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Chess genius agrees to drug test

Published: 
Thursday, November 22, 2012
DOUBLE ROOKS
GM Magnus Carlsen, world’s highest rated chess player. AP Photo

 

Super GM Magnus Carlsen is not in favour of drug testing for chess players. Yet the 21-year-old Norwegian genius has agreed to take such a test. 
 
Why? Well, it’s certainly not because the world’s highest ranked chess player is suspected of being another Lance Armstrong. Rather, Carlsen is responding positively to the world chess body’s effort to have chess recognised as an Olympic sport for which drug testing is a prerequisite. The idea, as Chessbase News relates it, is for Fide to carry out a pilot project to test players for drug abuse. 
 
This development must come as a surprise to most informed chess players who will remember that Fide has already gained such recognition for the sport. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Fide was accepted as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since June 1999 and “adheres to its rules including, controversially, a requirement for doping tests.” It adds, however, that “the prospects of chess becoming an Olympic sporting event at some future date remains unclear.” 
 
In light of this, DR finds this sudden gambit somewhat strange. If, as an IOC member, Fide must observe all the Committee’s rules, then why not wait until chess is actually included as an Olympic Games event to undertake such a project? 
 
Whatever the case, Carlsen takes a fairly ambivalent view of the Fide request for a drug test. In consenting to take part in the pilot programme, he says, “I don’t think drug testing makes much sense in chess, but if it has to be, then it has to be!” It appears that in the future he will have to submit blood and urine samples both in and out of competition. But who knows—maybe something unexpected would be discovered in the young Norwegian’s blood or urine which makes him so great. (Ha!). 
 
In an interview with AP, Carlsen seemed at a loss to say exactly what he thought about these measures. He pondered for a while, looking at his manager Espen Agdestein as he answered the questions, saying finally that it is not a big deal for him. “If I have to report where I am all the time, I’ll have to think about it. I could get used to it, but it seems quite unnecessary.” 
 
Does he think it is possible to take restorative pills to enhance one’s performance? “I suppose that it is possible. But in order to perform well you would have to take things during the game. For my own part, I need no hocus pocus in order to perform.” 
 
Does he think that some players are using drugs? “In the end, I simply trust my opponents. In addition, it is so incredibly damaging for people to be taking drugs. Maybe some are doing it. But I think I can beat them anyway.” 
 
Carlsen believes that cheating with computer programs on smart phones is a far greater potential problem in chess compared to doping. 
 
Ordinarily, it is difficult to imagine what drugs could be used to boost a chess player, with his sedentary occupation. The general view expressed in Whychess is that “lack of physical activity and the need for extremely rapid mental reactions—not common to normal sports—lifts chess out of the usual category of activities for which even taking a routine anti-cold remedy pill can cause disqualification.” 
 
But, adds the Web site, “that is not to say that chess is totally immune to the effects of pharmacology, if a drug can stimulate the work of the brain, rather than the physique.” 
 
Discussions about drug-testing in chess started about 15 years ago when Ilumzhinov first became Fide President and wanted to bring the mind game into the Olympic family. He jokingly asked the then IOC President Samaranch whether coffee and vodka were considered as drugs. Now it seems that Fide is mounting a new assault on the Olympic heights. 
 
The first question that DR would now like to ask, however, is when will this effort finally come to fruition and, the second, how popular will it really be? It may well be that this initiative does not enjoy the full support of the world’s chess-playing fraternity. In fact It seems unfortunate that Ilyumzhinov did not see the need to obtain a clear mandate from national federations, many of whom may feel that the sport’s bienniel Olympiad, which engages the vast majority of chess playing nations, should remain unrivalled as chess’s supreme competition. 
 
On the other hand, there are those who feel that the glamour and world wide publicity of the Olympics would do a world of good for the royal game.