In 1985, amateur chess player Wolfgang Eisenbeiss, arranged a match of chess between two grandmasters. The twist? One of them was deceased.
Swiss Doctor of Economics Wolfgang Eisenbeiss was an amateur chess player who happened to have a keen interest in parapsychology. In order to bring his two interests together, he decided to host the ultimate game of chess between two chess grandmasters. The catch was however, that one of these grandmasters, had already passed away.
His first point of call was to world-renowned chess grandmaster and writer Viktor Korchnoi. Viktor it seems also had an interest in parapsychology so was the perfect choice for such an obscure idea. Eisenbeiss approached Korchnoi with his idea and asked him of the grandmasters who had passed, who would be the ones he wished he could play against. After giving his 'wish list', Eisenbeiss contacted medium Robert Rollans known for his automatic writing skills to see if he could make contact with any of the names given. The idea was that Korchnoi would play against one of these grandmasters with medium Rollans conveying the moves of the deceased grandmaster through his communications. Rollans was said to not know much of chess and was also not paid for his involvement. A week later, Rollans emerged with the news he had made contact with Geza Maróczy who had consented through spiritual communication to the match. The other 2 names could not be reached.
On the 15th of June, 1985, the historic chess. match began. Eisenbeiss did give Rollans some very basic chess lessons in order to be able to complete the moves. It began with Rollans writing down through trance the first move 'E4' signalling the white king’s pawn to advance two squares. Rollans sent this move to Eisenbeiss who passed it on to Korchnoi to make a countering move. He relayed back his move of 'E6', and the game of this back and forth would span over the course of 7 years and eight months. Rollans had set up his own portable chessboard. When he felt that Maróczy was ready to communicate (often signalled by the feeling of a tickle), Rollans would sit in a trance where he was shown in great detail analysis of the moves from the spirit of Maróczy. When he came out of the trance, Rollans could not remember the moves and had to rely on what he had written down during the trance. These were the moves that would be passed on through Eisenbeiss. Although Rollans and Korchnoi were the 2 physical players of the game, they had no direct contact with each other for the majority of the game. In fact, it wasn't until September 1992 that the two met on German television. All moves had been filtered through Eisenbeiss who oversaw the entire game as a mediator and observer. Korchnoi had an extremely busy schedule while Rollans was also very ill. The game was paused between 1987 and 1991 due to the very poor health of Rollans.
After 27 moves, Korchnoi felt challenged writing of his opponent in spirit
"During the opening phase Maroczy showed weakness. His play is old-fashioned. But I must confess that my last moves have not been too convincing. I am not sure I will win. He has compensated the faults of the opening by a strong end-game. In the end-game the ability of a player shows up and my opponent plays very well."
In February of 1993, after 47 moves, Maróczy resigned from the game. 3 weeks later, Rollans passed away.
In addition to the game of chess, Eisenbeiss used the opportunity to ask 93 questions of Maróczy to verify it was him they were communicating with. Rollans came back with 38 pages of information received spiritually through trance which was described as an autobiography of Maróczy's life. Historian and chess expert Laszlo Sebestyen was brought in to investigate finding an accuracy level of 87.9% on the information provided.
In 2007. Vernon Neppe an amateur chess player and neuropsychiatrist, conducted a detailed computer analysis to see if the playing style displayed through Rollans matched that of Maróczy's.
"Maroczy played at least at the Master level, and very debatably and less likely, at a rusty, lowish grandmaster level. This level could not have been achieved by the medium even after great training, assuming the medium was not a chess genius. The difference in the game may have related to opening theory developed in the 1950s after Maroczy had died. Maroczy was caught in a chess opening variation that had possibly been refuted after he died. Thereafter he played an excellent game and substantially better than the computer. (At this level, computers lose to strong humans mainly because they cannot think creatively). Korchnoi's play was at the level of an accomplished grandmaster."
While on paper the results seem compelling, the case itself drew much criticism. Much suspicion was raised on the point that it would typically take Rollans 10 days to respond, meaning that he could have received assistance from an outside source to make the next move. He also would have had time to investigate the life of Maróczy before writing the spiritually channelled biography of his subject. The lack of laboratory conditions means that they are unable to rule out fraud and interference. It still remains for many, however, a demonstration of either spiritual communication or even ESP. The original idea itself seemed to be quite successful and challenged Korchnoi who himself was considered one of the best in the World!
Cover Image: chess.com
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