A hot cup of Elo?

12/2/2005 – Many chessplayers wouldn't think of starting a round without a cup of coffee next to the board. Are they just trying to wake up for that early game (anything before noon) or are they also getting a memory boost? New studies show how caffeine enhances brain activity and short-term memory. Starbucks is waiting for you.

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Caffeine for more than a jolt


Secret weapon alert! Gata Kamsky
with a nice cup of... grapes?!

There has been quite a buzz about a recent study showing caffeine improves short-term memory. It was tested by observing brain activity and by giving recall tests to the study participants while they were under the influence - of the amount of caffeine found in a cup of coffee. Here are a few of the reports, from WebMD and the Seattle Times.

We've covered a few "brain drug" reports in the past year, as well as drug testing in chess, and everyone knows that caffeine staves off drowsiness. Of course this is quite different from proving that a few cups of coffee will improve your tournament results. There are simply too many factors that go into playing a game of chess.

Tests would take hundreds, even thousands of games and you would have to have a control group with blind testing and placebos, as well as ensuring the testers weren't taking any caffeine beforehand.

Testing could be speeded up by solving puzzles instead of playing, but of course these aren't the same thing either. What if caffeine helped you with your tactics but made you too jittery to play a steady endgame?


A suspicious can...

A few excerpts from different reports:

"The findings revealed increased activity in the frontal lobe, where working memory is centered, and in the anterior cingulum, which controls attention, in volunteers after consuming 100 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of about two cups of coffee. These areas showed no increased activity when the subjects drank a liquid without caffeine.

"The increased activity means you are more able to focus," Koppelstäetter said. "You have more attention and your task management is better.'"


"Participants who were subjected to a 12-hour period without caffeine and a four-hour period without nicotine, another recognized stimulant found in cigarettes, were better able to remember a sequence of letters after consuming 100 milligrams of caffeine. Reaction times on short-term memory tests also improved.

Caffeine is the world's most widely used stimulant, according to the research presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Global daily consumption of caffeine averages 76 milligrams, equal to 1 1/2 cups of coffee. In the United States, average consumption is 238 milligrams per day, equal to that found in 4 1/2 cups of java."

Vanessa West with a familar caffeine and sugar cocktail.

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