Doping has been a known staple of Soviet sports since the famous Drago-Balboa fight, but lately even chess has come under suspicion.

Der Spiegel (via Neatorama) is seizing on Grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk’s refusal to take a drug test at the recent Chess Olympiad as reason to suspect the chess world of being driven by something more sinister than just caffeine and neurosis. They even have a picture of him suspiciously fingering his nose!

Der Spiegel has to sell papers like everyone else—and this is probably the most exciting chess story they’ve seen in a while—but we doubt there’s any doping here. The paper’s only idea for an illicit substance is beta-blockers, which have the dubious benefit of making players more light-headed, along with the added bonus of making them faint if they overexert themselves. Players could sample the range of stimulants, but a chess game isn’t a final exam, and there’s no reason to think popping Adderall will turn you into Boris Spassky.

Most importantly, tweaking your brain chemistry on the fly is unpredictable business, as any dedicated doper can tell you. It’s the last thing you want to do during the most intense eight hours most chess players will have all year.

Our theory for Ivanchuk’s blowup is a bit simpler: he didn’t feel like peeing in a cup, so he went a little crazy. Among chess geniuses, it would hardly be unprecedented.



  • Russell Brandom