Hans Niemann looked somewhat puzzled. The grandmaster, who has been dominating the chess headlines lately, was contemplating his next move when his attention turned to his opponent. Samuel Sevian, sitting on the other side of the board, had taken hold of Niemann’s black king. To touch an opponent’s piece during his move – in itself an illegal action and an absurdity in chess.

But when the king’s crown also broke off, Niemann’s anger was complete. The 19-year-old gesticulated wildly with his hands and fought a battle of words with his opponent. This put the figure back, but in the completely wrong position. Niemann stopped his watch and called the referee. After a short arbitration, the game, which was played as part of the US championships, could be continued. Niemann won.

The question of Sevian’s intention remains. Did the 21-year-old grandmaster want to break the figure to send a signal against the controversial Niemann? Or was reaching for the strange figures a mistake and the crown just accidentally fell off? For Fabiano Caruana, who ultimately won the title, the case was clear. “Peak of disrespect reached. Sam beheaded Hans’ king,” the 2018 World Cup finalist wrote on Twitter.

Niemann, on the other hand, tried to downplay the incident. “It was just a misunderstanding. Nothing too serious, no ill intentions. The character’s pen had fallen off, so he just picked it up. I was just a little upset because it happened within my time. He wanted to glue the piece. I was just very confused,” he said afterwards.

The Niemann file, however, is enriched by an inglorious incident. First the allegations of cheating from world champion Magnus Carlsen, who first withdrew from a tournament because of Niemann, then gave up in the game against him after the first move, only to publicly denounce him for cheating a short time later. Then the investigation report by the chess.com portal, according to which Niemann is said to have cheated in over 100 online games. And now the king without a crown.

These are incidents that leave their mark on the young American, as he revealed at the tournament in St. Louis. “I didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of watching me lose. I’m sure a lot of people find that gratifying. I also get satisfaction from winning. So I took a bit of spite as a motivation,” Niemann said. He finished seventh at the championships.