“I came to say that death is not the end”

Left: Viktor Korchnoi; right: Géza Maróczy. Wikimedia Commons/ Megavselena
Left: Viktor Korchnoi; right: Géza Maróczy. Wikimedia Commons/ Megavselena

Two chess grandmasters, Viktor Korchnoi and Géza Maróczy, once met at the chessboard. Seemingly, there is nothing strange about two grandmasters meeting for a game of chess, except that the match started 34 years after Géza Maróczy’s death.

The chess match between a living chess master and a dead opponent was made possible in 1985 by the Swiss doctor of Economics, Wolfgang Eisenbeiss, who was studying paranormal activity. He used a psychic to who allegedly connected with Maróczy.

He wanted to prove that there was no death. To eliminate any doubt about the legitimacy of the experiment, the dead player had to play on a higher level and his style – well-known among other grandmasters.

Choice of partner

Eisenbeiss turned to Viktor Korchnoi, asking him to be part of the experiment, because Korchnoi was a famous Soviet grandmaster who had immigrated to Switzerland. He didn’t really believe in the afterlife, but he didn’t mind playing a match with the spirit of his deceased colleague. He found the idea laughable and joked that all grandmasters are insane and differ from each other only by the level of craziness.

Having received Korchnoi’s consent, Wolfgand Eisenbeiss had to choose a contactee with the “afterlife”. He chose his old partner in paranormal studies, Robert Rollans. He was a psychic who would fall into a state of trance when contacting people from the afterlife.

Rollans turned out to be a very suitable candidate since he not only knew nothing about chess but couldn’t even properly place the figures on the chessboard.

Eisenbeiss gave Rollans a list of deceased grandmasters (put together by Korchnoi) and asked the ghost, with which the psychic communicated all the time (Rollans called him Gabriel) to help in finding a chess player from the list who would accept a match.

Viktor mentioned that he would really enjoy playing with José Raúl Capablanca or Paul Keres. On June 15th, 1985, Gabriel’s ghost told the psychic that Hungarian grandmaster, Géza Maróczy, had accepted the challenge. And then he added that Maróczy will try to interact with the psychic directly.

And now, let us get acquainted with the players of the “afterlife match”.

The two grandmasters

Hungarian grandmaster, Géza Maróczy (1870-1951) was one of the strongest chess players in the world during the first half of the 20th century. He was champion at the tournaments in Monte Carlo (1902), Ostend (1905), and Barmen and Vienna (1908). After his last tournament he retired from chess and returned only after World War I. His only big success during that time is his first prize win in Karlsbad in 1923.

Maróczy was accepted to play by all participants of the experiment. Viktor Korchnoi was a 4-time USSR champion in chess (1960, 1962, 1964, and 1970) and 5-time European champion. He participated for the world champion title twice with Anatoly Karpov, and then again in the final match for contenders in 1974.

He was champion in about 100 international tournaments. During the summer of 1976, Korchnoi refused to go back to USSR from the tournament in Amsterdam, and settled in Switzerland where he received Swiss citizenship. He then played in international competitions as a representative of Switzerland.

“I came to say that death is not the end”

The match began with the spirit of Hungarian grandmaster writing “I, Géza Maróczy, salute you” with the hand of the psychic who was almost in a full state of trance.

Then, the Hungarian grandmaster expressed concern about his abilities since he hadn’t played in a long time, and he explained why he agreed to the match.

“I will be at your service for two reasons,” wrote Rollans. “I want to help convince mankind that death is not the end of everything: the mind separates from the physical body and lives in a new world, in different dimensions.”  As a second reason, he said, he wished to honor his homeland, Hungary.

And then, the spirit of the grandmaster made his first move: d2-d4.

Viktor Korchnoi thought that the match would be something along the lines of a child’s play, but once he started playing, he took each move more and more seriously. After the 27th move, he commented on his unusual opponent: “The man I am playing with began the game without much confidence and his technique was old-school. But I have to admit – I am not so sure that I will win the match now. My opponent compensated for his lack of confidence in the beginning with strong decisions at the end of the match. His abilities became very apparent in the endgame, and my opponent actually plays very well.”

The game was observed by one more person – Vernon Neppe, a chess payer and director of the Pacific Institute of Psychoneurology in Seattle and professor of the Department of neurology and psychiatry in the University of St. Louis. As he analyzed the game, he came to the conclusion that “the alleged Maróczy played as a master in the beginning of the game, and in the end he played as a grandmaster. The slow and wrong start could have possibly been because Korchnoi had worked on new theoretical ideas after the death of his opponent.”

He added that the psychic, Robert Rollans, couldn’t possibly reach such a high level even after special training.

During this time, Viktor Korchnoi was a very active chess player and traveled around the whole world. Rollans waited for contact for weeks. He explained that when he would feel “a specific tingle throughout his whole body, that meant that Maróczy was ready to communicate”.  Giving or receiving the next move, the psychic would pass it on to Eisenbeiss, and he would send it to Korchnoi.

As was expected, skeptics suspected that Robert Rollans was consulting with chess players. But, Dr. Neppe thought that this was very unlikely since the game was high-class and the style of it resembled that of Maróczy. “It would be impossible to play the game with a computer because of the clearly expressed stylistic differences, and besides, only a few of today’s chess players can play on such a high level”, wrote Neppe.

Eisenbeiss emphasized that neither Rollans, nor Korchnoi received any type of payment for the experiment so they had no reason to cheat.

During the entire match, Eisenbeiss asked Maróczy many questions so he can confirm that it really was him. On July 31st, 1986, the psychic received 38 written pages with answers to many of the asked questions. Eisenbeiss decided to check if the answers were true. With the help of documents and memories of relatives, Eisenbeiss was able to confirm 85 of the 92 answers which he had received. The other 7 were probably also true, but there were no documents and no memories of the events.

One of the most interesting evidence of Maróczy’s identity was a question about a game in 1930. Wolfgang Eisenbeiss found information about the match among newspaper archives and during a spiritual séance, he asked Maróczy about an Italian, named Romi. The Hungarian grandmaster answered that he had never played with a chess player with such a last name, but he did beat someone with a last name of Romih. Even though chess chronicles referred to the Italian as Romi, the official protocol of the match was found and in the the Italian chess player really did go by the name of Romih.

The 7-year match

The game ended on February 11th, 1993. Géza Maróczy, whose tactics were very old-school, gave up on the 47th move. The mysterious match lasted 7 years and 8 months, and Robert Rollans passed away 3 weeks after it ended.

In April, 2006, Wolfgang Eisebeiss published the results of the match in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. and they were the cause of many reactions among the scientific world.

Many accused him of fraud. But the participation of well-known chess players and psychiatrists in the experiment made scientists pay attention to this phenomenon, which proves that there is consciousness after the physical death of the body.