Things That Go Down Your Throat in a Chess Tournament

Things That Go Down Your Throat in a Chess Tournament

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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.

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