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Playing Chess While Being Drunk!

  • GM Gserper
  • | May 6, 2014

FIDE elections are getting closer, so it is time to revisit one of their "brilliant" inventions: the doping test. I briefly touched this absurd innovation here.

No one has ever been able to prove that a mythical chess-enhancing drug even exists, yet FIDE wastes time and money on this useless exercise hoping in vain that it will help bring chess into the Olympic games! Of course, you might say that it's not a big deal if a chess player gets asked to submit a sample of his urine. Tell this Ivanchuk who got disqualified for a short period of time until the world chess community became outraged and FIDE was forced to reverse its decision.

No, there wasn't any illegal substance in his urine, he was just asked to submit a sample immediately after he resigned his game in the key last round of the Chess Olympiad. One can argue that it would make more sense to perform a drug test on the winner of the game, not the loser. Or maybe it was more considerate to give Ivanchuk time to cool down a bit after he shook his opponent's hand. Long story short, Ivanchuk refused to provide a sample of his urine and instead recommended the FIDE official go to an address well known to any Russian speaker. So, as you can see, the useless doping test is not as harmless as it might look...

Vassily Ivanchuk | Image Wikimedia

Anyway, let's do some investigation and analyze the chess effect of the substance most popular among both chess players and non chess players alike: alcohol.

I've heard (mostly from people who really like to drink!) about many potential chess benefits of alcohol. Allegedly it clears your mind, calms your nerves, and makes you more confident. Let's use the real life examples to see if those claims are true. As the subject is very sensitive, I am not going to use cases that I witnessed myself. If I use "player x" or "player y" instead of real names, it will be pointless, and I don't want to mention real names to avoid unnecessary embarrassment of well-known chess players. Instead I am going to use only well-known cases that were published and re-published hundreds of times.

Myth #1: Alcohol calms your nerves and relaxes you

It might be true that alcohol relaxes you, but is that a good thing for a tense fight on a chess board? Sometimes it relaxes you a bit too much. In a case that was published in newspapers around the world, Russian GM Vlad Tkachiev fell asleep during a game he played in a tournament in India. All the attempts of his opponent and the tournament arbiter to wake him up were fruitless and as the result, Tkachiev lost on time after just ten moves or so. And don't even get me started on the topic of chess players who overslept their games while being drunk! My verdict: the myth is busted!

Myth #2: Alcohol clears your mind and makes you creative

Unfortunately, we don't have many documented games where a player was drunk. Some such games are myths in their own right. Take, for example, the next famous game:

Here is what Kasparov writes in the second volume of My Great Predecessors

For a long time question marks were attached to Black's 7th and 8th moves. In his novel, Belye I Chernye, GM Kotov uses his artistic license to suggest that Alekhine was drunk when he played the game, and after writing 8...c6 on his scoresheet he suddenly picked up the b7-pawn."

"How terrible!" writes Kotov. "It was just like with Pushkin: instead of the ace, the queen of spades. A crude oversight, not even an oversight, he simply picked up the wrong pawn, he got confused... And now the c7-pawn remains undefended, it is lost without any compensation. To pick up the wrong piece! This was delirium! Alekhine's drunkenness immediately left him when he saw what a mistake he had made. It was not just that he lost a pawn; Black's position immediately became hopeless."

This is how legends are born! In fact, according to the main eye-witness, Euwe, "Alekhine did not drink at all during the first half of the match." Besides, 8...b5!? is by no means a blunder, but a genuine revelation: in the 1970s this fully correct pawn sacrifice was named the Hungarian Variation. Intuitively, Alekhine was right! 

For the lack of a real game, let me use an anecdote which was well known in the former Soviet Union. Allegedly in one of the numerous Soviet team tournaments GM Ratmir Kholmov played Black against another Russian GM (I truly don't remember the name). Kholmov was extremely drunk and here is the beginning of the game:

In the position above, Kholmov almost played 4...Nxe5??, but then realized that he would lose his knight after 5.Nxe5. So, with clear amazement on his face, Kholmov said loudly: "That's weird! I've been playing the Grünfeld Defence my whole life and never had such a horrible position after just four moves!"

For our readers who have not been playing the Grünfeld Defence their whole lives, here is how the real opening looks like:

Myth #3: Alcohol makes you bold and confident

That's absolutely true, but is it really good for chess? Superficially, the next game might look like proof. Black played a novelty in a very well known position and won the game. Moreover, the move was so bold, that a sober chess player wouldn't even consider it! Judge for yourself:

As you could see, Black's novelty has put him on the verge of defeat and yet the unique defensive skills of GM Ratmir Kholmov (who in his prime was considered the best defender in the World) saved the day. 

Unfortunately, the lack of games doesn't allow to convincingly bust the myths #2 and #3 - but even the evidence we have indicates that alcohol adversely affects your chess, I will be grateful if our readers are able to provide more documented games where one (or both!) players were drunk. Maybe together we will convince FIDE that there is no such thing as "performance enhancing drugs" in chess and therefore, that the useless and humiliating doping tests will be abolished!



  • 2 months ago


    I've seen and heard so many times the idea that ADD/ADHD medications such as adderall or riddalin help focus and concentration and therefore improve chess skill. let me address this topic. I have taken adderall for about 10 years, and have loved chess for about 16 years. recently I've taken an obsession in the game and am currently trying to improve my game and study strategy for the first time in my life. In my experience, adderall, while helping focus, and concentration (depending on dosage) can help in certain games in certain positions. however, overall, i think it does more harm than good. Firstly, i would like to note that small amounts of the drug (amounts small enough to barely notice the effects) have helped me as far as reading the board each move, continuously finding every possible combination I can and never taking a position for granted. If I ever take too much, which is often with this medication, or even sometimes that i do not, the complete downside of this medication is that it makes you jittery, your heart rate skyrockets, and you move fast, without fully thinking every combination. bottom line: stimulants in general, in my opinion, are absolutely DETRIMENTAL to chess play because of their consistent ability to cause blunders and mistakes that one does not make when in a sober state of mind. i do state on that note that i am hardly ever in a completely sober state of mind. adderall helps my focus, and completely hinders my desicion-making ability, in the game of chess

  • 7 months ago


    Just when playing chess while in sober make sure neither your opponent sleeps or you'll be passed out

  • 8 months ago




    Here's what you need to know about Ritalin - and this is what Psychiatrists themselves, legistlators and law enforcement agencies say about it:




    Pay specific attention to the mention of "suicidal thoughts" and "attempts", and "violence" - you will find Ritalin and similar drugs behind EVERY case of crazy mass-shooting you ever heard about in the US, and in other countries as well. This is how such madness is created - by Psychiatry. This doesn't happen by accident. 

  • 8 months ago


    ROFL with the Grunfeld story... loooooooooooooooooooool

  • 8 months ago


     I drive much better drunk. So I must play chess much better drunk. In fact, the drunker I get, the better the girls look.  And the drunker I get the girls, the better I look. So can I drink beer till I am legless and then I can drive a pretty girl home? Mornings suck.

  • 8 months ago


    Even if a drug or alcohol, women, song, etc. helped play stronger chess or be rich, etc., would it be worth it and what type of example does it set?

  • 8 months ago


    ritalin and its relatives probably help focus and calculation

  • 9 months ago


    Alcohol leads to adventurous play, but the accuracy fades as the bottle empties!

  • 9 months ago


    What about smoking? Cigarettes have the right amount of stimulants to keep you sharp but paradoxically relaxes and calms you down. Smoking was banned in tournaments by Campomanes, the Filipino FIDE president decades ago. What would have the great Emmanuel Lasker said?

  • 9 months ago


    Despite all the jokes here :) ... Something serious :


    Nutrition and chess

    GM Yusupov : About the use of alcohol Yusupov says that generally this is at the expense of concentration and, consequently, of performance. However, if a player is tense during a tournament, a glass of red wine before sleeping can have a soothing effect, he thinks.

    GM Sipke Ernst : He doubts whether, for instance, beta-blockers are useful. „Perhaps they make you feel too much at ease. You have to have a certain tension if you want to be able to concentrate well. Otherwise you get a kind of Naumann-effect. Naumann is a German grandmaster who became a father – he was happy, and didn‟t care about winning or losing anymore. His concentration during games declined and this cost him 70 rating points in no time. By the way, when Jeroen Piket became a father, he fell from place seven on the world ranking list to a place outside the top

  • 9 months ago


    "It might be true that alcohol relaxes you, but is that a good thing for a tense fight on a chess board?"
    In a way, yes it is. It's better to keep things simple than to create complications. Some relaxation is needed because this will help you play easier moves instead of getting yourself into a hugely complicated game.  

  • 9 months ago


     In Russian GM - Kholmov, 4. ... Nxe5 leads to an equal position for black


     5. Nxe5 Qh4+ 6. g3 Qxe4+ 7. Qe2 Qxh1 8. Ng6+ Be7 9. Nxh8 Bb7 followed by Kf8, Re8 and Nf6 and you win back the knight at the cost of the pawn you are up. White has no advantage

  • 9 months ago


    In Russia, there is a chess set where the pieces are designed as jiggers. You have to bottom's up once you capture an opposing piece. :-)

  • 9 months ago


    Being drunk is AMAZING for speed chess. I won 13 games in a row 1 day.  Anything past that I sincerely doubt.

  • 9 months ago


    I think that, with most drugs (caffeine included), the dose-performance curve of alcohol is an inverse parabolic function, where one drink induces confidence and reduces stress, two drinks produce bold and innovative variations, and three... well, most of us know what happens there.

    I play at a very low level, but have won many of my best OTB matches on a tipple.

  • 9 months ago


    Another story is from Mikhail Tal (who else?), who once participated in a casual tournament by 'Pint/Point' rules: after winning a game, the player had to drink a pint of beer. Tal won 4 games, but then the Soviet team's doctor forbade him to play further.

  • 9 months ago


    <Spektrowski> The way I know the story - it was a whole litre of Vodka, and the poor opponent, rather than drink the lot, just resigned on the spot!

  • 9 months ago


    <Spektrowski> Your idea was indeed beautiful, when Anand did it to Gelfand back in 2012 (it was implemented in Game 8 of their World Championship match back then - and allowed Anand to come back to equality after losing Game 7). 

    Here, however, you won't get to trap my queen. I can block the Q check on e7, and then bring my B out to b7 and you'll never make it. I will be winning then, as you'd be simply down the exchange and then some. 

  • 9 months ago


    There was also a story about Lasker vs. Schlechter casual game where all 'pieces' were glasses with various drinks, and the players had to drink the contents of the glass after chopping the piece. Lasker played 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nf6 3. Qxf7+??!!, forcing Schlechter to consume a large glass of vodka. Very soon, Schlechter was completely drunk, and Lasker managed to win even without his Queen.

  • 9 months ago


    <DandyDan> I had no intention to move my king after 8. Ng6+...

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