Is Hans Niemann the second-best classical chess player of 2022?


Imagine a ranking system in which defeating the World Chess Champion trumps other considerations. In this system, Hans Niemann would be #2 for 2022. Niemann is the only player with a classical chess win over World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. This imaginary system is more like sports rankings than chess rankings and is loosely based on the Morphy number.


In many sports, one’s rank depends on one’s recent results. Tennis rankings are based on results within the last 12 months. Official world golf rankings are based on results from the last two years. Yet chess ratings stretch back more than half a century. One’s current FIDE rating isn’t based on one’s performance in the last 12 months but on one’s entire FIDE-rated career.


Morphy Number

“People who played a chess game with Morphy have a Morphy number of 1. Players who did not play Morphy but played someone with a Morphy number of 1 have a Morphy number of 2. People who played someone with a Morphy number of 2 have a Morphy number of 3, et cetera.” A wins-only variation would be “People who WON against Morphy have a Morphy number of 1, etc.”

My son William Root, who previously researched the Greatest World Chess Champion, proposes a ranking system which primarily considers classical chess FIDE-rated wins. As with the Morphy number, which matters because Morphy was the best player in the world, William’s system depends on wins against Magnus Carlsen, the best chess player of 2022. Why does William’s system only value wins? It hearkens back to an argument from the dawn of USCF ratings.

Byland versus Santasiere

When USCF ratings began in 1950, William Byland wrote, “Because the system registers a player’s failures, as well as his successes, we now have an accurate yardstick for determining the relative playing strength of United States players, based not on reputation or self-claim, but upon cold performance facts” (Chess Life, November 29, 1950, p. 5).

In response, on December 20, 1950 (Chess Life, p. 3), Anthony Santasiere wrote that the USCF rating system penalizes failure. Players may “sit” on their ratings, as playing might cost them rating points. Both tennis and golf have rankings that reward participation and do not penalize failures. Chess might benefit from a similar ethos.

Rankings by wins

Since Carlsen is the best player in the world, a win against Carlsen should be worth more than a win against anybody else. Niemann was the only player to defeat Carlsen in classical chess in 2022. If we do not penalize Niemann for his failures (see his list of losses below), he would be ranked as the second-best player. This is like a Morphy number, wins-only variation.

Since no one else defeated Carlsen in classical chess in 2022, wins against Niemann are the next most valuable commodity. Caruana defeated Niemann three times in 2022, more times than anyone else, making Caruana the third highest ranked player in the world, counting only wins on players ranked above him. Swiercz and So both have two wins against the top three players, but Swiercz has two wins against the second highest ranked player (Niemann). So has one win against the second player and one win against the third player, guaranteeing him the fifth spot. If only wins against highly ranked players matter, Santasiere’s request that failure not be penalized is accommodated.

The FIDE classical games used for the 2022 rankings are from the FIDE lists from January 2022 to December 2022. Those lists indicate when games were rated but not when they were played. For example, games from December 2022 might end up in the January 2023 list.

2022 Rankings

  1. Magnus Carlsen
  2. Hans Niemann
  3. Fabiano Caruana
  4. Darius Swiercz
  5. Wesley So
Losses graph
  • Carlsen Losses: Niemann
  • Niemann Losses: Caruana 3x, Swiercz 2x, Robson, So, Sanal, Van Foreest, Puranik, Kacharava, Dragun, Hakobyan, Hjartarson, Jarmula, Stocek, Ioannidis, Prraneeth, Ter-Sahakyan, Donchenko
  • Caruana Losses: Giri, Rapport, Carlsen, So, Abdusattorov, Sargissian, Gukesh, Nakamura, Duda, Ding, Firouzja, Lagrave
  • Swiercz: Xiong, Kaidanov, Figueredo, Caruana, Sevian, Liang, Yoo

WIM Alexey Root, PhD and William Root

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on

William Root was a public school music teacher. William also taught chess in schools and camps. Now, he works in a library. His US Chess rating is 1743.

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