HOW TO BECOME WORLD CHAMPION
When the first big international chess tournament was held in Moscow back in 1925, the pick of the world's players took part. This provided Soviet scientists with an interesting opportunity to discover whether there was something physically and mentally peculiar about the players of this game, so loved the world over.
At long last, we learned of their decision. After due deliberation, they issued their diagnosis. They reported the surprising news: chess players are... normal.
So far as I know, no further experiments of this nature have been conducted!
NOBODY Keeps Cool
I am neither scientist nor doctor, but I can say with absolute certainty that not a single player can keep perfectly cool at the chessboard.
The truth is that every player is an actor to a certain degree and skillfully hides his feelings. You may believe that Petrosian, Botvinnik, Tal and others play with Olympian calmness if you like, but that would be wrong. Of course, they do have a better grip on their nerves than many others, but when success begins to slip from their grasp, you may notice their ears grow red.
The beating of a chess player's heart depends greatly on what is happening on the board!
I am sure what many, if not all my readers would like to become world champion some day. I can tell you what to do to achieve the ambition, even though I have never been world champion myself-much as I have wanted to be.
Start at Ten
When is the best time to begin playing chess? Chess, like love, is infectious at any age. Alekhine, perhaps the greatest player of all time, first took up the game at the age of seven and was already a master when he reached 16. Reshevsky, the American grandmaster, gave performances of simultaneous play in many European capitols from the ages of seven to nine. Some malicious tongues claim that Reshevsky played better as a child than he does today!
Capablanca first fingered a pawn when he was only four years old. Tal became champion of the USSR at the age of 20.
It seems to me that the best time to take up chess is at about age ten. One should bear in mind, however, that a child may become much too engrossed in chess, as in any other game. It is up to parents to see that the passion does no harm.
Why Soviet Players Excel
Abroad, we are often asked about the secret of our success and how the USSR finds its fresh talent.
Of course, our only "secret" is that the USSR attaches considerable importance to the education of the younger generation. Spasskys and Tals do not drop from the heavens: we have to educate them.
But let us presume that you are already a first-class chess player and are on your way up the ladder to the world championship. What sort of regimen should you have?
Guard Your Health
The world's leading players, the grandmasters of the USSR, look after their health and playing form very carefully. Of our 19 grandmasters, only five are smokers. Smyslov and Botvinnik are arch enemies of tobacco. Among our grandmasters there are quite a few who in the past smoked a lot, but then realized that it was harmful and dropped the habit.
Following the temporary loss of the world championship title, Alekhine quit smoking and drinking coffee and wine. Instead, he began drinking so much milk that one press report said that he was traveling from place to place with his own cow.
Results? The Alekhine who arrived in Holland in 1937 for the return match was an entirely different man, confident and bursting with health. He easily beat Euwe to regain the world crown.
Physical Exercise and Diet
All the best Soviet players engage in some sport. Botvinnik and Smyslov go in for gymnastics and skiing. Spassky and Keres play tennis, while Geller likes basketball.
Botvinnik has been doing his daily dozen since childhood. He takes a two-hour walk every day. He ponders long over the board during a game and rarely leaves the chessboard. His routine extends to eating a piece of chocolate at a specified time and drinking a cup of tea with lemon after two and a half hours of play.
Bronstein's Lemon Juice
Speaking of lemons, in 1954, during the USSR-USA match, the New York Times informed its readers about Bronstein's thirst during play at the Roosevelt Hotel.
Bronstein had asked for a glass of lemon juice and an American onlooker tried to correct him, "You mean lemonade?"
No. Bronstein insisted on lemon juice, and nine big lemons were squeezed to fill up his glass. The man from Moscow put that drink down to the last drop!
This incident is easily explained. As a rule, our chess players are accompanied by a doctor. The doctor with Bronstein at the time had noticed that he was getting tired and so advised him to drink some lemon juice as a tonic.
Drink lemon juice and play like Bronstein (he won all four of his games in the match), but I would not advise you to try stronger "refreshments".
Coffee and Alcohol
In many western countries there are physicians who claim the coffee is good for the health, that it is a good stimulant. I, too, was once a coffee drinker, but lately, I have come to the conclusion that a large quantity of coffee, particularly at night, is harmful. It leads to troubled sleep.
Need I add that Lasker, Capablanca, Euwe, Botvinnik and Smyslov-not one of them-never touch strong spirits? Every person has his habits, but if he takes hold of himself he can shake off any addiction.
Fish Instead of Meat
When a chess player is faring well in a tournament, people sometimes wonder what his diet is like. I remember asking Smyslov's wife at a time when he was defeating Botvinnik in 1957, "What are you feeding Vasya that makes him play well enough to beat Botvinnik?"
Her answer came only toward the end of the match, "Most of all, I feed him codfish."
So there you have it, dear readers, try out Smyslov's recipe and eat cod. It is a cheap fish, but very nutritious, and it will help you to become a champion.
(Abridged and altered text from Chess, No. 443-14, Oct. 1963. pp. 400-401)