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Playing Chess While Being Drunk!

Playing Chess While Being Drunk!

May 6, 2014, 12:00 AM 46,034 Reads 134 Comments Strategy

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!


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