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Sam Sevian breaks Hans Niemann's King!

by Himank Ghosh - 19/10/2022

The US Chess Championships are going on right now in Saint Louis Chess Club, with 2 rounds to go. In the 12th round, GM Hans Niemann was up against GM Samuel Sevian. Halfway through a very complex battle where Niemann had the edge, a very curious thing happened. Sam Sevian just decapitated Hans Niemann's King! How did this happen, and what transpired afterwards? Check out this article to know all the details of this unprecedented event in chess history. Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

What just happened in this game?

This was a very important game for Samuel Sevian to keep his chances alive for the US Championship. On the other hand, Hans Niemann was having a renaissance of sorts - after a bad start, he had started to win some games nearing the end of the tournament. 

With Round 12 being the penultimate round, every player wanted to finish strong! Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Niemann had the Black pieces in this game, and he went for the QGD Semi-Tarrasch against Sam's d4. The Queens were traded off the board early on, and Niemann was the first one to come up a novelty.

Samuel Sevian vs Hans Niemann, US Championships Round 12

11...Rc8 is a completely new move in this position.

Hans mentioned in the post-game interview that the first shock came to him when Sam played 20. Rd1, a very interesting exchange sacrifice.

"This was not in my list of candidate moves" mentions Hans.

A complicated position arose, and after the dust was settled, Niemann had an extra exchange, but Sevian had 2 pawns for it. The position of course favored Black, but it was far from over. Niemann started to push for a win, and he got a clear advantage. But Sevian is a staunch defender - he found some critical ideas and we reach move no.45.

Position after 45.f4

The position has been simplified by quite a bit - now it's a Rook ending where Black has 2 pawns and White has 4. Even though the objective evaluation of the position is equal according to the engines, it is Black who can try for a win because of the weak White pawns in the queenside, Black's active king and a very strong passed pawn on the b-file. This is where the drama started - Samuel Sevian just suddenly picked up Hans' King from the board!

A surprised Hans Niemann cannot believe what is happening - he asks for his King back! Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club livestream.

As Sevian twiddles the Black king with his fingers, the cross falls off, and then we see him putting the cross back and putting the king back in b6 instead of b3. This is the short clip of what happened during that moment:

During the discussion between the players, Sam signaled multiple times that they should go outside. A few moments in, Hans decided to stop his clock and call the arbiter. After a short discussion with Arbiter, the King was placed back on b3 and the clock was resumed.

The Arbiter tries to understand what has happened while the players still discuss the situation. Photo: Austin Fuller

The Saint Louis Chess Club commentators GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Anastasiya Karlovich and GM Cristian Chirilă were still trying to decode what happened! All of them came to the conclusion that Sam wanted to pick up a piece and move it around while thinking, and then he accidentally picked up Black's King from the board, and the cross fell off somehow.

The Incident Between Sam Sevian & Hans Niemann | Round 12 Video: Saint Louis Chess Club

The game continued, and it was Sam who made the decisive error a few moments later. In a practically difficult position, he wasn't able to find the only move which holds the game to a draw.

48. h3 was the losing mistake.

The only move which keeps the game level for White is 48. Rh5, and even then it's not very clear. In the game, Hans continued 48...Ka2 49. Rh7 b2! 50. Rb7 Rg6 and the fate of the game is decided - while Black is able to stop White's passed pawn, the same cannot be said for White. Black now has a winning advantage.

Black to play, can you find the final winning shot?

Hans found the very nice 52...Rxf7! which is the only winning move. Sam continued 53. Rxf7 b1=Q, and Hans was able to convert the resulting Queen vs Rook endgame to a win quite smoothly.

The post-game interview

In the post-game interview, Hans mentioned that the matter was a simple misunderstanding and he didn't want any drama about it.

It was just a misunderstanding, nothing too serious. We had a quarter conversation after the game, so there are no hard feelings there.

Hans and Samuel having a post-game discussion outside the tournament hall. Photo: Crystal Fuller

When asked about why did Sam pick up his King, he said:

Well, I think the pin of the King had fallen off. So, he just picked it up, but I was just a bit annoyed because it was on my time. But again, there's just no need to discuss, it was just a misunderstanding.
Niemann Explains the Drama with Sevian and Covers His Victory Over Sevian | Round 12 Video: Saint Louis Chess Club

Reaction in the Chess World

Since this was a completely extraordinary situation, the chess world put forward their opinions on this in Twitter. Here are some of them:

GM Fabiano Caruana:

GM Cristian Chirilă:

GM Vasif Durarbayli:

Saint Louis Chess Club:

IM Padmini Rout:

IM Aditya Mittal:

What is your take on the whole matter? Have you ever seen something similar to this in tournament play? Let us know your thoughts below in the comments.


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Hans Niemann - "This is a targeted attack"

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