Here are some vices and bad habits that some chess players have had, such as drinking, smoking, gambling, or doing drugs. I don’t think any of it enhanced their chess-playing ability.
William Grady Addison (1933-2008) was an American International Master. He was a pipe smoker.
Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) was a heavy drinker. He was sometimes called "Ale-and-Wine" because of his drinking habits. In 1936, Alekhine quit smoking in preparation for playing Max Euwe (1901-1981) in the return world championship match.
Gilles Andruet (1958-1995) was a French International Master (1982). He was a drug addict and was murdered over gambling debts.
Jacob Bernstein (1890?-1958) was an American chess master. He ran a gambling parlor and was a poker hustler.
Dr. Ossip S. Bernstein (1882-1962) was a chess master of grandmaster strength. He was a cigarette smoker.
Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) was known for his alcohol drinking. During a simultaneous exhibition at Cambridge University, the students thought to gain the advantage by placing a bottle of whisky and a glass at each end of the playing oval. In the end, he emptied both bottles and won all his games in record time. During the temperance movement in England, he declared that whisky drinking improved one's chess because alcohol cleared the brain and he tried to prove that theory as often as possible. In one of Blackburne's many simultaneous exhibitions, he grabbed his opponent's drink when he wasn't looking, and quickly downed it. After the game, which Blackburne won, he commented "My opponent left a glass of whisky en prise, and I took it en passant." Blackburne was also a pipe smoker.
Dr. Oscar Blum (1886-1946?) was a Lithuanian-French chess master. His vice was not paying his bills. While at Folkestone, England, for a chess tournament, he ran up a hotel bill for 5 British pounds and left without paying. He then went to London where he ran up a rental bill of 20 British pounds without paying. He was arrested after being ordered to leave the country but refused to leave. He was sentenced to two months of hard labor.
Efim D. Bogoljubov (1889-1952) was twice challenger for the World’s Chess Championship. He was a cigar smoker.
Louis-Charles Mahe de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840) was a French master and strongest chess player of his time. He was a cigar smoker.
Ivan Bukavshin (1995-2016) was a Russian grandmaster. He became U-12 European chess champion in 2006, U-14 European Youth Champion in 2008 and U16 European champion in 2010. He took 3rd place in the 2015 Aeroflot Open in Moscow. He may have been a drug addict. He died from a massive overdose of No-Spa (an antispasmodic drug).
Amos Burn (1848-1925) was one of the world’s top ten chess players between 1886 and 1912. He was a heavy cigar smoker.
Robert Eugene Byrne (1928-2013) was an American grandmaster. He was a cigarette smoker.
Florencio Campomanes (1927-2010) was President of FIDE from 1982 to 1995. He was accused of fraud and corruption for failure to account for the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) government funds amounting to $238,746. Campomanes was sentenced to one year and 10 months imprisonment, later reduced to a fine.
Ray Charles (1930-2004), the blind musician, was a heroin addict. He picked up chess in the hospital after being busted a second time. Chess helped him to go cold turkey after 17 years of drug use.
Billy Colias (1966-1993) was a FIDE Master from Indiana. He died of a mix of Tylenol and alcohol.
Edgar Colle (1897-1932) was a 6-time Belgian chess champion. He was a cigarette smoker.
Arthur Dake (1910-2000) was an American honorary grandmaster. He was a cigarette smoker.
Cecil de Vere (1845-1875), the first British chess champion, was an alcoholic. In 1873, he lost his job a chess editor of the Field because of his drinking. He died penniless.
Arnold Denker (1914-2005) He won the 1944 U.S. Chess Championship with 14 wins, a record. He also won it in 1946 when he defeated Herman Steiner in a match. He was a smoker and appeared in ads for Camel cigarettes in the late 1940s.
Johannes Hein Donner (1927-1988) was a Dutch grandmaster (1959) who won the Dutch championship in 1954, 1957, and 1958. He was a heavy smoker. In 1973, during the Anglo-Dutch match, chain smoker Donner was filling up a large Bakelite ashtray with all of his discarded cigarettes. Cigarette after cigarette and all the ashes were making a big pile in the ashtray, much of which was still emitting smoke. Eventually, after several hours of play and several packs of cigarettes, the mountain of ash and discarded cigarettes burst into flames, causing the Bakelite ashtray to crack completely in half. The players were still transfixed on the position of their game as the chess table started to burn, with neither player seemingly about to take any action to control the fire. At this point, Ray Keene picked up Donner's coffee cup and threw the contents over the fire. With the chess table now covered in a mess, the players looked at one another and offered a draw, shook hands, and left the table.
Paul Charles Dozsa (1940-2003) was a Hungarian-Australian chess master. In the 1950s, he was a leading junior Hungarian player. He was infamous for dining in the best restaurants, then skipping out and not paying the bill. He was arrested several times for this scam.
Jaan Ehlvest (1962- ) is an Estonian-American Grandmaster (1987). In the 1980s, he was once banned from playing chess by the Estonian Sports Committee after a drinking incident in Tallinn.
Albert William Ensor (1843-1883) won the first complete Canadian Chess Championship in 1873. In 1875, he was arrested for counterfeiting in New York. He was a heavy drinker. He went to Germany and was arrested for gambling. He then fled to France where he was arrested for forgery. He died from cirrhosis of the liver in London.
Efim Petrovich Geller (1925-1998) tied for first in the 1955 USSR Championship with Smyslov, and then defeated Smyslov in the play-off. He would win the Soviet championship again 24 years later in 1979 (47th USSR Championship) at the age of 54. During his career, he defeated eight world chess champions - Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Fischer, Euwe, Spassky, and Karpov. He was a six-time Candidate between 1953 and 1971. He played in the USSR championship 23 times, from 1949 to 1985. He was a heavy cigarette smoker.
Susanna “Sonja” Graf-Stevenson (1914-1965) was the winner of four U.S. Women's Opens and two Closed Championships. She was woman champion of her native Germany until the outbreak of World War II. In the 1930s she was considered the second-best woman chess player in the world, after Vera Menchik. She was a heavy smoker.
Vlastimil Hort (1944- ) is a Czech-born German grandmaster (1965) and former world championship candidate who immigrated to Germany in 1985. He is a cigarette smoker.
Igor Ivanov (1947-2005) was awarded the Grandmaster title in 2005. This had been delayed because the Soviet chess federation refused to recognize his earlier achievements after he defected. He was a heavy drinker. When he stayed with me (Bill Wall) in Mountain View, California, every evening he would have a shot of vodka, 2 glasses of wine, and a 6-pack of beer. By the next day he seemed to be sober and played and won the local LERA tournaments when he participated.
David Markyelovich Janowski (1868-1927) was a Polish-born French chess player of Grandmaster strength. He was an addicted gambler and a smoker. In 1901, he won an international tournament at Monte Carlo and lost all his first-place money in the casino the same evening the tournament ended. The casino management had to buy his ticket home. In another event he handed his money to a friend and made him promise not to return it until after the chess tournament. However, the lure of gambling proved too strong and he begged for the return of his money. His friend refused. Janowski was so infuriated that he sued his friend.
Vlastimil Jansa (1942- ) is a Czech Grandmaster (1974) and was Czech champion in 1964, 1974, and 1984. He is a cigarette smoker.
Ratmir Kholmov (1925-2006) was a Soviet Grandmaster (1960) and Lithuanian champion 10 times, from 1949 to 1961. He was an alcoholic. He was once suspended for a year from tournament play because of conduct unbecoming a chess master (drunk in public).
Viktor Korchnoi (1931-2016) was a Russian-Swiss Grandmaster (1956). He was a cigarette smoker.
Vladimir Kramnik (1975- ) is a Russian Grandmaster (1992) and former world champion (2000-2007) who defeated Garry Kasparov in 2000 in the Brain Games World Championship in London. He was a cigarette smoker but quit in 2000.
Diana Lanni (1955- ) was once one of the top female chess players in the United States. She was a drug addict but used chess to beat her habit. She now teaches chess to kids.
Emanuel Lasker (1867-1941) was a heavy smoker of cigars. In 1927, M.L. Lederer accused Lasker of employing unfair tactics while playing chess. Lederer charged Lasker with smoking foul cigars and exhaling the smoke towards his opponent while playing chess. Lasker denied the allegations. In response, he wrote, “If my cigars are terrible and I blow the smoke in my opponent’s face, why do my opponents never object at the time of blowing. If my cigars were of inferior quality, they would destroy the subtle, inimitable fabric of my own game. Those who have seen me play and watched the smoke curve will bear witness that it curves away from rather than toward my opponent.”
Anatoly Lein (1931-2018) was a heavy cigarette smoker.
Johann Loewenthal (1810-1876) was a Hungarian player and one of the top 10 players of the 1850s. He was a cigarette smoker.
William James Lombardy (1937-2017) was an American Grandmaster (1960) and the first American to win an official world chess championship when he won the World Junior Championship in 1957 with a perfect 11-0 score at Toronto. He was a cigar smoker.
Frank James Marshall (1877-1944), former US chess champion, was a heavy smoker. Camel Cigarettes once featured former Marshall in one of its advertisements, which appeared in the April 28, 1934 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.
James Mason (1849-1905) was an American master. He was an alcoholic. In 1889, he lost to David Baird at a chess tournament in New York after 8 moves. Mason had visited a barroom just before the game and was unable to play any further because he was too drunk. Mason also liked to chew tobacco.
Henrique Mecking (1952- ) is a cigarette smoker.
Mir Sultan Khan (1905-1966) was a cigarette smoker.
Jacques-François Mouret (1787-1837) was the operator of The Turk from 1819 to 1824. He was an alcoholic who sold how The Turk worked to the Parisian tabloid for the price of a drink.
Miguel Najdorf (1910-1997) was a cigarette smoker.
Louis Paulsen (1833-1891) was in the tobacco trade business and tobacco farmer but did not smoke himself.
Henry “Harry” Nelson Pillsbury (1872-1906) was the next great chess player after Paul Morphy (1837-1884). He was a heavy smoker of cigars.
Francisco Vallejo Pons is a 5-time Spanish chess champion and gambler. He lost a few thousand euros gambling online, then got hit by Spanish tax authorities that he owed $612,000 due to his online-poker play.
Cecil John Seddon Purdy (1906-1979) was the winner of the first world correspondence chess championship (1950-1953). He was a smoker and did an advertisement for Rothman’s cigarettes.
Viacheslav Ragozin (1908-1962) was a Soviet grandmaster (1950). He was a heavy smoker. In the 1940s, Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995) instructed Ragozin to smoke furiously during their training matches so that Botvinnik could get used to the smoke.
Samuel Herman Reshevsky (1911-1992) was a cigarette smoker.
Evgeny Ruban (1941-1997) was a Soviet chess master. In 1997, after getting drunk, he walked into the streets and was hit by a car. He died two weeks later.
Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein (1882-1961) had a few phobias. He never ate in public and would not shake hands for fear of germs. He was so paranoid that if a stranger came to his door, he would exit out the window. He suffered from a nervous disorder known as anthrophobia (fear of people and society). In 1911 at San Sebastian he complained of a fly which kept settling on his forehead and breaking his concentration.
Joseph Walter Russell (1849-1931) was the secretary of the City of London Chess Club from 1895 to 1930. He was prejudiced against “foreigners,” and did not allow any foreigners to join the London chess club. There were many naturalized Germans that had been British citizens since boyhood, but to Russell, everything German was tainted and he purged the club of all naturalized Germans. Among them was the club’s president, Herman Eschwege. He was in his 80s and had been a member for over 50 years. When he was expelled, he changed his will, in which he would have left the club with a large sum of money.
Carl Schlechter (1874-1918) was a cigar smoker.
Robert Michael Snyder (1955- ) is a US senior chess master and chess author. He is the author or Chess for Juniors series. He is a former Western U.S. Chess Champion. He also qualified for the semifinals of the world correspondence chess championship. He is a convicted child molester and is serving a life sentence in prison.
Boris Vasilyevich Spassky (1937- ) is a cigarette smoker.
Anders Gideon Tom Stahlberg (1908-1967) was a Swedish Grandmaster (1950). He was a heavy drinker.
Charles Henry Stanley (1819-1901) was the first U.S. chess champion. He was an alcoholic. Paul Morphy won a $100 stake match with Stanley and gave the money to Stanley’s pregnant wife. Morphy knew that Stanley had a drinking problem and would have spent the money on alcohol. He spent his last 20 years in and out of hospitals in New York due to alcoholism.
Howard Staunton (1810-1874) was a pipe smoker.
Leonid Stein (1934-1973) was a Jewish Soviet Grandmaster (1962) from the Ukraine and three-time Soviet champion (1963, 1966, and 1967). He was a cigarette smoker.
Gosta Stoltz (1904-1963) was a Swedish Grandmaster (1954). He won the Swedish championship in 1951, 1952, and 1953. His results were increasingly affected by his alcoholism. He spent much of his money on drink and was forced to pawn his three Swedish Championship plaques and his Rosenthal porcelain trophy at pawn-shop in Stockholm.
Alexei Stepanovich Suetin (1926-2001) was a Russian Grandmaster (1965) and author. He was a cigarette smoker.
Mikhail Tal (1936-1992) was a heavy drinker and a chain smoker.
Hiong Liong Tan (1938-2009) was an Indonesian-Dutch chess master. After 1963, he was hospitalized for alcohol addiction. He never played in any international chess tournaments after that.
Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934) was a cigar smoker.
International Master Emory Tate (1958-2015) was known as a heavy drinker.
Paul Tautvaisas (1916-1980) was a Lithuanian-American chess master. He passed away in Chicago at the age of 64 due to complications from alcoholism.
Richard Teichmann (1868-1925) was a cigar smoker.
Grandmaster Vladislav Tkachiev, 35, showed up drunk at a grandmaster tournament in Kolkata (Calcutta), India in 2009. After a few moves, he passed out during a game against Tamil Nadu’s Praveen Kumar and lost on time. He had to be carried off.
Milan Vidmar, Sr. (1885-1962) was a Yugoslav (Slovene) Grandmaster (1950). He was fond of smoking cigars.
Raymond Allen Weinstein (1941- ) was winner of the 1958 U.S. Junior Championship. He played on two U.S. Olympiad teams and became an International Master (1962). He won the 1959 New Jersey Open and the 1960 Western Open. He won the Marshall Chess Club championship three times (1960-1962). He was a murderer. In 1964 he killed an 83-year old man in a nursing home with a razor – the first murder by a chess master.
Norman Tweed Whitaker (1890-1975) was an International Master (1965). He was a con artist. In November 1921, Whitaker, his brother and sister, were arrested for stealing automobiles and collecting on the insurance. He was arrested in 1925 and sent to the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth. In 1930, Norman Whitaker was arrested in Pleasantville, New Jersey after being caught depositing slugs in the coin box of a telephone pay station. He then failed to appear in court to answer to the charge of defrauding the telephone company. In 1932, Whitaker was arrested for attempted extortion in a scheme to swindle $104,000 from a wealthy heiress by claiming to be in contact with the Lindbergh kidnappers. The money was never found. Earlier in his life, he was convicted of several other crimes, including auto theft, sending morphine through the mail, and sexual molestation of a minor. He served time in Alcatraz and was a friend of Al Capone there. In the 1930s, a friend of his, who was competing in a U.S. correspondence chess championship, suddenly died. His widow needed money, and this gave Whitaker the idea of finishing his friend’s games without letting anyone know. Whitaker wound up winning the tournament. In 1950, he was convicted of sexual molestation of a minor. In 1955, Whitaker was banned from chess tournaments sponsored by the US Chess Federation, due to his shady past and criminal record.
Grandmaster Aleksander Wojtkiewicz (1963-2006) was an alcoholic and a cigarette smoker.
Of course, the worst vice is being a chess addict. You know you are a chess addict if:
- you bump into someone or something and say "J'adoube."
- you set up a chess set with salt and pepper shakers and food items when you sit at a checkered tablecloth.
- you calculate 8x8 faster than 7x7 and navigate like a knight - one block up and two blocks over.
- you have more digital chess clocks than watches or normal clocks and you use the chess clock as a kitchen timer.
- you buy the biggest, fastest, most expensive computer and monitor just to play blitz chess on online.
- mate, mating positions, exposed bishops, and forking the queen have nothing to do with sex.
- you take a chess set and chess book to the bathroom, and forget to go to the bathroom.
- you meet someone, your first question is, "What's your rating?"
- every week you downloaded every game you can find on the Internet
- you buy a newspaper only if it has a chess column in it.
- you think Bobby Fischer is the greatest person ever who should have been able to beat Karpov, Kasparov, and Carlsen
- you have more chess books than any other book or magazine combined.
- the Olympics has always been every two years.
- you spot the chessboard set up wrong in every movie or TV with a chess scene.
- you know HAL cheated in 2001: A Space Odyssey
- you name any of your pets Fischer, Tal, Karpov, Kasparov, Fritz, Chess (not Checkers) or Alekhine.
- your favorite movie is "Searching for Bobby Fischer"
- you have checkered underwear with "It's your move" on the front.
- you have fantasies of mating one of the Polgar sisters (that’s checkmating)
- you have a crush on Irina Krush.
- your favorite snack is Pepperidge Farm's Chessmen cookies.
- you have the "chessplayers make better mates" bumper sticker on your car
?- you know what BCO, ECO, MCO, NCO, PCO, UCO all mean and have all these opening books.
- you ask an attractive (or any) girl if she plays chess before you ask her out for a date. And you take a chess set with you on the date. And if it didn't work out, you explain the two of you were "like bishops of opposite color."
- you end your letters and email with "P.S. 1.e4" hoping to start a game.
- you used to drop everything and quickly spin around if you hear someone say, "Hi, Bobby" at a chess tournament
- you take a test, and 5 minutes before you run out of time, you mentally tell yourself that your flag is about to fall.
- you have your name on a brick in front of the Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis
- you go to any library in the world and know exactly where all the chess books are located.
- when the cashier says, "Check?" you wink and say "mate."
- you have a chess.com logo on your shirt.
- you try to play cards blindfolded.
- you have tiles in your house that have black and white squares that look like a chessboard
- you have cufflinks and tie clips that have a chess piece on it
- you only vote in USCF elections.
- you have a chess mug
- you think a bishop scandal is someone who puts his bishop on the wrong colored diagonal.
- you think you can beat Spock in 3-D chess.
- you go to a chess tournament and say, "Look at those chess nuts boasting by an open foyer."
- you look for three other friends to play bug-house.
- you have one of these aliases when you play online chess: Buttvinik, Caissa, Gata, Bobby Fischer, IvanCheck, Polgar, Jadoube, Kapablanca, KnightStalker, KibitzandBlitz, KnightRider, Pawnographer, Philidork, Queenforker, Rookie Player, Roy Lopez, TarraschCan, Zukertort, KillerMate, the Turk, or Komodo
- you have played the ghost of Geza Maroczy
- you own a Harry Potter chess set or the compete collection of the Avon chess set
- You have read all of this. And didn't laugh! And it’s all true!
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