Does alcohol improve chess? Drunken Style?

There are many kinds of refreshments that we can use to liven up our experience in chess and believe it or not, alcohol is a legitimate contender for one of the things that we could drink. But the question is, would you even want to consume it?

Is there even any benefit in taking alcohol in your system, some reason that it would increase your performance in chess?  Or is there no effect at all and you can just do whatever you want?

As a chess player here is what I know:

There is no evidence suggesting positive results in chess performance for people under the influence of alcohol. In fact, alcohol devoids one’s sense of risk and people end up playing aggressively yet inaccurately.

Alcohol also makes someone tired and unable to play in longer time formats.

This is actually from a big forum discussion about alcohol and chess that I have found online and it made me interested. In the spirit of that forum, I want to make this article on the same topic.

This is because I understand that this is a legit question in some people’s heads and I hope to clear up some things with this article. I have done the research and I think I know the answer.

Light-moderate consumption of alcohol and its effect to chess

If we are going to answer the full effects of alcohol on chess performance, we definitely have to consider the level of alcohol consumption that is applicable to the case. This is because there are different levels of being drunk.

If we are talking about light to moderate consumption of alcohol (where you don’t ingest enough to be seriously drunk) then the effects will be minimal. And no, it will not increase your strength in chess (in most cases at least).

In the majority of the cases, light to moderate consumption of alcohol doesn’t really affect the level of chess someone will play.

This is because you haven’t consumed enough alcohol yet to fully realize the effect of this beverage, which is a state where there will be dizziness and disorientation. Most people have enough resistance to still play reasonably upon this level of ingestion.

There are instances where some claimed that it helped them feel more comfortable and thus was able to make rational decisions, the validity of this though is quite blurry.

I have seen a lot of people in the forum that I have talked about saying that it doesn’t really make any difference if we are talking about light consumption. 

They feel like they are playing like their usual self without the alcohol having any influence on their performance. I think this is warranted since there will be leaps in logic in order to assume alcohol as a substance that would improve chess-playing.

Chess, alcohol, and long time controls

Chess requires intense concentration, drinking alcohol definitely doesn’t help in maintaining focus especially in longer time controls (rapid or classical). 

And you might think that this is wrong since you have experienced a sudden increase in focus in some of your alcohol exploration, but did your concentration last for a longer time?

This is a similar case with coffee, where it briefly increases the user’s concentration but is likely to suffer from a crash after extended periods of time. 

Someone who is under the influence of alcohol may experience a sudden increase in focus but will inevitably feel sluggish and tired over time. This is not good for longer time controls.

Most classical games are decided by who can last longer not necessarily by who can play better, having low endurance due to alcohol consumption is definitely not in your interest on these occasions.

Even in a rapid game (10-minute games) the effect can be negative, depending on your tolerance to the type of alcohol that you have drunk. If it is on a faster time format though it might be different.

Alcohol and aggressiveness in chess

Some people think that alcohol improves chess since alcohol weakens your sense of risk-taking and therefore you are able to play aggressively without second-guessing yourself.

While this may be true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can win your games.

You may certainly be aggressive in your games but do you even want to play aggressively? Being impatient is a signature of a beginner since these are the types of players that cannot wait for the right situation to attack.

Impatient players usually try to compromise their position in order to start something on the board, even if the best moves are just waiting and improving the position of the pieces. 

I am sure you have experienced glimpses of being nulled to risk in times where you have high levels of alcohol in your system, and I am sure that you have regretted some of the things that you have done.

This is also the same reason why this argument is flawed, being not afraid of risk is not necessarily a good trait since you still have to see the dangers in the position.

There is such a thing as calculated risks, and alcohol doesn’t allow you to measure the risk and see if you can go with it.

Too much alcohol is bad for chess

Above I have stated that minor levels of alcohol do not affect your game at all, it is quite different if we’re talking about high levels though.

If there is too much alcohol in your system the effects are of course negative, you are going to be disrupted by your internal need to rest and probably won’t be able to focus on the game.

I think the scene of someone being so drunk they can’t think straight is familiar to most of us, and this is for a reason. High levels of alcohol mess with our brain and it can’t function on the level that it can properly assess our situation.

Some of us even experienced a lack of memory during high consumption of alcohol where we can’t remember anything that happened. This further testifies the toll of this drink on our brain, it can’t be good.

You could test this out and be drunk out of your mind and try playing chess, you are going to be so busy and distracted that you will just want to end the game quickly. 

Being so intoxicated could not end well, and you probably have other bigger issues to tackle if you are that drunk than playing chess.

Elite chess players on alcohol consumption

The majority of elite chess players rarely drink alcohol at all, much less during serious competitive tournaments. Magnus Carlsen does have a shot of wine during his banter blitzes but it doesn’t really count since he is playing against weaker opponents.

In the cases of banter blitzes, it is a game played for fun where the results don’t really matter for those that are participating.

Magnus doesn’t really have to take the games as seriously in order to win against his opponents, therefore he can afford to be intoxicated.

But it is important to note that the alcohol itself does not increase his level of play, rather he is so good that it doesn’t even matter if he is sober or not. This is the world champion that we are talking about, not some random scrub.

As for the elite chess players I have seen them drink a shot or two, but they definitely don’t prefer it in competitive settings. 

The refreshments I have witnessed in serious chess are mostly water, juice, or some random energy drink due to a sponsorship (Hikaru Nakamura has Red Bull for example).

But alcohol or even wine is rare since it’s not really considered traditional. I think this is just proof that alcohol consumption is not accepted as a drink that is good for serious competitive chess.

Forums on alcohol and chess

I have tried searching on chess forums online whether someone can verifiably tell that alcohol does improve their performance, sad to say that I haven’t found a reasonable lead.

Most of the users I have found are trolls with no reliable answers in other topics as I scrolled throughout their profile. I generally don’t trust users like this since their answers on other subjects say something about them in that particular subject. 

In this case that something is negative, their actual answers are also unbelievable and are far from reality. Things like “alcohol incredibly increases my play by 800 Elo” which is just ridiculous since you can’t really measure your increase in Elo by just estimates.

Most of the things are just “I don’t know but I want to find the answer” type of response which really doesn’t bring anything conclusive that would add to answering this question. A lot was also just contradicting each other.

Safe to say that no one really knows the answer on the connection of alcohol to chess in the forums that I have explored.

Does wine improve performance in chess?

There are those who claim that certain levels of drinking wine (not cheap alcohol) dramatically improve their chess performance right after. I think this is for a completely different reason though.

This is very interesting since we are not talking about cheap alcohols that have pronounced effects for those who drink it, this is an expensive wine.

I think what’s really happening is that the wine makes someone feel elated enough that it introduces a self-fulfilling prophecy, where they are getting good results because they just feel better generally.

Wine is after all a symbol of status and a good lifestyle, something that could definitely improve the mood before a tournament for example.

It is very interesting though that the people who claim this tell you that you should only sip and not drink (cause you’ll probably be drunk).

Tal, Nezhmetdinov, and alcohol

Some reasoned that famous chess players like Tal and Nezhmetdinov were drinking alcohol right out of their minds and were still capable of playing the most brilliant games.

I am sure that some of you think that they are the exception and not the case, and this is true.

During the 20th century where chess tournaments were not strictly regulated and etiquettes were still not a major part of practice, players could just bring whatever they wanted.

And alcohol back then was more popular than it is today, in modern times we have way tastier milk, juice, teas, coffees, energy drinks, etc. that can be a substitute for alcohol. Being a popular drink, some chess players consume them as well.

But does this make alcohol the secret of Tal? Of course not, he is just that good at chess with or without alcohol and he just happens to like it. Nezhmetdinov actually doesn’t even drink alcohol all that much, I don’t know who thought of this idea.

Nezhmetdinov does drink alcohol here and there but it is not his main thing, it’s just a popular drink at the time and he happens to drink it on some occasions.

Being drunk is not that best state in decision-making

I think we can reasonably answer this question (Does alcohol improve chess performance?) by our own experiences during the drunken state.

You could actually test this out when you are drunk, have you made the best decisions while there is alcohol in your system or when you are sober? The answer is obvious.

Our most rational decisions are made during the time when we are sober, a state where our brain is not under the influence of a depressant (alcohol is a depressant). I think this would also apply to chess.

Being drunk makes you more impatient since you want to see something as fast as possible, you would react in a way that is not logical to the game. You are likely to create attacks that are not warranted and where you cannot follow through.

The best state to play chess is where you don’t have any alcohol at all, this is the time when your mind is clear and you can properly assess the positions.

Alcohol in a serious competitive chess tournament

If you are thinking of participating in a serious chess tournament and are wondering if you can take a shot or two (maybe even just a sip?)  it seems to be fine, though I would still not recommend it.

There is a level where the amount of alcohol is not enough to make you feel drunk, and you wouldn’t feel any of the natural effects of this drink. 

You need to be extremely cautious though and know your body, being drunk is probably one of the worst states to play a competitive chess tournament. It would affect your performance negatively.

This is primarily due to the reason stated above and because of the potential crash that you may experience after. The last thing that you want in a competitive tournament is feeling exhausted since it is a battle of endurance.

And alcohol definitely does not contribute to endurance and extended focus, so don’t commit to drinking it before a day about chess where you need to perform.

Final thoughts

There are definitely a lot of options for the beverage that you can have while playing, or before playing a game of chess.

Alcohol is definitely not something that I would recommend just based on the things that I have heard online since it doesn’t sound very good for performance.

You can still drink it, maybe a sip or two but it generally fails for us chess players, there are other better drinks if you are looking for some. I haven’t tried playing chess while drunk and I probably won’t try it in the future.

You can try for yourself sure, and it may go against everything that I have said here. It can happen but you have to prove it via experimentation, this article is just the fruit of the personal research that I have done.

I am pretty sure that this is the gist of this topic but who knows, I might be wrong. That is all for today sleep well and play chess.

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