Things That Go Down Your Throat in a Chess Tournament

  • IM Silman
  • | Oct 16, 2009

Unknown asked:

What do you think is the best food to be eaten during a big tournament?


Dear whoever you are:

Actually, this is quite an interesting question! Of course, most people eat all sorts of unhealthy things before an event, but should that change during it? I think the answer depends on the individual. Do you have blood sugar problems? Do you find that you can’t think after a large meal? Or, are you more or less the same no matter what you consume?

Long ago, grandmaster Walter Browne used to insist that he would happily buy his opponent a huge steak dinner right before their game. Why? Because he felt all the blood would leave the brain and go to the stomach, making it impossible for the other guy to think clearly.

Grandmaster Gligoric would eat chocolate throughout his games, while Fischer would sip apple juice. In the 1800s, top players would often bring a bottle of booze with them to the board and empty it during play. That doesn’t happen anymore (since it would occasionally lead to the drunk player throwing the other player out the window ... a real problem if you're several stories up), but many modern grandmasters and international masters get completely drunk after a game – often staying out all night at the local bar and somehow appearing the next day fresh and strong. Of course, not all alcohol-loving players would drink after the game – there are many cases of titled players drinking before the game and appearing at the board in a state of near coma.

In the 60s and early 70s, some players gave drugs a try during tournament games. In general, LSD didn’t work out too well for them (an unnamed IM wasn’t able to make even one move, sitting there watching dinosaurs fly through the air until his flag fell on move one). Others gave pot a try (in fact, many players used it before, during, and after play!), others speed, and others opium.

Times were quite different then, especially when you consider that too much caffeine is now a FIDE offense, and if you’re caught a couple times imbibing too many cups, you can be banned for a few years. That’s quite a huge leap from the “exploration uber alles” mentality of the 60s!

Personally, I always had a serious sensitivity to sugar, and this more or less destroyed my career since I never made proper adjustments to the problem. In my youth, I would toss down chocolate bars during play, but would begin to fall asleep as the game progressed. I actually found myself waking up in several games with 20 to 40 minutes having ticked off my clock! Later I would try juice, but even that level of sugar wiped me out and led to endless blunders as my brain melted and vision blurred. I only cured the problem in my final couple of tournament years – I brought a high-grade ginseng root to the board and sucked on it all through the game.

Ultimately, you have to figure out what’s right for your body. Knowing what foods and beverages work for you is extremely important. And, if you find coffee wakes you up and allows you to play at your usual level, or if cough syrup (banned by FIDE) is needed so you don’t cough and disturb your opponent – go for it (last I heard, coffee and over the counter cough syrup is legal in the real world – and personally, I would love it if my opponent glugged down 40 cups of java. I can’t understand why any chess organization has any say in such things). If some goon appears with a cup and demands a sample, spit on him and say, “There’s your sample.” Then pour a mouthful of coffee down your throat with one hand and several capfuls of cough meds with the other and … walk away.

PS: Of course, I’m not condoning anything illegal, but I have no problem pointing a finger at raw stupidity. If you would like to read an article I wrote about Drug Testing in Chess (from my site), click on the link:

Arnaldo Antunes asks:

Regarding the increasing quality of the chess playing software, do you believe chess will be solved in the near future? Should the human players be worried about that? Moreover, do you like the idea of adding a new piece or to use a board with more than 64 squares?

Dear Mr. Antunes:

I’m the wrong person to ask since I didn’t think computers would be able to beat titled players during my lifetime. Doh! I seemed a bit off on that one. Of course, now computers are the best “players” in the world. However, solving chess is quite another matter.

Check out these numbers:

1) “The number of legal positions in chess is estimated to be between 10^43 and 10^50, with a game-tree complexity of approximately 10^123. The game-tree complexity of chess was first calculated by Claude Shannon as 10^120, a number known as the Shannon number. Typically an average position has thirty to forty possible moves, but there may be as few as zero (in the case of checkmate or stalemate) or as many as 218.”

Source and further information: 

2) “Chess is infinite: There are 400 different positions after each player makes one move apiece. There are 72,084 positions after two moves apiece. There are 9+ million positions after three moves apiece. There are 288+ billion different possible positions after four moves apiece. There are more 40-move games on Level-1 than the number of electrons in our universe. There are more game-trees of Chess than the number of galaxies (100+ billion), and more openings, defences, gambits, etc. than the number of quarks in our universe! – Chesmayne”

For fun, let’s say a quantum computer does solve chess 100 years from now and says, “After 1.d4 White has a forced mate in 328 moves!” Who cares? The solution would be nonsensical to human minds (just as many computer moves today make absolutely no sense). So, even if chess is solved someday, it would have no impact on the enjoyment people have in playing the game.

As for chess variants (like adding an extra file, or filling each piece with absinthe and being forced to drink it whenever a capture is made), I have no interest in any of them. Real chess is still very very hard, and it's still as beautiful as ever.


  • 15 months ago


    I read this article on Saturday August 8, 2015 at 3:10 am. I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you for writing it.

  • 4 years ago


    Good article on computers and chess.

  • 7 years ago


    Thank You Jeremy! 

    Excellent article....i dont understand why some want to change a great game.  Chess is just fine the way it is, and nothing needs to be done to change that. 

    There are some things in life that are just fine the way they are, and the original beauty never changes nor needs to be changed. 

  • 7 years ago


    I once played a tournament where a guy on the board next to me kept singing - don't know if he was drunk.. anyways, it didn't bother med, but it definitely bothered my opponent, who  for some reason didn't speak up about it - I could just see him looking angrily at the singing guy..

    Wierd that the officialts, didn't do anything about it though.. Well I won my game, so I am glad they didn't =)

  • 7 years ago


    I find that if you boil the blood of a fresh mongoose and sprinkle some crushed walnuts and lemon rinds into the concoction, the opponents faint 5% of the time, throw up 7.5% of the time, and it helps produce enough gas to knock him out for a good 20min.

    *The key is to stir it until mildly thick for 2 minutes 14 seconds (doing this while it is you or your opponents first move gives a 68 win percentage for white, 52 % win when black, and a 15% draw for both colors)

  • 7 years ago


    Even if for some reason a player took a drug which could (?!) enhance his/her mental powers, it will come at a cost - be it fighting spirit or sound judgment.  Nothing I have ever heard of in this life ' only ' comes with benefits.

  • 7 years ago


  • 7 years ago

    NM gbidari

    IM Silman? You're always Jeremy to me baby! website of the gods.

  • 7 years ago


    i chew gum during my tournament play always mint or fresh mint

  • 7 years ago


    people should be able to put what ever they want in there bodies....... steroids, drugs, booze,coffee,,,ect ect ect....   does not do the same thing for every person..........ther is no and never been a level playing field in any sport and or competition in the world........   

  • 7 years ago


    I'm Uruguayan and... I love mate and chess together. In my country we use to drink it during local tournments. But... Mate has as much caffeina as an express... and we drink 1-2 litres of it.

    Happily, local tournments have no caffeine/drug controls...

  • 7 years ago


    Federation International de e'checks (fwenchy fwench speak for international chess federation)

  • 7 years ago


  • 7 years ago


    with respect to caffeine, remember that the more time you spend in the restroom, the more clock time you will lose. ;)

    I say drug testing in chess is a little over the top. o_0 It's a strategy game, not conditioning or endurance . . ,


  • 7 years ago


    other chess variants are useless

    focus your time on the real chess

  • 7 years ago


  • 7 years ago


    So if I understand correctly, the FIDE does not have any regulations on booze during the tournament, correct? =)
    How funny would it be to hear a story about a player using a bottle of liquor spiked with coffee to smuggle in some "game-help"? XD (assuming coffee actually is helpful to a game. :/)
  • 7 years ago


    Not all that of a great insight, but in the tournament where I had the greatest win, I had a bottle of sprite with me for every game.

  • 7 years ago


    I don´t agree with the author. Nonsensical, using substances to increase the body´s performance? Ok, tell that to other sports, and see their opinion. Of course, "I do what I want and to hell with the others" is always THE best policy, right?

  • 7 years ago


    It's not what goes down my throat that I find a problem. It's what sticks in my throat - the blunders!

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