A cross-office, multi-department team achieved a decisive victory in the high-profile defamation and antitrust lawsuit brought in Missouri federal court by chess grandmaster Hans Niemann against Latham clients Chess.com, LLC, Chess.com’s Chief Chess Officer Danny Rensch, and Play Magnus Group, as well as grandmasters Magnus Carlsen (counseled by Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP) and Hikaru Nakamura (represented by Michael J. Ryan PA and Lewis Rice LLC).
The win has garnered significant and widespread press coverage, and the underlying scandal was also the recent subject of a detailed special on ABC’s Nightline.
The dispute began in September 2022, when Mr. Niemann defeated Mr. Carlsen, the consensus greatest player in chess history, in a game at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. Niemann’s victory was considered a massive upset given Carlsen’s ranking and stature, and rumors of cheating began circulating. After the game, Mr. Niemann gave an interview in which he admitted to cheating in certain online chess games when he was younger and only recreationally. He categorically denied ever cheating in over-the-board (i.e., in-person) chess games.
Chess.com, which operates the most popular online chess platform in the world with more than one hundred million users, conducted an in-depth investigation and issued a comprehensive report based on its findings, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
A few weeks later, in October 2022, Mr. Niemann sued Chess.com, Mr. Rensch, and Play Magnus Group, as well as grandmasters Mr. Carlsen and Mr. Nakamura in Missouri federal court, bringing antitrust claims and a series of state-law tort claims, including defamation.
On June 27, 2023, Judge Audrey G. Fleissig of the Eastern District of Missouri granted defendants’ motion to dismiss, tossing Niemann’s federal antitrust claims with prejudice. She also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction to consider Niemann’s state-law claims and, as such, dismissed the entire complaint.
The Latham litigation team representing Chess.com, Danny Rensch, and Play Magnus on this victory is led by partners Jamie Wine and Nima Mohebbi, and also includes partner Alan Devlin, associates Sarah Mitchell, Michael Hale, Blake Stafford, Lindsey Sugimoto, Robert Medina-Garcia, and Evan Omi.
Additional counseling is provided by transactional partners Haim Zaltzman and Luke Bergstrom with associate Adele Zhang, and by litigation partner Sean Berkowitz. In the litigation, Latham is supported by local Missouri counsel from Husch Blackwell LLP.