Smoking and Chess

The first observations of smoking were made in 1492 by Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the Americas and observing the natives.  Smoking arrived in Britain in the 1560s.  In 1585, Sir Francis Drake introduced pipe smoking to Sir Walter Raleigh.  Cigarettes were invented in 1832 by an Egyptian soldier during the Turkish-Egyptian war.  The first manufactured cigarettes were produced in France in 1843.  In 1856, cigarette manufacturing began in Britain.  In 1860, the United States began manufacturing cigarettes.  The first brand was Bull Durham.

In the 1850s, Louis Paulsen (1833-1891) established a tobacco trade in Dubuque, Iowa and was a tobacco farmer and broker, but not a smoker.

At the 1927 New York International, when Milan Vidmar (1885-1962) put a box of cigars on the table before sitting down to play Aaron Nimzovich (1886-1935) , Nimzovich hurried to the chief umpire, Geza Maroczy (1870-1951),  to complain that his opponent was threatening to smoke.  The umpire went to the table to check and told Nimzovich that Vidmar was not smoking.  Nimzovich responded, “I know he isn’t, but he threatens to do so, and the threat in chess is more powerful than the execution.”  Some stories say that Nimzovich’s opponent was Bogoljubow.  Another source says it occurred in Berlin and the opponent was Lasker.

In 1927, M.L. Lederer accused Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941)  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.”

In 1936, Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) quit smoking in preparation for playing Max Euwe (1901-1981) in the return world championship match.

In the 1940s, Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995) instructed his training partner, Viacheslav Ragozin (1908-1962), to smoke furiously during their training matches so that Botvinnik could get used to the smoke.

In 1973, Bill Goichberg was the first tournament director to ban smoking from major chess tournaments.

In 1976, smoking was banned for the first time at a major chess tournament (National Open) in the United States.

In 1990, FIDE completely banned smoking from all FIDE events

In 2009, two top Chinese grandmaster, Wang Yue and Li Chao, decided to take a smoke break before their round 3 game began in the World Chess Cup in Khanty Maniysk.  They were forfeited under new FIDE rules for being late.


Cigarette smokers:  Alekhine, Ossip Bernstein, Robert Byrne, Colle, Dake, Donner, Geller, Hort, Janowski, Jansa, Korchnoi, Kramnik (stopped in 2000), Em Lasker, Lein, Lowenthal, Mecking, Mir Sultan Khan, Najdorf, Reshevsky, Shamkovich, Spassky, Stein, Suetin, Tal, Vidmar, Wojtkiewicz

Cigar smokers:  Bogoljubow, La Bourdonnais, Amos Burn, Em Lasker, Lombardy, Marshall, Pillsbury, Schlechter, Tarrasch, Teichmann

Pipe smoker: Addison, Blackburne, Amos Burn, Reshevsky

Chewed tobacco: James Mason