Chess and coffee

by Alexey Root
9/29/2020 – This article celebrates connections between chess and coffee, in honor of national and international coffee days. WIM Alexey Root describes coffeehouse chess, a Seattle coffeehouse visited by famous chess players, and two coffee companies. A quiz guides each reader to specialty coffee beans and chess openings, courtesy of National Master Mike Walder. | Pictured: CEO of the Mokate Group Adam Mokrysz shakes hands with Anatoly Karpov at the simul given by the former world champion on August 21, 2020

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Coffee questions

International Coffee DayMany national and international coffee days happen on either September 29 or October 1. And, every day of the year, there are coffee and chess questions to explore. For example, does drinking coffee improve chess playing? According to this ChessBase article, caffeine had a 9% positive effect on chess performance in fast time-control games, though losses on time while on caffeine, which apparently slowed players down, were discounted.

Is coffee near a chess board or a laptop annoying? When Grandmaster Henrique Mecking played former World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian, at the 1972 San Antonio Church’s Fried Chicken First International Chess Tournament, he complained that Petrosian was “stirring his cup of coffee, all the time varying the rhythm.” Petrosian won, after offering Mecking a draw early in that game. Grandmaster Danny Gormally wrote, about Grandmaster Simon Williams, “Things then went from bad to worse when I managed to spill my coffee all over Simon’s laptop, which caused him to explode in anger.”

Coffeehouse chess

Coffeehouse chess is risky, positionally dubious, and reliant on traps and tactics. It is usually played at blitz time controls. Trash-talking and singing may accompany games. The Coffee Chess YouTube channel celebrates coffeehouse chess. One of its stars is Carl Hyne, who has a US Chess blitz rating of 2124. Hyne is better known as “The Great Carlini.”

In 2008, The Great Carlini’s friend Scott Tortorice wrote, “I cannot tell you how many times I have seen him [The Great Carlini] pull out games where he was completely busted. I’ve seen him find a way to win in games where he was down a queen. He would simply continue to make threats with his remaining forces thus keeping his opponent under pressure. Often they would become flustered and either blunder a piece back or lose on time. I’ve seen him do this so often that I knew there had to be something different in his approach to the game. When I asked him why he doesn’t get rattled or discouraged like most players when he drops a piece he replied, ‘It’s a fatalistic philosophy that, OK, you lost the piece. You accept it and move on.’”

The Great Carlini may also apply his fatalistic philosophy to coronavirus risks. During the game featured for September 12, 2020, The Great Carlini’s mask is under his chin and his opponent, Brooklyn Dave, isn’t wearing a mask. The lone spectator wears his mask under his nose. In the game, which had a time control of five minutes per side (no delay or increment), The Great Carlini gives up his queen for a bishop and a knight to avoid getting checkmated. Later, he generates a strong attack with a rook, bishop, and knight, wins on time, and then demonstrates his planned mate.

For the last five minutes of the fifteen-minute long video, there is analysis of critical positions from the blitz game. If you want to skip The Great Carlini singing From the Halls of Montezuma, replying to Brooklyn Dave’s rendition of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and trash-talking by both players, fast forward to the last five minutes or view the game within this article.

The Great Carlini vs. Brooklyn Dave

The Last Exit

The Coffee Chess channel videos remind me of the Last Exit on Brooklyn, a legendary Seattle coffeehouse and chess venue. I spent so many hours hanging out there in the mid-1980s that I decided to work there too. I was first a “waitron” [waitress], then a cook, and finally an espresso bar operator.

Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan was a regular before my time there. However, I served many chess players including National Master Steve Brandwein. National Master Bob Ferguson, Bill Phipps (who was later known for backgammon and making money on Wall Street), National Master Viktors Pupols, and International Master Jeremy Silman. Although photos were not allowed, because the Last Exit’s owner Irv Cisski wanted to ensure patrons’ privacy, someone took a Polaroid of me waiting tables in October of 1985.

Alexey Rudolph

Alexey waitressing at ‘The Last Exit’ in October 1985

Coffee companies

According to its website, “Mokate regularly co-organises chess tournaments and championships in line with the slogan: ‘Mokate makes you think.’ Our company is also a partner of the Polish Chess Association. We have also created the Mokate Chess Academy and support the project of the Polish Chess Association entitled ‘Education through Chess in School.’” One of its brands is Mokate coffee, which you can order here.

Some recent tournaments sponsored by Mokate include the 2019 Polish Team Championship Ekstraliga and the Mokate 2020 Polish Women’s Chess Championship. In honor of the company’s 30th anniversary, Mokate sponsored a tournament, played outdoors on August 22, 2020. The tournament was won by Grandmaster Jan-Krzysztof Duda, and former World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov was its special guest. Thanks to FIDE Vice President Lukasz Turlej for the link to the tournament’s video, featuring Adam Mokrysz (CEO of the Mokate Group) speaking on the value of chess. The video has subtitles in English if you turn on closed captioning.

Anatoly Karpov, Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Anatoly Karpov watching Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s game during the tournament sponsored by Mokate for its 30th anniversary

Highwire Coffee Roasters donated the coffee beans brewed for this article. My co-author, Mike Walder emailed, “Highwire creates truly exceptional coffee. Premium beans, roasted just the way I like, always leave me satisfied. Several years back I ventured into their College Avenue location in Oakland to see why there were so many people in queue for coffee and was pleasantly surprised by a strong and clean-tasting cup of coffee. I often drink coffee at the chessboard. When I am playing in a Berkeley tournament, it is often Highwire Bedhatu Jibicho, Ethiopia keeping me alert and focused.”


  1. Pick your favorite grandmaster from the following choices. A) Pentala Harikrishna B) Boris Gelfand C) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave D) Anish Giri
  2. Which song plays loudest in your head after reading its title? A) From the Halls of Montezuma B) (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction C) Under Pressure D) Eye of the Tiger
  3. Which is your favorite of the following flavors? A) caramel B) dark chocolate C) lemon D) cherry
  4. What tactic most appeals to you? A) clearance sacrifice B) exchange sacrifice C) knight sacrifice D) double attack
  5. Pick your favorite World Champion from this list. A) Tal B) Kasparov C) Fischer D) Smyslov

Answer key for quiz

The quiz in this article parallels a previous Chess Personality Test. After taking that test, or just the quiz in this article, you may have chosen one letter more than the others. For example, did you answer “A” more than any other letter, in this quiz or in the personality test? In this quiz, each letter is linked to a Highwire coffee that you might enjoy. If you chose “A” often, you might also enjoy the “A” opening and coffee beans listed below, along with the “A” instructional materials listed in the prior Chess Personality Test. Last, a link is given to the full “A” (or B, C, or D) game.

A) Bella Carmona, Guatemala: The coffee is dense and zesty with caramel and citrus notes. The opening line in the Fianchetto Modern Benoni, as in Baskaran Adhiban — Pentala Harikrishna, Round 10 of FIDE Grand Swiss Isle of Man 2019.

B) The Core Espresso: A blend of coffees from four regions: Ethiopia, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, and Sumatra. The opening line is the English Attack against the Najdorf Sicilian, as in Fabiano Caruana — Boris Gelfand, Round 2 of FIDE Grand Prix Baku 2014.

C) Bedhatu Jibicho, Ethiopia: A coffee that is aromatic, with dense lemon. The opening line is the Breyer Ruy Lopez, as in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave — Bassem Amin, Round 4 of French Club Championship Brest 2019.

D) Batak, Sumatra: This coffee has a potent musty aroma; dense body, rustic cherry and herbal flavor with a strong finish. The opening line is the Exchange Gruenfeld with 11. dxc5, as in Surya Ganguly — Anish Giri, Round 6 of the Spanish Team Championship (Honor Division) Leon 2012.

Coffee, chess

Which opening/coffee beans do you enjoy the most? [Click to enlarge]


Mike Walder annotates the two games mentioned earlier, Mecking vs. Petrosian and The Great Carlini vs. Brooklyn Dave. He also presents the openings mentioned in the answer key for the quiz.


Master Class Vol.13 - Tigran Petrosian

Considered a master of prophylaxis, Petrosian sensed dangers long before they actually became acute on the board. In his prime, Petrosian was almost invincible. Let our authors introduce you into the world of Tigran Petrosian.


Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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dadian dadian 10/1/2020 06:59
An historic high point for coffeehouse chess was George Treysman's third-place tie (with Reuben Fine!) in the 1936 U.S. Championship. Treysman, a legendary coffeehouse player who had never played in an official competition before, scored +6, finishing ahead of many well-known masters. His only loss in the tournament was to Fine.
Green22 Green22 9/30/2020 12:36
lol yikes you win your opponents Queen and have a chance to remove even more material and you play h5?? instead of Rxd1 - okidoki.. 5 min I guess anything can happen.