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The Hans Niemann chess defamation lawsuit may be a long and uncertain battle

When the world’s most highly rated chess player and the world’s most popular chess website appears united in suggesting that Niemann cheated, the controversial upstart took them both to court.

Hans Niemann, a Nineteen-year-old American chess grandmaster, is suing chess grandmaster, Twitch streamer Hikaru Nakamura, the leading Chess website, Chess.com, and world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen for defamation in the wake of an alleged cheating scandal. Neiman is charging them with conspiracy and suing for alleged damages to his reputation, seeking a hundred million dollars.

Law professor and US Chess Federation expert David Franklin told The Perpetual Chess Podcast that even though the timeline of this lawsuit is uncertain, it would most likely drag out for years. For the case to move forward, Hans Niemann must clear many hurdles in the court of law which may be difficult in this case.

In early September, world chess champion Magnus Carlsen lost his 53 unbeaten over-the-board win streak when he was defeated by Niemann in a tournament hosted by St. Louis Chess Club. After the match ended, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament without giving any notice or reasoning behind his decision. It was the first time he had ever withdrawn from a game, leading many to speculate  about why and how it might relate to the watch against Niemann. 

A week later, Carlsen published a statement saying that cheating is a massive problem in chess and needs to be fixed. Approximately two weeks later, Chess.com released a seventy-two-page report on Niemann, claiming that he has cheated more than a hundred times in prized online tournaments.

Niemann responded by filing a lawsuit against Magnus. In the case, he alleges that the provided information by Chess.com is false, and he did not lie about the amount and seriousness of his cheating on the Chess.com platform. 

“[Niemann] feels aggrieved, he believes his reputation and career have been damaged, and he is looking for compensation,” says David Franklin regarding this unexpected lawsuit. “Even if the lawsuit fails, it has already made headlines, and Hans is the kind of guy who is not shy about being in the headlines.”

Even though Carlsen is a Norwegian citizen, he could still be held accountable for the lawsuit since the acts occurred in Missouri, where Neimann filed the suit. The court also has jurisdiction over Chess.com but not Nakamura. 

Chess streamer Nakamura never explicitly mentioned that Hans cheated over the board. Nakamura merely provided commentary. According to law professor Franklin, “Hikaru is in the clear and is also not necessarily subject to jurisdiction in the eastern district of Missouri.”

The lawsuit’s statement looks extraordinarily opinionated and not entirely professional. “Federal judges don’t tend to be too impressed with complaints that are written in this kind of polemical way,” Franklin says. “There is a lot of bravado in the complaint, but if you strip all of that away, there are some solid legal claims.” 

From Franklin’s point of view, the wheels of justice can grind quite slowly. The first action defendants must take is to file an answer to the complaint within the first three weeks. The file includes a document where they agree or deny the allegations and identify their defences. If the defendants can prove that the complaint doesn’t subject them to jurisdiction, there would be a pending motion to dismiss. After that, the judge would start the discovery process where each side gets to ask each other a bunch of questions, ask for documents, or plan interviews.

Moreover, defendants could complain that this case doesn’t belong in federal court or that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over several parties. These claims could cause many initial procedural and jurisdictional motions, dragging out the case for years. 

The big picture might look like Niemann is holding all the cards in this battle, but that is certainly not true. Even if this case goes to trial, Niemann would have to clear three hurdles: He Has to prove that the defendant made a false statement, show the defendant acted with some level of fault, and lastly, confirm that the statement harmed him reputationally or in some other tangible way. Given the facts, it will be hard for Hans to provide proof for all these elements.

“One way or another, either through dismissal, summary judgment, or settlement offers, the case would get resolved,” says Franklin. 

Franklin says that Neiman may still be able to prove defamation in court, but overall, the outlook is uncertain. 

“By the looks of it,” Franklin says, “it’s an uphill battle for Hans.”

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