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Chessboard dustup: Defame versus the fortune | Marcel Strigberger

Friday, October 28, 2022 @ 2:18 PM | By Marcel Strigberger

Marcel Strigberger %>
Marcel Strigberger
Meet me in St. Louis. And don’t forget to bring along the $100 million.

The chess world has its knickers in a knot these days as a result of world champion Norwegian Magnus Carlsen accusing fellow chess grandmaster Hans Niemann of cheating. Niemann has just launched a defamation action in the Federal Court in Missouri claiming damages of $100 million against Carlsen, and others who allegedly maliciously conspired against and accused Niemann of cheating, in order to prevent his career from rising further.

The accusations started after Niemann recently beat Carlsen in a key tournament game. This did not sit well with him. Magnus C. did not detail his allegations, saying only that during the game, Niemann displayed no tension or the amount of concentration one would expect when playing against the world champion. I must say this comment certainly exemplifies the humility one would expect in a world champ.

Carlsen noted in a statement that he could not say more yet as he was limited in what he could say without explicit permission from Niemann to speak openly. I suppose given Niemann’s $100 million suit, it is safe to conclude no such permission was granted. I doubt Carlsen really expected Niemann to say, “You called me a cheater. I love it. Go on. Say more.”

Niemann claims the defamatory statements resulted in his being banned from many tournaments and events and have compromised his potential to land lucrative contracts, thereby ruining his career.   

I suppose wrongly calling out somebody for cheating just might trigger a defamation action response. I wonder what defences the defendants can muster. I have a few thoughts.

Firstly Magnus Carlsen is described as the “king of chess.” As such, does he maybe have some royal immunity? I googled the issue, keying in, “king’s nasty conduct immunity.” The first view noted, “See Henry VIII.  And don’t push your luck.”

And even if he does not have immunity maybe Carlsen can argue fair comment. After all, if anybody readily whips the world champ’s ass without displaying tension or any undue stress or concentration, it may be quite fair for him to say, “I did not see you biting your fingernails. Cheater!”

After all, do you reasonably expect the loser to shake hands and say, “Bravo. You’re brilliant. No clue how you did it. Here’s my crown; let me kiss your ring”? 

Chess isn’t cricket. Nor is Carlsen Canadian.

It should be noted that Niemann previously admitted to cheating in online matches when he was 12 and 16 years old. He is 19 years old now and denies cheating since. Given that chess is somewhat analytical and methodical, I am sure the defendants can find some mathematical expert out there who can demonstrate with an equation a pattern proving that Niemann likely cheated again at age 19. It might suggest a progression, like Ch12 + Ch 16 = Ch 19. I am hardly a scientist but to me this looks as sound and convincing as E = MC2. Most juries would probably buy it.

Another argument for the defence could be that he really meant the cheater comment as praise. For authority he could argue Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty’s words, namely, “A word means what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” He was really saying, “You cheated. Awesome!”

This argument would certainly overcome any suggestions of malice.

And if everything else fails, he can always borrow from Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch and deny everything: “I never said anything about cheating. Who, what, when? I was only pining for the fiords.” 

I see that in addition to defamation and libel, etc., Niemann is also claiming damages for “unlawful group boycott under the Sherman Act 15 U.S.C-1 et. seq.”

I’m not exactly sure what this entails but if I were Niemann, I would also take this one seriously. Nobody in their right mind would let anybody get away with a breach of the Sherman Act 15 U.S.C-1 et. seq. Especially the “et. sec.” part. Defamation is one thing, but the Sherman Act? Carlsen et. al. with  et.sec. is playing with fire. This is heavy stuff.

In my view the plaintiff herein has a reasonable chance of success. However, we must remember this trial will take place in Missouri. This means Niemann’s lawyers will have to work extra hard to convince a jury of the validity of their claim. After all, Missouri is the Show Me state.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available in paper and e-book versions where books are sold. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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