Monday, 14 September 2020

Cholera and 19th Century Chess

 Yesterday I had quite a bad run at the monthly 'Beer and Blitz' tournament, scoring 3/10. Looking for an excuse I suggested that I was handicapped by the 'Beer' part of the tournament, although my insistence on playing gambit openings and unsound sacrifices was the more obvious reason. Trying to shore up my excuse, I suggested that the 19th Century 'Hack and Sac' style of chess was a result of players drinking beer and spirits during the game, rather than risk drinking plain water, which was the unhealthy alternative.

It turns out that even this excuse was bogus, as the 'beer instead of water' claim is pretty much a myth. While it is true that city water (especially from communal pumps) was responsible for a number of cholera outbreaks in places like London, most people had access to fresh water as needed. Of course there were a few players who liked a drink during play (eg Blackburne) but in their case, this seemed to improve their play rather than affect it.

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