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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chess Players and Smoking

     Having done a post on Blackburne’s advocacy for whiskey, out of curiosity I did some research on chess players and smoking. Chick HERE for my post on Paul Morphy cigars. I knew Arnold Denker once appeared in ads for Camel cigarettes in the mid-late 1940’s:
Click to enlarge
     Starting in the mid-1960’s cigarette packages in the US started carrying warnings thanks to the efforts of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop (October 14, 1916 – February 25, 2013).


  Koop was a pediatric surgeon and public health administrator, vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and served as the Surgeon General of the United States under President Ronald Reagan from 1982 to 1989. Koop was known for his work to prevent tobacco use, AIDS, and abortion, and for his support of the rights of disabled children. According to the Associated Press, Koop was the only surgeon general to become a household name. Even though warnings are required, did you know the United States has one of the smallest, least prominent warnings placed on cigarette packages? They have cleverly used small type placed on the side of the package and use colors and fonts that blend in with the rest of the package.  Got to love ad executives!

     Nowadays of course you can’t smoke most places, but I remember when almost everyone smoked and chess players were no different. As a 16-year old junior player, I was playing in a tournament that was held in on old YMCA building. It was in July and it was HOT! There wasn’t any air conditioning and the tournament hall in that creaking old building was stifling. When I sat down to play my third round opponent on Saturday evening he was rated 1500-1600, but later went on to establish a 2300+ rating, but that’s another story. 
     Soon after we started play he pulled out a corn cob pipe and I didn’t think too much about it because smoking was so common. But after he lit up and began huffing and puffing huge clouds of noxious blue smoke I started getting queasy and throw in the fact that it was hot and stuffy in the room, I felt like puking for most of the game, which I lost.
     I didn’t complain because in those days it would have been unthinkable. Maybe he was using Lasker’s old trick: In 1927, M.L. Lederer accused Lasker of unfair tactics by smoking foul cigars and exhaling the smoke towards him. Later Lasker 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.” In the 1940s, Botvinnik had his training partner, Ragozin, smoke so that Botvinnik could get used to having smoke blown in his face. If Botvinnik couldn’t complain about smoke, who was I to do so?
     In the old days watching players like Tahl,  Korchnoi, Lein, Reshevsky and Donner chain smoking during a game never raised an eyebrow. In those days complainers were the odd ones. After all cigarettes calmed one’s nerves and ‘everybody’ was doing it.
     Fortunately things are different now. Did you know that in the 2013 Norwegian championship none of the 10 participants smoked?

English wood and brass 1910 era cigarette holder…only $285!
     Back in 2009 at the World Cup held in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia, two Chinese GM’s, Wang Yue and Li Chao, showed up late for their third-round tiebreak games because they had been on a smoke break and had to forfeit their games and got sent packing back to China. Wang said Li had started smoking in order to keep Wang company. Seems like a strange reason to me. Asked if he would give up the habit, Wang said: “I don’t think so. After such a shock, you only think to take a long smoke.”
     Factoids: In the 1850s, Louis Paulsen was a tobacco merchant in Dubuque, Iowa, but oddly, he did not smoke. Bill Goichberg was the first tournament director to ban smoking from his tournaments. In 1990 FIDE banned smoking from all FIDE events.
     None of this would be an issue if everyone did like James Mason…he was a tobacco chewer.  Speaking of chewing tobacco, I tried it once in the Marine Corps.  We were out in the field and it was very hot and humid and I was drinking water from my canteen when a fellow named 'Big Harry' told me that instead of wasting my water, I should chew tobacco which he assured me would keep me from getting so thirsty.  He then cut me off a piece of his Browns Mule Chewing Tobacco which I willing accepted. After a lot of gagging and spitting, I ended up using half a canteen of water just trying to rinse the horrible taste out of my mouth. Can't say as I recommend Mason's habit.

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