Posted on October 12, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Caffeine, Psych Medications, and Chess

It seems common these days for the mainstream media to relentlessly scrutinize every facet of society in some desperate and misguided attempt to break news of the next big scandal. Unfortunately, chess has never been immune to scandal or to media witch hunts. A recent trend in professional chess discussions, in fake news mainstream media, and in recent years in online communities like Reddit has focused attention on chess game influence from stimulants like caffeine and medications like Adderall, which is an amphetamine used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The Straw Man Setup

Mental Health suffers (no, really…it does) from unshakable stigmas brought on by media portrayal of psychological conditions in addition to the very real (and horrific) ways in which psychiatric patients were treated in the science’s early days. You do not have to look further than one of the world’s largest group of psychiatric patients, the Church of Scientology, and its Psychiatry: Museum of Death to see that the science of repairing and sustaining psychological wellbeing has experienced its share of dark days. Mass media tends to project this perception of Mental Health through books, movies, and video games set in dark psychiatric hospitals designed as gothic cathedrals (think: Outlast). The days of massive, cathedral-like psychiatric hospitals are mostly gone; replaced with advances in psychiatric medications and behavioral therapies. Yet, controversies have also followed recent advancements in psychiatric management via medication.

Psychiatric Medications as Performance Enhancers

The use of medications or therapy to restore a patient’s functional ability is often viewed as a means of returning that person to lifestyle levels on par with much of society. When a person experiences a debilitating psychiatric condition, the same philosophy is often used to restore that person to a normalized sense of function. In some instances, these people surpass their prior cognitive functions. Countless books and movies have been written about miracle mind drugs that unlock the other 90% of our brain function (think: Limitless). But what happens when the stigma and misconceptions surrounding medication-based psychiatric care give rise to the idea that these treatment methods are on par with performance enhancing drugs like steroids?

Longtime readers and friends know that I am just as obsessive about baseball as I am about chess. Unfortunately, my beloved sport was rocked a few years ago by a steroid scandal that tainted its image for the foreseeable future. Greats like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds will likely never see their names in the Hall of Fame because of their association with the scandal. The drugs that they allegedly took were steroid cocktails designed to improve their physical performance on the field, not prescription medications for treating a debilitating illness. Steroids are prescribed for some patients, but those prescriptions are carefully controlled and no doctor in their right mind would prescribe them to help someone perform better on the baseball diamond. But what happens when someone takes a medication designed to affect mood, concentration, and memory?

Medication in the Ultimate Mind Sport

The subheading says it all: chess IS the ultimate mind sport. The only physical requirement is the ability of a player to move pieces around the board, but technology advances have even removed that barrier with voice-activated boards available for a variety of computers. Media focus is often on prodigies and eccentric personalities in chess, but anyone willing to put forth a little effort can be successful at playing the game.

ADHD and other psychiatric medications can have a significant effect on a person’s ability to concentrate for extended amounts of time. The misconceptions about these drugs are that they unlock or enhance the brain’s overall functioning and can raise a person’s intelligence level. There are no compelling studies that show Adderall or similar psych medications actually improve cognitive performance beyond focus and concentration. An person with ADHD without an interest in chess is not going to rise easily to Grandmaster levels of play.

A Personal Insight

This topic is of great personal interest to me because I suffer from ADHD and regularly take medications. Long before I was diagnosed with the disorder, I was adamantly opposed to the idea of ADHD and dismissed it as pseudoscientific propaganda. After being thoroughly evaluated by specialists and prescribed medication treatment a few years ago, I am a firm believer and advocate for treatment.

Yet, after years of medication and therapy for my ADHD, my chess skills have not improved a sizeable amount beyond the time and attention that I have been willing to invest in the game. Even with ADHD support medications, sometimes chess (or writing about chess) is of no interest to me. It is my belief based on personal experience and correspondence with other ADHD sufferers that this is true for most people. It allows us to focus our attention more like a normal person and less like the mass of scattered noise we tend to be, but it does not increase our skills at chess or ability to read the minds of our opponents.

Final Thought

In my amateur opinion, professional chess doses not have the same problem with caffeine and stimulants that baseball has with steroids. The community should take time to educate itself on these disorders, treatment, and how that treatment affects (or does not affect) their study habits and game play.

Posted on March 29, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

US Chess Championships Begin Today!

Grab your laptop, tablet, and your favorite chess app, program, or board and get ready to follow the exciting showdown in Saint Louis: the 2017 US Chess Championships!

Reigning Champions GM Fabiano Caruana and Nazi Paikidze-Barnes will be fighting to retain their titles against the best that the country has to offer on the board. All games are played at 1300 CDT (GMT -5) and will be broadcast on Chess24, ChessBomb, and ChessBase.

Also, I recommend trying out the Watch Chess app available on iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. I wrote a review about it awhile back and it has been a great companion for watching chess when stuck in a meeting or in another place where its not practical to bring up a browser-based website.

Tournament Breakdown

  • March 29 – April 2: Rounds 1-5 (1300 CDT)
  • April 3: Rest Day
  • April 4 – April 9: Rounds 6-11 (1300 CDT)
  • April 10 – Playoff (if necessary) (1300 CDT)
  • April 10 – Closing Ceremony (1830 CDT)

Read more on the official website and follow all of the late breaking information on the US Chess Federation website.

Posted on January 11, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Red Bull Advert Features Chess

A new advertisement by Red Bull energy drinks features a man playing chess against a very Cylon-esq robot. Touting its technological superiority, the robot tells the man that he is capable of forecasting his game by 90 trillion moves. Undeterred, the man gulps down a Red Bull which causes the robot to succumb to the man’s psychological warfare tactics by repeating simply, not fair…not fair…not fair. While Red Bull will most likely not allow you to beat such a robot, it is cool to see the company embracing the game in addition to its sponsorship of GM Hikaru Nakamura.

Here’s the full video:

Posted on November 29, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

WCC2016 Tie Breaker on Wednesday

The World Chess Championship ended its standard round series yesterday with a whimper as Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin drew the final game after a mere 30 moves.

So, what happens now? As Magnus celebrates his birthday on Wednesday, he will face Karjakin in a series of rapid and blitz games to determine who will be the overall champion. For those games, the will be four rapid games at 25 | 10 with blitz games scheduled if the rapid games end in a tie. In the unlikely event that all of those games are tied then there will be a 5 minute for white, 4 minute for black game where the winner will take all.

Posted on November 27, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

WCC2016 Tied Entering Final Round

The 2016 World Chess Championship in New York City has been nothing short of a nail biter and will at least come down to determination in the final round scheduled to be played Monday at 1400 EST. Games 7 and 8 offered some tense moments in which Magnus missed opportunities to turn the tide of the tournament against his opponent. However, his over aggressiveness prevented him from capitalizing on these positions as he would normally be able to.

But everything changed in Game 8 when that over aggressiveness finally backfired and awarded a powerful win to challenger Sergey Karjakin.

Some believed that Magnus would be unable to recover from the loss but managed to pull out a win shortly thereafter in Game 10 to even things up.

The tournament remains tied and goes into Monday’s final round with the very real possibility of a rapid or blitz playoff being needed to decide the overall winner.

Posted on November 12, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

America Shows Agon How an Open Market Works

Just prior to the start of the 2016 World Chess Championship (WCC) in New York City, Agon Limited filed suit in United States Federal Court against Chess24, Chessbomb, and ChessGames.com to prevent them from broadcasting the moves just as they did (and lost) in Moscow earlier this year.

“These entities expend no time, effort, or money of their own in organizing, producing, or hosting the chess events for the World Championship and instead reap economic benefit from free-riding on the work and effort of World Chess.” – Reuters

However, just as with their loss in Moscow, New York District Judge Victor Marrero ruled in favor of the defendants for most of the reasons that have been covered on this blog and in countless others in the chess community already. The most important of those? CHESS IS FOR THE MASSES!


Chess is a game that transcends all boundaries. (Credit: WikiMedia)

RIAA of the Chess World

Although they were readily handed defeat in two countries, Agon promises to continue pursuit of its business model despite widespread business and consumer disapproval. Despite obvious attempts to assist the company with its model, Agon refuses to acknowledge that its attempts to restrict access to tournament moves is misguided. As a direct result, it seeks to force consumers to engage its unreliable and third-rate content delivery system instead of offering a compelling service for fans of the game to watch and enjoy.

Agon has quickly turned itself from an obscure entity into the modern chess equivalent of the Recording Industry Association of America which successfully sued a multitude of families in the early 2000s for downloading mp3 files from Napster and other file-sharing services. By suing grandmothers and teenagers for untold millions of dollars, the RIAA quickly became synonymous with corporate greed, censorship, and created a gap between recording artists and their fans from which some artists never recovered.

Hope for an Agon awakening remains dim, but I am pleased to see that both the United States and Russia dealt a blow for freedom to its blatant attempts to monopolize public domain information.

Posted on by Wesley Surber.

Carlsen-Karjakin Tied After Second Round

The showdown for the title of World Chess Champion between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin is tied at 1 point each after rounds one and two ended in a draw. Carlsen drew white for Game One and opened with a homage to recently elected President of the United States Donald Trump with a combination called the Trompowsky Attack, which some have re-branded as the Trumpowsky Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5). An unusual opening at this level of play, the response from Karjakin neutralized the attack and led to a draw between the two.

Game One also had its share of American celebrities on hand as Actor Woody Harrelson made the ceremonial first move to begin the match.


Woody Harrelson makes the first move in Game One! (Credit: FIDE)

Game Two had some interesting twists and turns throughout, with Chess24 demonstrating throughout why it is a revolutionary medium for watching high-level games. Guest commentary by various Grandmasters and assertions that Game Two was boring led to some interesting and entertaining social media exchanges.

Game Three will be held at 1400 EST on Monday.

Posted on September 23, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Daily Caller Fires Shots at Queen of Katwe

The Disney adaptation of Tim Crothers’ book, The Queen of Katwe is due out next week and buzz is high on social media. Phiona has held countless interviews and reveled in the international spotlight on the eve of the film’s release. Yet, as is often the case with newfound international fame, some are not taking her rise to mainstream stardom too well. The Daily Caller recently published this hit piece in which phantom grandmasters are quoted and heavy attention is paid to tearing down any hint of success and triumph that makes her story worthy of such attention.

Her actual performance in the chess world shows these to be puff pieces with very little attention paid to empirical fact. Mutesi has no doubt achieved something as a young Ugandan girl living in poverty, to capture the attention of the world, but that something she accomplished is not being good at chess.

Given the deplorable conditions in which she was raised and the odds of becoming good at anything in her life, is it not fair to say that Phiona Mutesi overcome immense odds to become much better at chess than people who live in similar conditions? ELO is not always an indicator of chess greatness. A 1600 ELO player can inspire millions with her story and encourage others to sit down at a chess board far more than a 2000+ ELO player with no personality, no spirit, and no understanding of what really makes the game great.

The Queen of Katwe will be released in most major theater markets on September 30, 2016.

Posted on September 3, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Baku Chess Olympiad is Underway!

It seems like such a short time ago when chess headlines were adorned with stories of the Tromsø Chess Olympiad in 2014 where visa challenges, bathrooms, and high food prices were among the hottest topics leading up to China’s triumphant victory in the event. But here we are looking down the barrels of the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, the home country of former World Champion Garry Kasparov.

After a breathtaking opening ceremony on Thursday, main tournament play began Friday with my beloved United States team winning all 4 of their first matches against players from Andorra. Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Sam Shankland, and Ray Robson each scored well-earned victory against their opponents to launch the team off to a powerful start in the Olympiad.

US Champion Fabiano Caruana is leading the US Olympiad Team

In the second round, Sam Shankland was the only member of the United States team to not earn a win in the round against Scotland. Caruana, Nakamura, and Robson all earned wins and although it is still early in the event, I would say that the United States team is going to be a team to watch throughout the tournament!

The National Gymnastics Arena – the Baku Olympiad venue.

This year’s Olympiad is being held in the National Gymnastics Arena in Baku, Azerbaijan. The country has increasingly positioned itself throughout the past few years as a place of intense international sport and competition. Known to the chess community as the birth home of Garry Kasparov, the 42d Chess Olympiad’s host nation continues to impress both players and fans alike.

Watch the Baku Chess Olympiad live on Chessbomb, Chess.com, and Chess24.

Posted on August 17, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

2016 Sinquefield Cup: So Wins It All 

The Sinquefield Cup is always an amazing event and has come to solidify its place as one of the most prestigious chess tournaments in the world. Every year, the best chess players from around the world converge on the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to compete in the round robin tournament. The Sinquefield Cup is also memorable for Fabiano Caruana’s incredible run in 2014, which I built a commemorative wall piece to celebrate the tournament. After some scheduling changes due to the upcoming Baku Olympian, this year’s event included Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Veselin Topalov, Levon Aronian, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Anish Giri, Vishy Anand, Peter Svidler, and wildcard Ding Liren.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen opted out of this year’s event so that he could focus on the upcoming World Chess Championship in New York.

After some thrilling games between the world’s elite players it was Wesley So, the former Webster University prodigy, who took a commanding lead early in the tournament and cruised to a solid victory with 5.5/9 pts. The Sinquefield Cup is part of the second Grand Chess Tour, which aims to promote professional chess around the world. The Grandmasters featured in the Sinquefield Cup are regular participants in the tour. For details and photos from the Sinquefield Cup, check out the detailed analysis on Chessbase.