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Chess on steroids
by Thanos Kalamidas
Issue 4
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When you watch a sports event, let’s say weightlifting, all you see are these incredible men and women lift and jerk 500 kilos like a joke - there is nothing more to see, just a human lifting a bar that weighs all these kilos. You suppose that these men and women live on special diet and have special training. You actually speculate that their diet includes all sort of ‘powerful’ help since you have a problem carrying the supermarket bags, let alone five times your weight.

Then imagine a chess player. The most a chess player will do is hold a pawn between three fingers, a pawn that weighs ten grams and is lifted for mere seconds. The worst that can happen to you while playing a chess game is to fall asleep. Still, weightlifters and chess players, since the beginning of this year, have something in common. They are going to be watched and tested for the same banned substances!

Ok. I honestly didn’t get it and I am one of these people who play chess. Does anybody really believe that steroids will help a chess player? “Obviously there is a huge difference between running a 100 metres dash and play a game of chess,” said John McCarry, the U.S. Chess Federation President. “There is a lot of concern that regulations taken from other sports are inappropriate for mind sports.”

A lot of concern? He cannot be serious. The picture of an Arnold Schwarzenegger style chess player entering the room in swimming Speedos and starting to show off his muscles never crossed my mind.

The question started after the game between the grand master Garry Kasparov and IBM’s computer, the Big Blue in 1997. The comfort with which the Russian beat the computer raised a series of questions to the brains behind the anti-doping control. To make it worse for mind sports, Disa Eythordottir the winner of the 2002 silver medal at the Bridge World Championships in Montreal, refused to take a drug test with the excuse that she was taking diet pills and she was concerned for a false result.

The chess world has seen some dark moments that probably look funny now. During the Cold War, chess became too important between the USA and Russia, so the two teams used many dirty tricks. For example, Sparsky had hypnotists in his team and people specialising in paranormal issues, while the other side was often eating strawberry yoghurt to aggravate their opposition’s allergies. Most of these stories were myths and that’s why they sound like a joke today.

The truth is that the only pill these people could use would be a smart pill, but if they had invented a smart pill do you think any of them would play chess or bridge for money? Chess players on steroids, now that’s a really scary thought!

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