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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Joseph Henry Blackburne on Whiskey

   From an 1898 the American Chess Magazine article:

     "Mr. J. H. Blackburne, the British chess champion, was recently interviewed by a representative of the Licensing World, one of the anti-temperance journals of England. The champion alleged to have advocated the cause of the 'red-eyed monster' in terms most eulogistic.  'I find that whiskey is a most useful stimulus to mental activity, especially when one is engaged in a stiff and prolonged struggle. All chess masters indulge moderately in wines or spirits. Speaking for myself, alcohol clears my brain and I always take a glass or two when playing.'
     Mr. Blackburne with great frankness proceeded to dilate further upon the joys of the bowl and the misery of its depravation. This little speech of Mr. Backburne seems to have created no small sensation among our English contemporaries and their columns have not failed to express their disapprobation of his sentiments and to comment rather severely upon his want of judgment in thus venting his opinions through such a medium.
     The Pall Mall Gazette, it is evident, is not in sympathy with Mr. Blackburne’s views upon the subject and says, “Chess and alcohol are very antagonistic to each other. In fact, we might go further and say they are mutually destructive; as chess players consume alcohol, so, in proportion, alcohol destroys chess players. There are few branches of intellectual activity which have to show a sadder record in this respect than chess. It may be, perhaps, that men given to outdoor exercise take less harm by the alcohol habit than those devoting themselves to a sedentary pastime. It is a well known fact that out of about forty or fifty noted chess players who have arisen during the last thirty years those who have been drinkers of alcohol to any extent have, generally speaking, failed, whereas those who have achieved fame and success have, with very few exceptions, been moderate drinkers. Lasker, Tarrasch, Steinitz and Zukertort may be classed in the latter category. On the other hand, what a sad tale we could tell if it were necessary to give particulars of brilliantly gifted chess players who have gone to an early grave, and of others, equally talented, who have pined away n middle age, and a few more who have might done far greater justice to their abilities – all owing to the habit of taking too much alcohol. The testimony in this respect, as far as chess is concerned, is overwhelming.” – Times-Democrat.
     In referring to the alcoholic interview with Mr. Blackburne recently the Hereford Times says, “Whiskey and chess, when taken together, agree with very few. We have never seen Lasker or Pillsbury or Tarrasch , or any other player of the very front rank sip whiskey when engaged on games to which they attached any importance. Steinitz occasionally consumes a small quantity of brandy while playing a match game, but the quantity of water which he consumes the while completely drowns the spirit so as to leave little else than flavor. With most chess players the imbibing of spirits, during serious play would almost certainly be productive of blundering. And even Mr. Blackburne himself seldom takes anything but coffee in the early stages of a match game, although he may take a little whiskey toward the finish, This, no doubt, is what Mr. Blackburne wished to convey, when he told his interviewer that whiskey sometimes clears his brain. It would be a grievous error to let it go forth to the world that chess playing encourages an appetite for strong drink. The majority of chess players, expert and amateur alike, and the great majority of them much prefer coffee or tea, while playing their favorite game, to alcohol. We are moreover convinced that in a contest for supremacy at chess all other things being equal, the coffee or tea drinking player has in the long run the advantage over the consumer of alcoholic stimulant.”

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