Hans Niemann, 19, remains the centre of attention as the $262,000 US championship in St Louis passes half-way. The teenager was earlier named as a likely cheat by world champion Magnus Carlsen, who withdrew from the prestigious Sinquefield Cup then forfeited an online game after one move in a protest against the American’s inclusion. The website chess.com reported that the Californian had probably cheated more than 100 times online.

Niemann began well with an opening round win, before dropping back to mid-table with a loss to the former world No2 and tournament leader Fabiano Caruana. Then two successive defeats this week where he was badly outplayed relegated him to next to last among the 14 grandmasters, with 2.5/7. Caruana leads with 5/7.

Before the tournament began, the St Louis organisers invested several thousand dollars in beefing up their security systems with metal detecting wands, radio frequency scanners, and even scanners that check for silicon devices. Spectators were banned apart from a handful of organisers and media. There is a 30-minute delay on the live internet broadcast, to counter any possibility of computer analysis of the current position being passed to a player.

In contrast to Niemann’s struggles, another 19-year-old, Awonder Liang, used the 19th-century Scotch Gambit in the most brilliant game of the event to defeat the world No9 Levon Aronian. The US championship continues for 13 rounds and is free and live to watch (7.30pm BST start) at uschesschamps.com.

Chess’s world governing body, Fide, has convened an inquiry team which is expected to report back within weeks, It could rebuke Carlsen for withdrawing from the Sinquefield Cup after losing to Niemann with no hard evidence of cheating. Fide’s required standard of proof is over 99 per cent, and its anti-cheating specialist Professor Ken Regan has already declared that he found no evidence against Niemann, so significant action seems unlikely barring a smoking gun.

The best guess now is that the scandal may simmer down into an uneasy stalemate. Niemann’s current poor performance at St Louis makes it highly improbable that he will reach the world top 10 or 20, so Carlsen should be able to avoid him in future. Beyond that, the American’s opportunities may be limited, but he only risks a formal ban from over the board chess if concrete evidence emerges against him.

Puzzle 2490

Wesley So v Viktor Laznicka, New Delhi 2011. White to move and win. The current US champion’s queen looks in danger, with an extra threat to White’s f4 knight. How did So escape?

Click here for solution

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