April Fools' Day: Fact or Fiction - Answer 1
The first story presented a game that was allegedly played by two world-class players. Nothing amazing about that, but oh yes - one of the players had been dead for 34 years when the game began. True or false?
Answer: true, by which I mean that I truly relayed the story. In 1985 Viktor Korchnoi, on the short list for the semi-dubious title of strongest player never to become world champion, decided to expand his already tremendous chess resume by taking on the thoroughly deceased Hungarian great Geza Maroczy.
Maroczy is best known to most chess players for a certain pawn structure known as the "Maroczy Bind". The Bind occurs (from the White side; make the appropriate changes to apply it to Black) when the White d-pawn is exchanged for the Black c-pawn and White has pawns on c4 and e4, giving him a strong point on d5. For example, after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 (4...Nf6 is normally played here in order to prevent this) 5.c4, White has set up the Maroczy Bind formation.
Understanding this pawn formation with both sides in its different formulations is an important part of the chess player's arsenal, but there's more to the man, even as a chess player, than his popularization of a particular pawn structure. Maroczy, whose dates were 1870-1951, was one of the world's strongest players in the first decade of the 20th century; strong enough that Mike Fox and Richard James, in their 1993 work The Even More Complete Chess Addict (p. 120), put Maroczy in a tie for the 29th-34th greatest player of all time, even with (among others) Efim Bogoljubow, Isaak Boleslavsky and Aron Nimzowitsch and ahead of Bent Larsen, Lajos Portisch and Leonid Stein. I don't know how seriously to take the precision of their evaluation, but that they can even consider it speaks volumes for his ability.
Maroczy was also well-known for his special excellence in queen endings, but it's an even more impressive skill in an "endgame" to play chess 34 years after one's death. Viktor Korchnoi seems to have been a believer in, or at least quite open to, phenomena of the parapsychological variety.
In his 1978 world championship match with Anatoly Karpov, for instance, there were huge fights between the Korchnoi and Karpov camps over the presence in the audience of one Doctor Zukhar. Zukhar was a parapsychologist in Karpov's camp whose job, allegedly, was to stare at Korchnoi and "confuse his thinking." Whether he succeeded qua parapsychologist is unclear, but he clearly did succeed in distracting Korchnoi, who engaged in more than his own fair share of psychological warfare during the match. (Here's an online article that will give the reader some sense of the match's acrimonious antics.)
Fast forward seven years. Korchnoi met a Swiss medium named Robert Rollans, and from 1985 to 1988 Korchnoi allegedly played the thoroughly deceased Maroczy. Though I don't believe it's genuine - I assume it's a sham perpetrated by Rollans and some reasonably strong chess friends - it's a nice game and Korchnoi's endgame technique was quite elegant. (The game, with some brief comments, can be replayed online here.)
Answers and further details to stories 2-4 coming later...stay tuned.