Drugs and Chess
The 2008 post-game press conferences
of the World Chess Championship were delayed by more than half an hour as each
player, Viswanathan Anand
and Vladimir Kramnik, had to take their mandatory
drug tests. Anand called it completely
pointless and said drug testing was made for other sports, but not chess.
On October 21, 2008, the two players had to have two separate press conferences
as Kramnik finished his drug testing before Anand, who had trouble producing a urine sample.
Even the seconds (assistants) for
the two Grandmasters were tested for drugs, even though they were not
playing. Their drug tests were considered out-of-competition tests.
The drug testing in chess is part of
the FIDE chess deal (supported by FIDE president Kirsan
Ilyumzhinov) to make chess a sport recognized by the
International Olympic Committee (IOC) so that chess can be part of the Sports
Olympics. Currently, the IOC does not accept chess or other “mind sports”
as part of the Olympics because they entail no physical exertion. They
are also reducing rather than increasing the number of Olympic sports.
Bowling, racquetball, water skiing, polo, ballroom dancing, surfing, billiards,
and squash are currently rejected as an Olympic sport.
Chapter 14 of the FIDE rules deals
with doping and drug use.
FIDE, in close collaboration with
the National Chess Federations, the International Olympic Committee and the
National Olympic Committees dedicates its efforts to ensuring that in chess
the spirit of ‘Fair Play’ prevails, leads the fight against doping in sport
and takes measures in order to prevent endangering the health of
competitors. FIDE has accepted the World Anti-Doping Code and its
international standards. Within FIDE the body responsible for this
policy is the Medical Commission.
The Commission will agree from
time to time, with the International bodies, on the list of prohibited
substances and methods of doping that are applicable to chess players.
The Commission will be responsible for the Anti-Doping regulations and their
No drugs have ever proven to enhance
chess performance by chess players. And so-called memory drugs (if there
is such a thing) are not even tested. Research carried out by
the Dutch Chess Federation has not produced a single substance that could be
considered performance enhancing. Dr. Helmut Pfleger,
a Grandmaster and medical doctor (internist and psychotherapist) from Munich,
has been conducting experiments of chess players for over 30 years. He
says, “Both mentally stimulating and mentally calming medication have too many
negative side effects.” Pfleger tested the effects of drugs such as beta-blockers
on himself in 1979, in a match with Boris Spassky. Pfleger said, “My
blood pressure and pulse plunged, and my game fell apart completely.”
Chess players are tested for drugs
that appear on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list. There are
more than 100 substances on the banned list. This includes steroids,
Erythropoietin (EPO), amphetamines, diuretics, tranquilizers, beta blockers,
cocaine, Ventolin inhalers, etc. This list also
includes excess levels of alcohol and cannabis, and, at one time,
coffee (caffeine was removed from the WADA list in 2004
Some countries do not recognize the
drug testing for chess players. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping
Authority (ASADA) does not consider chess a sport and their chess players are
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC)
also rejects chess as a sport. Mandatory or random drug testing is
prohibited at all USCF-rated events. USCF’s FIDE representatives are
instructed to campaign against the practices of requiring drug testing at any
chess tournament or match.
The first country to support drug
testing for chess players was Germany. In 1992, under pressure from the
German Sports Federation, the German Chess Federation introduced doping rules
in order to qualify for financial assistance for chess.
In 1999, FIDE enforced drug testing
in all major FIDE events such as the world championship, Chess Olympiad, or
The Spanish Chess Federation
receives around $320,000 a year from the Council of Sports to test chess
players at random during team tournaments and their national championship.
In 2001, a drug test during an
Italian tournament resulted in a positive test for an Italian player. He
had been taking a common asthma drug. Months later, he was cleared of any
wrongdoing after he showed a medical reason for taking the drug.
The 2002 Bled Olympiad was the first
to test for drugs through a urine sample. All 802 players passed.
GM Jan Timman of the Netherlands refused to play in
protest to the drug testing.
In 2004, two players had their
scores erased at the 36th World Team Championship (Chess Olympiad)
in Calvia, Spain, because they refused to comply with
a random drug tested demanded by FIDE. Immediately following her
win in the last round, Susan Polgar was “randomly”
selected to take a drug test. She had just won the best performance award
of the entire Women’s Olympiad in Calvia.
In 2008, Grandmaster Manuel
Rivas-Pastor, a three-time former Spanish national champion, was disqualified
from the Spanish Chess Championship for refusing to take part in a drug test.
The current FIDE Medical Commission
chairperson responsible for enforcing the drug testing is Dr. Jana Bellin, a Woman Grandmaster.
Historically, drug testing in the
Olympics came about after an incident. At the 1960 Summer Olympic Games
in Rome, a cyclist died of an overdose of amphetamines. Afterwards, an
IOC Medical Commission was born to test athletes for drugs.
Perhaps the only death attributed to
drugs is the case of British player Jessie Gilbert. She was a 19-year-old
chess prodigy who plunged to her death from her 8th floor hotel room
in Prague. Organizers of the chess tournament she was playing in (Czech
Open Chess Championship) believe she committed suicide. She left no note,
but medication for depression was found in her room. At age 12, she won the
Women’s World Amateur Championship, the youngest player ever to do so.
In 2008, at the Dresden Chess
Olympiad, there was a high proportion of drug tests
that were scheduled during the last round.
GM Vassily Ivanchuk
(ranked #3 in the world at the time) lost his last round game and refused to
take a drug test. He was threatened with
a two-year ban by FIDE. It was later
learned that there was a lack of personnel to administer the drug tests and
there was not a designated Doping Control Officer present at the match. Due to a procedural error, Ivanchuk was not penalized.
Several years ago, GM Robert Huebner
stopped playing for the German national chess team in protest against doping
tests. He considers doping tests for
chess players to be a bureaucratic show of power, and that the tests are