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Caffeine Memories

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The brain scanners are at work again. This study purportedly illustrates that caffeine improves short-term memory, as demonstrated by brain activity and memory tests. The description of the latter is giving me flashbacks to that episode of WKRP in Cincinnatti in which Dr. Johnny Fever gets better and better scores on a portable sobriety reflex test the more alcohol he drinks.

The long-documented efficacy of caffeine in improving alertness illustrates the silliness of drug testing in chess. IOC standards allow the caffeine of a dozen cups of coffee to be found in your system. But a far smaller amount of this routinely available drug Ė more like unavoidable Ė is generally performance enhancing. Unless we have a drug situation that is 1) patently performance enhancing and 2) demonstrably harmful, who cares? If there were a smart pill with no side effects shouldn't we all take it? (Of course what would happen is that they would cost $10,000 each, creating a brain/income gap. Not that countries that charge $50,000 a year to go to university don't already have that.)


Mig: Iím not sure if youíre being sarcastic when you question if we should all be taking this hypothetical intelligence supplement. First, Iíd like to point out (and I think you've pointed it out here before) that increased memory and/or alertness might have unexpected and undesirable consequences, unless in the case of a pathology such as Alzheimerís or narcolepsy. Just as examples, a brain crammed full of memories might be unable to do other cognitive tasks. Plus itís probably traumatic for bad memories to resurface all the time. Caffeine and other nutraceuticals taken to improve alertness, mood or wellbeing are strawmen arguments when it comes to psychopharmaceuticals, at least so long as the holistic consequences of taking these more potent drugs remain unexplored. That said, Iíve lost my keys so many times in the last week that Iím desperate enough to resort to any means to get trhough the day!

I thought the drug-testing plan was purely for getting chess included as an olympic sport. So then you have to 1) either argue with the IOC or 2) debate the merits of whether or not chess should be an olympic sport.

Brain/income gaps have been around forever. The upper class has always been better educated than the middle class, which in turn has been better educated than the working class. The few exceptions to this generalization merely prove the rule. A "brain pill" would merely consolidate and sharpen differences that are already in place (in part due to differences in culture and upbringing of people from different socioeconomic strata).

Forget the olympics. drop drug testing. it is a waste of time and money and waste of psychological energy. It is simply another attempt by the do gooders of the world to control other people. it has never worked and it never will work.

Let chess be chess.

Set up the pieces. go ahead move you are white.

haha. PK4. there I will go PK5 now what are you going to do........ I love this game.

I thought the whole point of the chess-as-an-Olympic-sport "movement" was to get money for various low-income chess federations with no genuine expectation that the IOC would ever approve it. We're forced to put up with drug testing so these federations can get $$ from their respective nation's Olympic funds.

The main point of drug testing in chess is to annoy and humiliate chess players by making them pee into a plastic container. Never forget, FIDE despises chess players.

While the ridiculous issue of drug testing goes on, I never heard of a serious discussion in FIDE about preventing eletronic cheating.

I am dubious that the enhancing effects of caffeine or other stimulants would actually improve your performance. Has there been any studies on this? It seems to me that while enhancing your alertness and short term memory they may increase your anxiety and make it more difficult to concentrate on the position at hand. I can just see playing a game against someone who's really "cranked" up. Sweating profusely, eyes darting about as he makes his move with a trembling hand only to blow a fuse when he realizes that he just hung his queen! Of course someone who's had a few cups of coffee probably wouldn't be that bad but after 12 cups....

Just to clarify the above post. Have there been any studies that show that caffeine or other stimulants actually improve your performance at chess?

First, a reminder: caffeine was taken OFF the list of banned substances by the World Doping Agency (which sets the rules for the regular Olympics) in 2004. Its use is monitored (that is, it may still be tested for, but using it will no longer cause an athlete to be disqualified).

Last I saw FIDE had not updated its rules to conform; I don't know if they have since.

Second, quite a few studies show that caffeine does, indeed, increase alertness and short term memory. It can also quicken reflexes, which I believe is why it was on the Olympics list of banned substances from 1990 until 2004. Weirdly enough, caffeine also "increases contentment." So it can both improve perofrmance on speed-related mental activities and make you clamer while doing them. Both might come into play in blitz, one would think.


Not aware of anything that relates it directly to chess, but if it improves the performance of other mental tasks, there's no reason why it shouldn't apply to chess.

But that's still not a reason to ban it. If it's available to everyone equally, it's a matter of choice.

Third, perhaps it's appropriate here to remember why most banned substances are banned in physical sports.

Most of the time it's NOT because they enhance performance of only a few.`

Rather it's because most of them enhance performance at a significant physical cost in long term health. The concern of the olympics has been that adults (coaches, federation sponsors, etc) would encourage young athletes, many of whom are under 21, to use performance ehancing substances to get a short term result at the cost of their long term health.

Hence the banning of steroids.

Under WADA's World Anti-Doping Code, a substance is banned if it meets two of three different criteria, including performance enhancement and damage to an athlete's health. (The third is that its use is "against the spirit of the sport.")

Ummmm, I'd have to echo Mig's remark-

"If there were a smart pill with no side effects shouldn't we all take it?"

Additionally, I'd like to add my own:

If there were a strength/health/emotional stability enhancing pill with no side effects shouldn't we all take it?

Please note- that is a NO before the word side effects.
This way I'd be able to recognize the correctness of 26. Bh6, slam the piece down so hard it punches a hole in the table, enjoy my french fries, and feel good even when I lose.

Yeah, I'd take those pills- in a second.

It seems to me, the point of limiting access to performance enhancers is because they are harmful- not because they enhance performance. The motivation behind rules against performance enhancers can only be to prevent impressionable minds from undertaking dangerous means to attain similar results of those using harmful substances to raise the level of their game.
If the motivation was to create fair competition, why not limit everyone to the same exact training regiment? Impractical, but it would eliminate the technology advantage.
If the motivation was to prevent the competitors from harming themselves, why not ban smoking? I am by no means suggesting this. I value my life. But it does demonstrate the point.
The only other thing I can think of is that perhaps it is an image issue with chess in general. I mean, so what if Rafael Palmeiro won the US chess Championship? Is there such a thing as bad press?

Let's just play the two games we love.
And how to bring chess to the world

And if you've got some drugs to figure out how to raise the level of the game in the US without any side effects, you might want to start handing those out too.

I am not sure that caffeine actually improves one's chess. I am a moderate to heavy coffee drinker but have long ago retired from chess tournament play. But when I played, I never drank coffee during games (or even shortly before) because I was wired enough just from the competitive anticipation. There is such a thing as being too jittery.

Drug testing in chess exists only so federations can try to extract funding from various governments, as Buttmonkey stated. The IOC has made it perfectly clear that hell would have to freeze over before chess becomes an official Olympic sport. Currently there are about twenty exhibition sports ahead of chess in the waiting line, and the IOC lets in about one new sport per decade. The IOC is looking for telegenic stuff to enhance their TV broadcast revenues (a good example is the recent addition of beach volleyball). Chess, in its present form, is a disaster in this regard.

As others have said, the real danger facing chess is 'silicon doping', or using computers one way or another to cheat at chess. It is likely that every exceptional result from now on will generate rumors of computer cheating; it already happened to Topalov. At San Luis the players were checked in some manner for 'electronic equipment', but much more rigorous methods will have to be developed to avert a major crisis at some point in the future.

All you need is confidence in you and you must have a good psychological balance that can really keep you fighting no matter what. That would be much better than a "be smart pill".

Smart pills are based on the placebo effect and they actually enhance abilities that you already have so I would think twice before buying those.

I'm 32 and have been drinking 1-2 pots of coffee a day and have also notice that I am having a very difficult time recalling things, from what I did yesterday to pop culture. I'd like to see a study, and im going to stop drinking coffee and see if it affects it. Has anyone else seen this effect of coffee on memory?

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on December 1, 2005 5:12 AM.

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