That is not allowed, you have to play alone, without help,” Nilsen said. “It was not legal, and I am quite clear about that. The fact that it was many years ago has nothing to do with it. You shouldn’t do this at all.”
According to Nilsen, it was suspected that something illegal had taken place, but he was still allowed to continue in the tournament. This was confirmed by a member of Chess.com’s Fair Play team, who said: “We were very concerned about him but just didn’t have enough to pull the trigger.”
Chess.com did send an email to team captain GM Jon Ludvig Hammer at the time, expressing their concerns. When Hammer confronted Nilsen about it, he denied the allegations.
Hammer says he confronted IM Joachim Nilsen, the current President of the Norwegian Chess Federation with cheating allegations after receiving an email from chesscom saying they had “flagged” him and put him “under review”. He denied everything. https://t.co/Lavr0LFmA1
— Tarjei J. Svensen (@TarjeiJS) October 6, 2022
IM Danny Rensch, Chief Chess Officer at Chess.com, gave the following statement:
We know many are wondering why we didn’t close his account or remove him from play based on those four games, and 119 total “plies”. Consider this:
Imagine that his level of play can be achieved by a player of his strength only one out of 1,000 times. That sounds incredibly unlikely.
Now consider that every month thousands of titled players play on Chess.com. If we closed accounts based on a 1/1000 chance of being wrong (false positive), that would mean that every month we could potentially close several titled player accounts unfairly. So, should we have closed Nilsen’s account even though adjusting our standards might result in some accounts being unfairly closed?
Did we believe it to likely be cheating at the time? Yes, we were highly suspicious, and as Tarjei Svensen’s tweet regarding Hammer’s comment confirmed, we contacted the Norwegian team as is policy in the PRO Chess League if any single player is “flagged” as suspicious.
That said, we did not close because we have determined that false positives are unacceptable and unfair. Have our standards made us more lenient at times, and therefore seemingly slow to act? They have. But the stakes of being wrong are too high. We only act when at the maximum level of confidence. We hope you understand.
We are sharing this to be more transparent about our process. We will continue to share more over time.
For sake of transparency, Chess.com shared images of their internal communication about the matter that went down in real-time on April 25, 2017:
IM Greg Shahade, one of the main organizers of the PRO Chess League, commented about Nilsen’s cheating: “I don’t think it’s fair for a lot of negative attention to be heaped onto him. He had no need to volunteer this information, it was from many years ago, and dozens and dozens of other strong players have cheated.”
Shahade added: “Cheating is a serious threat to chess, especially online, however I believe that Chess.com is doing everything possible to fight against this issue. I hope that in time, players will be just as hesitant to cheat online in cash events as they are in over-the-board chess tournaments.”
Nilsen, who was elected president of the Norwegian Chess Federation this summer, resigned from his position on Friday morning. “The only right thing is that I step down as president now, both for the chess federation and the environment as a whole,” said Nilsen in a statement. He hasn’t responded yet to a request for comment.
The news, which currently dominates the sports pages in Norway, brings further fuel to the Carlsen-Niemann cheating controversy. In comments over the past weeks, several grandmasters have expressed that cheating is more widespread than the chess world seems to be aware of. Last week, Vice’s Motherboard published emails between Chess.com and GM Maxim Dlugy, in which the Russian-born American grandmaster, who has coached Niemann, admitted to cheating on the site.
Norway’s biggest newspaper VG sent a reporter to Mayrhofen, Austria to get a comment from Carlsen about the matter. Asked how he feels about leaving the Sinquefield Cup a month ago, considering how the chess world looks right now, Carlsen gave a brief answer: “I stand my ground.”