Greengard's ChessNinja.com

Wring Out the Old Year, Ring In the New

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A few bits and bobs for those of you with no one to get drunk with and kiss. (Hint: it's easier to kiss them if you get them drunk first.)

It was more more Morozevich at the Russian Superfinal. He bounced back to win the event with style, beating Inarkiev in the final round to finish in clear first by a full point ahead of Grischuk despite two losses. His 8/11 is the sort of score we are used to seeing him put up against much lesser fields. Is this his strongest tournament win ever? Can't think of a stronger one off the top of my bald head. He was the top seed, we should remember, but he's so unstable the more solid 2700+ players in the field often top him. He's still young (30) and might yet add the stability required to finish ahead of Anand and Kramnik.

Speaking of the world champion and the man who doesn't feel like Anand is the world champion, they are serendipitously knotted atop the new FIDE rating list at 2799. Nothing too exciting. It's fun to watch age cohort partners Carlsen and Karjakin stay joined at the hip, now at numbers 13 and 14 in the world. Karjakin got all the attention at the start and lately it's been all Carlsen. But the World Cup semifinalist teens are just a single point apart. They still have a long way to go before C-K battles dominate the way K-K battles did.

Speaking of champagne, you might want to use yours to wash down some of these pills:

"There isn't any question about it -- they made me a much better player," said Paul Phillips, 35, who credited the attention deficit drug Adderall and the narcolepsy pill Provigil with helping him earn more than $2.3 million as a poker player.

[He] started using Adderall after he was diagnosed with ADHD five years ago and later got a prescription for Provigil to further improve his focus. ADHD drugs work by increasing the level of the brain chemical dopamine, which is thought to improve attention. Provigil's mechanism of action is not well understood, but boosting the effect of dopamine is thought to be part of it.

The drugs improved his concentration during high-stakes tournaments, he said, allowing him to better track all the action at his table.

We've gone over this stuff here before, and in various articles we put up at ChessBase.com over the years. The old debates about drug testing in chess have often hinged on "until something is proven to improve performance, don't bother." On the other hand, if something improves mental performance without doing any harm, is that really a problem we should worry about? It was the abuse of doping and steroids that led to testing, not their mere existence. Things have since moved to another level, of course, especially in cycling. Anyone out there played competitive chess while on these concentration drugs?


Yep, Foxwoods 2004 for me, coincidentally the best tournament of my career. Ritalin in my case. Frankly, not sure why I would play chess without it.

The new rating list has 24 players at 2700 or above. Surely the largest number ever. What is a 'Super-GM' worth in new money?

About 2750. Dollar, Euro, Franc, Mark Denari...whatever?

You're right Mig - just the use of drugs that may aid concentration is not automatically a bad thing. The issues that might arise will revolve around the impact on the image of professional chess.
- Will corporate sponsors want to be linked to a sport where the norm is for top competitors to be hyped up on drugs?
- Will promising players start to shy away from the professional game if the price to compete includes habitual drug use?
- And might there be legal issues in jurisdictions where lenient prescription writing is not looked upon kindly.

Those issues aren't here yet ... but we will eventually have to deal with them.

In the this interview (http://www.boston-blitz.com/2007/krasik2.htm), Chris Williams of the USCL's Boston Blitz claims that his taking of Adderall helps him. I quote: "Adderal heightens all of the senses, extra senses needed while playing, and it should not be allowed as I think it gives me an unfair advantage..."

Also, in Paul Hoffman's recent book, King's Gambit, he comments about the two days he took Dexedrine (a.k.a., speed). "Amphetamines, I'm certain, could make you more alert and focused at the chessboard... your brain cells will eventually sizzle if you do too much speed, but by then you will have played moves that will immortalize you in the chess hall of fame." (p. 137)

Haven't tried the Adderall, but the one time in my life that I sampled cocaine, its effect was virtually nil (equal to one espresso) while four people snorting cocaine from the same bag marveled that it was great stuff.

Maybe Adderall is similar and doesn't work for everyone?

For all the paranoid people who tried to explain Topalov's success in 2005-2006 by arguing computer cheating, let me say that they missed the point: a boost of confidence, plus routine of exercise, plus performance enhancing drugs might have helped him to boost his chess quality (and because of side effects, this kind of success is short lived). Just kidding:)

But now, seriously, I used Adderall a short time a few years ago (because of prescription) and it didn't worked at all ... I tend to believe that like placebos, you might improve certain things if you strongly believe there will be a huge difference; in my case it didn't and eventually I could manage to solve problems without any drug. So, I am still skeptical of these kind of comments.

Happy New Year to all of you and hopefully in 2008 we will see less complaining about draws, less paranoia on computer cheating, more appreciation and respect to the players (it is easy to criticize with the help of computer software), great chess games, a great WCC match and of course, as much peace and prosperity as possible for all of us.

It just doesn't matter if the drug you take helps you think better or not. A game of chess is a contest of skill: you still have to figure out the moves for yourself.
Regards, zdrakec

Probably depends on who you are and why you fail (when and if you do) at chess. I doubt Kramnik and Anand would benefit from Adderall; they seem to have few problems concentrating on chess games. On the other hand, if you're playing an evening league game, coming straight from work and arriving with your clock ticking...

Given that these drugs are "attention" drugs and not "pattern recognition" drugs (wouldn't the latter be neat?), they probably wouldn't help the elite at all. The reason these medications are given for attention deficit disorder is that they increase your attention. If your already paying attention, it won't help.

On a different note, I see Shirov has finally returned to the top ten. I look forward to his next implosion when he starts getting invited to top class tournaments again. That said, outside of his lopsided minus score with Kasparov, he probably wasn't that bad, at least not every time. Anyone feel like running a historical rating calculation for him ignoring all games against Gazza?

I bet that those games falling out of the formula has a lot to do with his position now.

And there are still a few tourists in the upper reaches. Movsesian is 42nd overall.

Shirov was 2751 on 2000, so maybe you should look for a more elaborate theory on how to get to the top 10 'being so bad'. Also Tal memorial must be a 2nd rate tournament...

gmc wrote: Given that these drugs are "attention" drugs and not "pattern recognition" drugs (wouldn't the latter be neat?), they probably wouldn't help the elite at all.

Actually, you just gave an argument why these drugs would be most useful to elite players. Pattern recognition is hardly a problem for anyone at the top. On the contrary, the ability to concentrate is much more variable since it depends on many outside factors such as how well you've slept and whether your daughter's friend is a good guy.

Btw, drugs without side effects do not exist. As soon as people start to take them massively to improve their performance at tests/classes/chess the side effects will be uncovered.

I did a series of experiments on my own chess playing skill level against a computer about 10 years ago. Played 64 10-minute games for a baseline, 64 for each sample group (with two week period in between), then 64 games after sampling each popular "cognitive enhancer" in order to adjust the baseline for general improvement against the machine. Adderall was not included in my study, but here are the three substances that produced positive results:

Ginko Biloba -- 50 Elo points
DMAE -- 75 Elo points
Dilantin (phenytoin) -- almost 200 Elo points

Side effects: Ginko Biloba, none. DMAE, annoying tinnitus and light sensitivity. Dilantin, queasiness.

Ginko Biloba and DMAE are over-the-counter products. Dilantin is an anti-convulsant (anti-epileptic) drug in high doses; in low doses it has well-documented cognitive enhancement properties. See www.remarkablemedicine.com. I was taking it under the supervision of a physician as it is a prescribed medication in the US.

I have since used Dilantin during tournaments, consistently playing a full class above my rating (but not winning any big cash prizes).

The general term for cognitive enhancing substances or "smart drugs" is "Nootropics." Wikipedia provides a good introduction to the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nootropic

I suggest that one Google "phenytoin liver" before considering Dilantin for cognitive enhancement. It's a good drug for many many people, but with some not-so-good side effects. There's a reason this remarkable medicine has been overlooked ;-)

(OTOH, I am happy to "blame" my rating loss on the switch to Zonegran.)

How much harm is "permissible" harm? Chess players tend to be profoundly libertarian, but do we want to allow juniors being given drugs w/ significant side effects by national team coaches?

Does anyone here remember Alburt's article referencing Karpov's alleged amphetamine use (Chess Life, circa 1990)?

Triple soy latté. Then another.

I wouldn't mind if the top players use drugs if it helps them produce more beautiful chess games for us. The problem is illegal computer assistance, not drugs IMHO.

I had no idea that there were drugs that really could enhance performance in chess. The reason steroids (et al.) are banned in professional sports is that they wreak havoc on the body. If they were legal, then destruction of the body would be a requirement for top-level performance.

Dilantin can cause liver damage, alter blood sugar levels (beware, diabetics), harm fetuses, etc. To generally prescribe an anti-seizure medication to enhance chess performance is a terrible idea. If it really helps chess performance or even if there is general perception that it does, it should be banned in competitive chess. Same for other performance enhancing drugs, especially ones that are harmful, illegal, or not generally available (e.g., by prescription only).


(1) EGb-761 Gingko Biloba Extract (GBE)

(2) Phosphatidylserine (an important phospholipid in the brain that preferentially incorporates the long-chain omega-3 essential fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid)

Theoretically would yield a better result for increasing your rating than GBE by itself, according to this recently-published study.

Hum Psychopharmacol. 2007 Jun;22(4):199-210.

Acute cognitive effects of standardised Ginkgo biloba extract complexed with phosphatidylserine.

“…administration of GBE complexed with phosphatidylserine resulted both in improved secondary memory performance and significantly increased speed of memory task performance across all of the post-dose testing sessions.”

Abstract at PubMed (National Library of Medicine) site, type: 17457961 in search box.

Additional information in patent:

Phosphatidylserine has been reported to have some benefit by itself for pediatric AD/HD in this 2006 pilot study:

Effect of Phosphatidylserine administration on symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children


“…The improvement of AD/HD symptoms in the present trial might suggest that a PS administration is therapeutically effective in increasing the dopamine or noradrenalin concentration in the synaptic cleft even though the mechanism of inhibiting the reuptake seemed different from that of central stimulants. The great improvement in visual perception (figure background perception) is considered to be attributable to the improved concentration in AD/HD children.”

…and this clinical trial is currently testing -- a logical idea -- its effect when combined with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).


One notes that EGB-761 GBE itself can dramatically enhances the preservation of long-chain essential acids in red blood cells, particularly DHA:

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2000 Nov;63(5):293-300.

Effect of the extract of Ginkgo biloba (EGb 761) on the circulating and cellular profiles of polyunsaturated fatty acids: correlation with the anti-oxidant properties of the extract.

PMID: 11090256

“…All the PUFA examined, including arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA), were increased by 2-fold in the blood of EGb 761-treated animal… Similarly, EGb 761 treatment induced a significant increase of omega-3 and omega-6 PUFAs in cell membranes…”

To sum up, EGb-761 GBE, soy phosphatidyserine and having fish in your diet might be a better bet for increasing your rating than the buckets of Mountain Dew I gulped down when playing in Goichberg tournaments on the East Coast in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Phenytoin (Dilantin) can have serious side effects as Bill describes, observed at the high dosages prescribed for its anti-epileptic properties: 300mg/day for adults is a typical prescription.

When I did my experiments with it a dozen years ago, Dilantin was often prescribed at 750mg/day. The dosage which improved my chess so dramatically was 75mg/day, one-tenth of what was then considered normal for epileptic patients. It's cognitive enhancing properties kick in at much lower dosages than it's anti-epileptic properties.

Here's the point: In high enough doses, virtually any substance can become toxic. I would rather take my chances with a small dose of a highly-researched product, taken under a doctor's care, than a six-pack of Mountain Dew or a couple of triple-latte's!

For me the phenytoin experience was a bit like meditation -- the multiple conversations in my head resolved into a single, calm and focused awareness. Something like the effects of Adderall. Quite pleasant really, except for the mild queasiness.

But I stopped taking Dilantin after a few months and started studying more chess instead, with the result of a rating that has stayed constant well into my 40's. For the three tournaments where I took it to improve my concentration, I started 75mg/day three days before the event and stopped taking it on the last day of the tournament. These days I find that serious physical activity the week before the tournament is the best mental preparation.

To the young reality-hackers out there considering nootropics, careful research on your part, combined with medical supervision, can minimize your chances of nasty and possibly permanent consequences. Here's a useful link on phenytoin:


The problem about drugs is that they have side effects and doesn't last very long.

In physically demanding sports drugs have obvious advantages but for the brain the best 'drug' is to live a healthy stabile life.

Any kind of drug will have a negative long term impact on performance and even the short term boost to mental abilities is questionable.

Did Einstein use drugs to come up with his genius ideas, no.

one example. Magnus Carlsen doesn't drink or use any sort of drugs or medications. The boy doesn't even eat fish but he is in great physical condition and does plenty of sports.

But then there are other contrary examples, like Michael Tal, but he didn't last very long unfortunately.

Say they found that there is a chemical in bananas that improves cognition and eating bananas improves performance rating by 100 elo. Should bananas be banned?

I tried this once in recent tournaments.
My observations - chocolate bars work over a period of about one hour. Coffee toffees work for short burts of 13 minutues of intense mental activity. I have the numbers to prove it.

But seriously, how common is the use of such drugs, I'm pretty shocked to see players talking with so much depth about those druggy names that I've never heard of. Sad, if it is true. But what can one do ?

Botvinnik said that coffee was one of the reasons he won back his title against Tal in 1961.

Actually I think drugs could become more of a problem at the elite levels, than at lower levels. Why? Because the rewards for strong performance are so much higher.

Let's say you are a 2705 rated GM. But you just turned 33 years old, and you used to be 2735 when you were in your mid twenties. Your chess experience is superior to back then, but you've noticed that you have trouble maintaining the required high levels of concentration during the later rounds of elite events.

If your rating keeps slipping, you will no longer get the invitations to the coveted super tournaments. One option of course is to improve your diet, and get more serious about your exercise regimen. But you've heard about these drugs that can improve concentration .... hmmmm ... you just need the boost for an occasional round every now and then .. what's the harm?

I want whatever Moro is taking.

One person's account is anecdotal evidence. For all we know 'psychology instructor' might suffer something that makes the drug work for him, or it was just a placebo effect, or coincidence. One person's account does not prove anything.

The Nootropics article on Wikipedia does not convince me when it comes to *playing better chess* and looking it up on Google gives me pill-peddlers (& it's interesting to look up the background of some "advocates").

What I want is a proper scientific study that proves something works beyond a doubt for a regular healthy, non-geriatric person without side effects that's better than a cup of coffee.

Placebo effect can be very powerful. Some chess players believe wearing the same shirt makes them play better, not against the rules, but I doubt it's backed up with scientific proof.

Not saying it's not possible, but reading about the side effects makes me think less booze, more sleep and some exercise seems a lot less risky and more sure to work.

I spoke to an olympian athelete once and told him about them wanting to drug test chess players. While many laughed, he didn't. He immediately nodded his head and said, "Yes, for clarity of mind". Clearly there was a benefit for him to be focused during competition and he saw the benefits for chess players.

The point of drug testing is to make sure it is one person vs. one person, no matter what the sport. Not to see who has the best doctor and prescription. I am confused why people don't get this concept. A level playing field must be made, and it should be one in which competitors do not have to risk their health to join.

Just ask the worlds fastest man, the American Gatlin - I heard today he was being banned for 4 years for his second drug violation.

When it comes to playing chess (not pumping weight), as far as I'm concerned, my competitors are free to take all the drugs they want. From what I've been reading so far, chances are more likely it'll damage their health more than any good it might possibly do to their playing abilities.

As long as they don't ban coffee, that would be unacceptable. ;)

Drug testing in chess causes tons of practical problems, false positives and extra costs while there does not even seem to be a drug problem in chess to begin with, anecdotal experiments none the less. (Maybe when top chess players start confessing to having to take drugs to stay competitive, or maybe they do but it's all a big secret?)

Performance enhancing piffle!

For guys like Kramnik and Anand, as well as for thousands of fortunate amateur players, the drug of choice is . . . chess itself.

Having seen the effects of such drugs as Ritalin on kids with ADHD, I have no doubt that drugs can improve concentration and chess playing. It's not just about ability, folks. Sometimes, the ability to sustain concentration for long periods wanes during a game or for a variety of reasons. In addition, maybe the boost might not be required for *every* game - just one or two - think Floyd Landis after he was behind in the Tour De France.

Even in my games, my problem is sustaining concentration for long periods - that is why I used to play bullet, not blitz or real chess. I could see an idea and want to play it, but if I had more time, I rarely improved my quality of chess substantially and chose another idea. Of course, whether this effect would be pronounced at the highest levels is something that would require some testing. However, it should not be dismissed in advance.

Finally, since health and exercise have an effect on chess playing, it is possible that using drugs to improve your physical abilities might have some effect on your mental health. Most people who dismiss such things a priori are people who believe in the mind-body dichotomy. Folks, the brain is a physical organ and it influences and is influenced by a variety of organs in the body. The degree of influence is open to experimental validation.

Therefore, I wouldn't mind, as a first step, banning the drugs that are banned in most sports already from steriods to HGH before expanding the list for chess. Eventually, there will be a balance between practicality and tough standards.


Cotdt raises a great point. Some foods are believed to have positive effects on brain health and therefore brain function. People don't get that food is composed of chemicals just like drugs are composed of chemicals. If some previously unknown species of Brazilian banana contained a compound identical to Dilantin, Provigil or Adderall -- or perhaps superior to it in nootropic properties -- should that be put on the FIDE list of "forbidden fruit?"

Trm's comments about the placebo effect and the fallacy of drawing universal conclusions from a single case study are also absolutely correct. My own case study proved to me the effectiveness of Dilantin on my unique physiology, and may not work as well, if at all, for others. However, it should suggest that "further research is necessary." FYI, two males in my immediate family have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, so I am a likely candidate for improved concentration via medications like Adderall, Proventil and Dilantin even though I have only a few signs and symptoms of the condition.

Here's an interesting distinction that I often wonder about. In "test your rating" puzzles, both tactical and strategic, I tend to score 300- 400 points higher than my friends with similar ratings. Yet in actual tournament play, my games are frequently marred by incredible blunders that player a thousand points beneath me can easily see. (Think of Kramnik's oversight of the mate-in-one in his last computer match -- he's my hero because of that move.)

I personally want to be involved in chess at the level of beautiful ideas, and not just seeing who makes the last or biggest blunder. I've found a substance which helps make that possible, allowing my moves to more consistently reflect my accumulated chess knowledge. I find it much more satisfying to lose a beautiful game than win a messy one.

I personally have ethical objections about anyone taking drugs because of a "win at all costs" mentality, and foresee that that approach will eventually lead to negative health repercussions. But winning is not my ultimate motivation; enjoying stimulating, blunder-free games against blunder-free opponents is what I truly value. These days I prefer the method of a great workout and regular sleep for reaching the same result, but should a pill be excluded from this pursuit?

There are two separate issues: chess knowledge and concentration. Some drugs improve concentration, indisputably. Dilantin works for me. So if a player is hobbled by a brain condition that causes severe lapses in concentration, shouldn't he be able to "level the playing field," participate in a tournament with "normal" levels of concentration and let his true chess abilities (or lack thereof) be known to all?

The next question, of course, has to do with a "normal" person taking concentration-enhancing medications to further hone his abilities. Or with people like me, with some symptoms of ADD but not the fully diagnosed condition, entering into the fray.

Another big question will emerge if and when drugs are found that demonstrably improve memorization, recall and pattern recognition. Or if and when it becomes feasible to implant Rybka 9.0 on a multi-pentium platform within the confines of one's cranium, with direct interface to one's thalamus and hippocampus.

Meanwhile, back at you to the several people who appear to be saying "caffeine is okay to use because of it's culturally accepted status, but stay away from other substances that don't have the Starbuck's seal of approval." Remember that cocaine was a key ingredient in the original Coca-Cola? Cultural values shift from generation to generation, so why preoccupy yourselves defending the latest cultural norms instead of trying to maintain objectivity? It's ironic to see people hooked on one chess-enhancing drug deprecating similar drugs used by others.

Interesting thread. Three previous ones like it on this site, also very interesting:

11-29-06 "Why They Call it Dope" http://www.chessninja.com/dailydirt/2006/11/why_they_call_it_dope.htm

12-1-05 "Caffeine Memories"

4-25-05 "Brainpower Drugs"

@ psychology instructor:

IANAMD, but I do agree that taking Dilantin ("not a good drug" --my neurologist) in the *very low* doses you describe is probably less risky than megadosing on caffeine. I'd also guess, based on decades of personal experience as tournament player taking a typical dose, that anticonvulsant-level doses of Dilantin may actually be counterproductive.

Interest in this issue goes far beyond the chess community: most of us would like to reduce the percentage of "one-move blunders" in our professional life, for example.

I have played many a chess game after having consumed several other non-USDA recommended substances, with varied results, but none with those you specifically mention..

I agree, overall, with Mig's post because if they take this thing too far, then we won't even be able to take our innocent daily vitamins and be 'legal'.......

Just my two cents (and yes, I know they are over priced!)


Some call it hope, some call it dope.

If you are an amateur chess player and taking drugs to improve your performance, then you are out of your mind.

If that Brazilian banana is effective AND harmful, ban it.

I try to look at this issue from the aspect of what real world scenarios might be problematic:

- At the elite level, sponsors might shy away from supporting chess if drug taking becomes rampant. It's just not the kind of thing that they want their names to be associated with.

- At the amateur level, "clean" competitors might discontinue competing in big money swisses if it becomes common that many competitors will use a "boost" during those last 2 days (4 rounds) of games that typically determine the prize winners.

I'm not taking a position (yet) on the ethics, or health risks involved, since at this point in time there are many more questions than answers in those areas.

Ever notice how often people try to look for a way to eliminate the problem in its entirety rather than a way of improving the situation? The great idealists of the world are all too anxious to cut off heads, and forgo solutions that would simply improve the situation. Let's not ban coffee or alcohol. Let's look at drugs which are known to drastically improve brain function and see if effective tests for those can be administered prior to tournaments.

Exercise gives you advantage in chess, all chess players should be forced to be fat and not exercise

Can we get a ruling about whether showering or not showering gives a competitive advantage? I seem to know a lot of players who think it's better to be greasy and smelly.

I find that garlic and onion sandwiches tend to give me a competitive advantage in the after-lunch rounds, especially when taken with high doses of carbonated beverages.

It is so easy to test the effect of these drugs.

Get a random sample of say 100 chess players on the first round of a large week end open tournament. Give them a pill and let them play the first round against players who got no pill. 50% of those who got a pill to get a placebo and 50% to get the real thing. Nobody but the testers to know who he is getting the placebos. Wait for the round to finish and compile the results. Run some statiscal analyses and voila´ the chess world will know whether there is statiscal evidence for the use of such drugs in our noble game! I realize there may be some practical issues (ie get the players to agree to take the pill) but I believe these issues may be overcome.

Actually all participants in the experirment described in my previous post should take the pill. Thus in every table the two players will have taken the pill but they will not know who got the placebo. Wait for the round to finish and run your statistical analysis.

Of course there should not be a significant rating gap between the players on each table in the experiment. To the extent possible there should be an incentive to play for a win on each table to avoid early draws. A credible organization with $10,000 (perhaps sponsored by a drug company) should easily be able to run this experiment.

Ed, there will be ethical implications. I mean, I don't think I have ever heard of experiments involving feeding people drugs that are known to potentionally cause harm to the body.

Sometimes there are un-intended consequences from using drugs before a game. I recently lost on time in a very complicated position against a female player rated about 600 points below me.

The problem?

I took twice my regular dose of Viagra, thinking that it would make me play more agressive. It turns out, with 10 seconds to go for 7 moves in a Knight vs. Bishop ending, I kept reaching for the wrong bishop, only to see my flag fall as I ejaculated on my bedazzled opponent!

The wrong bishop, indeed!

Ed - Some suggestions on how to address the problem that you experienced.

1. Try not to grasp the bishop so tightly.

2. There are several pre-game exercises that would release the pressure so to speak. I suggest that you enlist a friend to help you with this activity.

3. Depending upon which "team" you are on ... ask to be repaired with either a male or a female player.

Changing the topic, one thing I notice on the newest rating list is that Karpov is now the only player over 50 (well over, in his case) in the top 100. Vladimirov comes in at 101 and an age of exactly 50. I believe not long past, one would expect a sprinking of over 50 players. One more sign of the youth domination of modern chess.

If true, that is distressing, although not so surprising. It was only a year or two ago that Korchnoi dropped off the top 100 for the first time...and he's 75 or so!

But, what about Spraggett? He was in or close to the top 100, last time I checked. And I hardly want to rest my generation's hopes on Azmaiparashvilli (ugh!), but he must be getting up there in age, and he's surely still in the top 100 ratings.

Karpov, by the way, isn't that much over 50...he is 54 or 55.

Quarter-baked theory: the over-50 crowd is being purged from the list because calculation skills can be so sharply honed so quickly by training with computers so that kids can become great tacticians by age 13. It takes several more years to develop into a great player (only four teenagers in the top 100), but by mid-20s chess knowledge and experience has had enough chance to develop that over a third of the top 100 are under 25 years old.

The ability to calculate declines with age after 30 or so. The wisdom of the over-50s is being outmatched by the calculation skills of the under-30s. Even players in their 40s are becoming rare (there are only 8).

Also, I see 4 over-50s on the list:
60 Karpov, Anatoly RUS 2655 10 1951
69 Afromeev, Vladimir RUS 2646 0 1954
81 Beliavsky, Alexander SLO 2638 27 1953
101 Vladimirov, Evgeny KAZ 2627 0 1957 (tied for 100)

To answer my own question: Now that I've looked it up, I see that my memory was correct about both Spraggett and Azmai having been top-100 recently, although neither is now.

Spraggett got in a year ago when he had a brief spike to around 2630; he's since dropped back to the high 2500s where he'd been the previous 2 or 3 years. Interesting, though, despite being over 50, he'd been climbing steadily for years before that. His chart makes a nice impression (though maybe not if he were an investment you were thinking about buying): http://www.fide.com/ratings/id.phtml?event=2600013

Azmai actually broke 2700 as recently as 2003, but I guess his fixing tournaments caught up with him after that. He's sank to around 2600 in the past year or so. Anyway he isn't 50 yet (he was born in 1960).

ed - You're on the right track I think, as you've managed to describe a blind study in which all participants receive an identical looking pill but none know whether it contains the drug or just a placebo. We shouldn't need a double-blind study (where the doctors also don't know who got the pill and who got the placebo to avoid biasing their assessments) because we can rely on statistics instead of doctor's opinions and medical tests. I think it is a bit more difficult then you suggest though, because we would probably have to rely on ratings (ELO or chessmetrics) to gauge any improvement in playing strength. Factors such as rating level, rating accuracy, natural fluctuations in playing strength, number of players involved in the study, and the ability of a rating system to predict outcomes must all be properly handled if statistically meaningful conclusions are to be reached. Some serious chess statisticians would definitely need to be involved. It seems unlikely that super GMs would want to participate, so such a study would, unfortunately, have to be conducted at the lower rating levels. The same conclusions could not be assumed to hold at super GM or even GM strength, but a positive outcome (improvement with drugs) could certainly highlight the need for a future study at the top levels. Playing against chess engines should be considered in addition to head-to-head play.

GM Larry Evans' new book THIS CRAZY WORLD OF CHESS makes a persuasive case against drug testing in chapters 27 and 28. "Frankly, I can't think of a better way to drive people away from chess than by compelling them to pee in a cup in order to compete in tournaments. Branding chess as an athletic endeavor is ludicrous, and the United States Olympic Committee had the good sense to reject this hobby as a sport," he writes.

Maybe you could add a bit more from chapters 27 and 28, because that little exert is less than convincing. We're talking about drugs that improve cognitive function rather than physical performance, so calling chess a sport or hobby has nothing to do with the need for drug testing. It could be argued that those driven away from a game they love by having to pee in a cup either don't love it that much or are not very serious about it. I could be wrong, but wouldn't most top players tolerate a minor inconvenience if it brings them a fair chance of earning money?

I would urge anyone to be very careful taking dilantin - its known side effects sleepiness, memory loss, lack of coordination, blank mind not stuff to help a chess player. Also is known to significantly increase the risk of gingivitis - nasty. Admittedly this is associated with anti convulsant prescriptions 300mg and above. This stuff is for people with epilepsy. Provigil on the other hand now that can have a relevant effect.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on December 30, 2007 12:44 PM.

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