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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 27, 2011

With diagram and solution
Grandmaster defeats ghost in seven-year match

By Peter Henner

Chess players, at least great chess players, can continue to play after they are dead.

Victor Korchnoi — who once ranked number three in the world and lost two world championship matches to Anatoly Karpov — defeated the spirit of Geza Maroczy, perhaps the strongest player in the world between 1900 and 1910.

The game was played between 1985 and 1993, with the assistance of a German medium, Robert Rollans, who communicated with Maroczy (who died in 1951) by “automatic writing”: He would enter into a semi-trance, and a force would take control of his hand to write messages.  The game was described as "one of the most remarkable cases supporting evidence for survival of an intelligent component of a human existence after bodily death" by Dr. Vernon M. Neppe, a professor in the department of neurology and psychiatry at St. Louis University.

The match was the idea of Wolfgang Eisenbeiss, a Swiss stockbroker.  Dr. Eisenbeiss (his degree is in economics) asked Mr. Rollans to contact a Grandmaster in the spirit world and persuaded Korchnoi, then 54 years old, to play.

Maroczy initially expressed concerns about his ability to compete because he had gone so long without practice; apparently, Grandmasters do not play regularly in the spirit world.  However, he wanted to play the game for two reasons: first, to prove to the world that death does not end everything "but instead, the mind is separate from the physical body and comes up in a new world" and, second, for the glory of his native Hungary.

The spirit confirmed his identity by providing personal information about Mr. Maroczy's life and about other chess players.

Mr. Rollans would feel a tickle whenever Maroczy wanted to communicate a move, generally about 10 days after communicating a move from Korchnoi.  Maroczy did not play very well in the opening, possibly because theoretical opening knowledge had advanced considerably in the 34 years since his death.  However, Maroczy may have had a slight edge by move 27, according to Korchnoi.  Nevertheless, Maroczy resigned after move 47 in 1993, three weeks before Rollans’s death.

Korchnoi was born in 1931 and, at the age of 80, continues to play chess on a world-class level.  The game with Maroczy was not his first experience with parapsychology: Parapsychology played a major role in the 1978 world championship match, played in Bagio in the Philippines.

The players fought over whether Korchnoi (who had defected from the Soviet Union) could play under the Swiss flag. Also controversial was Korchnoi’s wearing of sunglasses, Karpov’s swiveling of his chair and, finally, there was a tongue-in-cheek protest over possibly sending coded signals by delivering a certain flavor of yogurt to Karpov during the game.   

However, the most curious aspect of the match was Karpov’s use of Vladimir Zukhar, a "psychology professor" in the Soviet Union, as a psychological consultant.  Zukhar's job was to sit as close as he could in the gallery and stare at Korchnoi.  Korchnoi complained that Zukhar was sending negative brain messages, including messages that he should lose because he was a traitor to the Soviet Union.

Korchnoi responded by bringing in two members of the Ananda Marga, an Indian sect, to meditate, to focus on Zukhar, and to counteract the influence of Zukhar.

The first player to win six games (draws not counting) would win the match.  The match was tied 5-5 after 31 games.  However, for the 32nd game, the Ananda Marga were banned from the tournament hall, while Zukhar, who had been restricted to the back rows, resumed his place in the fourth row of the audience.

Korchnoi lost the game and the match.  The result of the match was challenged in a court proceeding, which was not resolved until 1981. 

Local chess events

Two exciting chess events are planned for the Capital District in the next week.

On Sunday, Oct. 30, the Continental Chess Association, the largest organizer of chess events in the United States, will conduct the Capital Region Open, at the Studio of Bridge and Games at 1639 Eastern Parkway in Schenectady.  The tournament is a national “grand prix” event in four sections with a $1,000 guaranteed prize fund.  Details are available on the CCA website, www.chesstour.com.

The Hudson River Coffee House, located at 227 Quail Street (at the corner of Hudson Avene) in Albany, is hoping to become a new venue for local chess players.  The café is hosting an unrated, four-round, G/15 tournament on Tuesday, Nov. 1; the first round starts at 7 p.m. The entry fee is $12, with $75 and many gift certificates as prizes.

This week’s problem

Wilhelm, later William, Steinitz was the first undisputed world champion from 1862 until losing a match to Emanuel Lasker in 1894.  In the last years of his life, he claimed to have defeated God at chess after giving odds of pawn and move.

Perhaps Steinitz's most famous game is the game below, from the 1895 chess tournament in Hastings, England, one of the strongest tournaments in the 19th Century.

Although White has an overwhelming position, both his Queen and Knight are threatened.  Nevertheless, he has a brilliant forced win.  Can you find it?

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