Coffee and chess seem to go hand in hand when you think about it. Nothing idealizes the spirit of playing chess quite like the idea of seeing wily hustlers playing chess in dimly-lit coffee houses in and around a corner of New York City’s Greenwich Village. After all, the greatest chess player of all time, Bobby Fischer, made his bones playing the game in them.
A tradition of informal councils by chess players at coffee houses continues. Though espresso machines have now evolved (see Espresso Gusto), the concept of meeting like-minded players at a communal setting that allows them to discuss ideas and play chess with each other endures.
Whether you consider drinking coffee as cheating or otherwise, the battle rages on as to whether coffee or any caffeinated beverage gives a player an advantage similar to professional athletes who have taken performance-enhancing drugs in any other sport.
Caffeine Is No Longer Banned
Those who are against the use of coffee in sanctioned games point at the fact that caffeine itself has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency before. As of 2016, however, caffeine can be found in the WADA’s 2016 Monitoring Program, and is no longer considered a prohibited performance-enhancing substance. It is now abundant in chess competitions, whether they are the long, classical games, or the quick, rapid-fire blitz variation that requires agile thinking and reaction.
Coffee as Cheating
There is a precedent in chess history for cheating using coffee. It has figured in a formal protest as cheating, when, in 1974, Tigran Petrosian was accused of stirring his coffee too loudly by Henrique Mecking, contributing to distraction, which is of paramount importance. Several accounts can be found of players indeed using the same underhanded strategies in chess games, but who’s to draw the line on that? Who can judge whether it was used for an unfair advantage?
The Real Effect of Drinking Coffee in Chess Games
The bottom line is that there is little scientific research done to prove that coffee does provide an unfair advantage in terms of performance enhancement; only allegations of cheating by distraction have really ever been recorded. That being said, further research has to be done if it really does provide an unfair advantage especially in chess, which is costly and takes long-term research. Chess players have been more realistic and relaxed about the subject.
Me and my chess buddies enjoy a friendly game over espresso; I use a Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista model myself. I enjoy the camaraderie that meeting over coffee strengthens, the competitive yet friendly games that we have, the conversations we enjoy, and the coffee we have. If you’re playing super competitively in a coffee house, and unable to enjoy the pleasure of a game and the company of like-minded souls, then maybe, just maybe, you may have to sort out your priorities, or play elsewhere.