Chess game offers strong evidence for life after death
Posted on 30 June 2010, 3:18
The Viktor Korchnoi vs. Géza Maróczy chess game, which began in 1985 and ended in 1993, lasting 7 years and 8 months, is without a doubt one of the most intriguing cases ever in the annals of psychical research. It was reported by Dr. Wolfgang Eisenbeiss and Dieter Hassler in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.
‘This case appears to be one of the most remarkable cases supporting evidence for survival of an intelligent component of human existence after bodily death,’ opines Dr. Vernon M. Neppe, director of the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute in Seattle, Washington, and professor in the department of neurology and psychiatry at St. Louis University in Missouri, himself a chess champion at a more modest level than Korchnoi and Maróczy, who were ranked 13th and 29th, respectively, all-time in a 1978 study.
The match was arranged by Eisenbeiss, a Swiss stockbroker and a doctor of economics with a long-standing interest in psychical research. Knowing that Eisenbeiss had considerable experience in studying mediums, a dentist named Waldhorn, suggested to Eisenbeiss that he attempt to initiate a chess game between a living person and a deceased person.
Intrigued by the idea, Eisenbeiss persuaded Korchnoi, known as Viktor the Terrible (pictured above), who had defected from the Soviet Union and was living in Switzerland, to take part in the experiment. He then asked Robert Rollans (1914-1993), a long-time acquaintance and an automatic-writing trance medium who was living in Germany, to participate. Rollans was a particularly good candidate as he did not know how to play chess and was willing to participate without remuneration. Moreover, Eisenbeiss had complete confidence in Rollans’ integrity.
Eisenbeiss then gave Rollans a list of deceased grandmasters and requested that he have his control spirits (Tata and Gabriel) attempt to locate one of them in the spirit world and agree to such a match. On June 15, 1985, Tata and Gabriel communicated and said that Maróczy (seen below) would accept the challenge. They then said that Maróczy would attempt to communicate directly.
‘I am Maróczy Géza,’ he wrote through Rollans’ hand. ‘I say hello to you [Continuing in German.]. I can talk German so first of all I can answer the identifying question. It was the opening with the king’s pawn and the French defence. I am unable to continue. I will finish writing. [Letters became untidy] I am going to tell everything to my friends. [Continuing in Hungarian.] Goodbye.’
Tata and Gabriel returned, explaining that because Maróczy was not accustomed to writing through an earthly arm, he tired quickly. However, he was able to convey the second move to them, d2-d4. It is not clear from the report, but these were apparently test questions which Eisenbeiss devised beforehand to be sure that a grandmaster was taking up the challenge and not some impostor spirit.
Before the game actually got underway, Maróczy expressed concerns about his ability to compete because he had gone so long without practice. ‘I was and will be at your disposal in this peculiar game of chess for two reasons,’ he communicated. ‘First because I also want to do something to aid mankind living on earth to become convinced that death does not end everything, but instead the mind is separated from the physical body and comes up in a new world, where individual life continues to manifest itself in a new unknown dimension.’ His second reason had to do with the glory of Hungary.
The game started with Maróczy making the first move, writing ‘e4’ through Rollans’ hand. Rollans sent the move to Eisenbeiss, who sent it on to Korchnoi. Korchnoi responded with ‘e6’ to Eisenbeiss, who forwarded it to Rollans. (It should be noted that Eisenbeiss gave Rollans some basic lessons so that he would know where to place the pieces.)
‘During the opening phase Maróczy showed weakness,’ Korchnoi commented after the 27th move. ‘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 his detailed analysis of the game, Dr. Neppe states that the alleged Maróczy ‘played at least at the Master level, and very debatably and less likely, at a rusty, lowish grandmaster level.’ He adds that this level could not have been achieved by Rollans even after much training, assuming that he was not a chess genius. He also points out that Maróczy’s slow start may have been the result of an opening theory that developed after his death.
‘Because of major stylistic differences, the computer could not have simulated the game, nor could many living chess players play at this high a level,’ Neppe further offers. ‘Early outside validators (news media, analysis by an expert player) militates against fraudulent collaboration.’
Because Korchnoi was frequently traveling and e-mail not yet available, the match proceeded slowly. According to Rollans, he would feel a tickle in his body when Maróczy was ready to communicate a move to him. It usually took about 10 days for Eisenbeiss to receive the next move from Maróczy/Rollans after receiving Korchnoi’s move and mailing it to Rollans.
As might be expected, the skeptics suspect that Rollans was consulting with live chess experts before communicating his move back to Eisenbeiss. Neppe believes this unlikely as the play was ‘stylistically compatible with Maróczy.’
‘It’s ridiculous to think that Rollans would have asked other grandmasters what he should give me as a move,’ Dr. Eisenbeiss writes. He adds that Rollans was as curious about the results as he was, and so was Korchnoi. He stresses that neither Rollans nor Korchnoi was paid for his participation and so there was no real motive to cheat.
‘Let them believe [what they want],’ Eisenbeiss says, pointing out that there will always be people unable to accept the truth of such phenomena.
It was more personal information coming from Maróczy that convinced Eisenbeiss that he was actually communicating with Maróczy and which Neppe cites as significantly reducing the potential for fraud.
During the match, Eisenbeiss put many questions to Maróczy in order to confirm his identity. While the answers to some of them might be found with limited research, most required extensive research and involved some private information. On July 31, 1986, Rollans received 38 handwritten pages from Maróczy in response to some questions. He also said that he was disappointed in his play, which he felt was due to his rustiness as well as difficulties in communication transmission.
In order to confirm the accuracy of Maróczy’s responses, Eisenbeiss contacted the Hungarian Chess Club and was put in touch with Laszlo Sebestyen, a historian and chess expert, who agreed to do some research and determine if the answers were correct. Sebestyen was led to believe that the information was for some kind of biographical work on Maróczy. Sebestyen, who was paid for his services, consulted several libraries in Hungary and Maróczy’s two surviving children, both over 80 at the time, and a cousin. He put in more than 70 hours in finding the answers to nearly all of Eisbenbeiss’ questions.
Out of 92 statements made by Maróczy, Sebestyén was able to confirm 85 of them as factual. The remaining seven may have been factual, but no records could be found to confirm them or the records were unclear.
One particularly evidential exchange between Eisenbeiss and Maróczy (through Rollans, of course) had to do with a match Maróczy had in 1930. Eisenbeiss, who had found a record of the match, asked Maróczy about the player he had defeated, an Italian named Romi. Maróczy replied that he never knew anyone by that name, but that he did defeat a man named ‘Romih.’ Even though the historical records showed the name as ‘Romi,’ Eisenbeiss found a program of the 1930 match in which the name was spelled ‘Romih.’
Because Korchnoi was frequently traveling and competing, the game was drawn out for those seven-plus years. Maróczy, who played in an ‘old fashioned’ style, resigned after 47 moves. Rollans died three weeks after the completion of the game.
Dr. Neppe also feels that the Super Psi theory advanced by some parapsychologists is less likely than the spirit hypothesis as Super Psi would have required the active cogitation of a master chess player or players while alive, extended over a prolonged period of time.
The bottom line here is that the Korchnoi vs. Maróczy chess game strongly suggests that consciousness survives physical death and lives on in a spirit world. At his website, author and researcher Miles Edward Allen ranks the case as the third most evidential among his top 40 cases.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
I commented that it was one of the most “intriguing” cases, but I have never placed it high on my list of evidential cases, although my friend Vernon Neppe, who is mentioned in May’s critique, has it near the top of his. I haven’t played chess since high school and do not remember enough about the game, but Vernon is an expert at the game.
I had many of the same questions that May had, but I was more impressed with the personal information that came through. Note that 85 of 92 statements were deemed true. I did a fast read on May’s comments, and I don’t think he really addressed this personal information. Forget the game and take a look at the personal information. It wouldn’t make my top 10 cases, but maybe my top 25.
Michael Tymn, Fri 16 Feb, 02:06
Hey Michael have you read this “alternative” explanation paper written by Edwin May? What do you think of his criticism of it as evidence for survival?
Billy, Thu 15 Feb, 09:51
To understand why chess players consider the game itself to be strong evidence, one must understand what is required to be one of the 100 best in the world at something. Bobby Fischer, who is unquestionably an authority, as he was one of the top 2 or 3 best players in history, stated the game was played at grandmaster level. When Fischer stopped playing chess in 1972, there were only 88 grandmasters in the world. This is our measuring stick for Rollans: Top 100 in the world
Consider if there were a rather difficult type of surgery, and only 100 doctors in the world were capable of performing it. Consider a basketball player who is one of the top 100 players in the world.
As to whether “an intelligent amateur” might have been the one behind it, or whether “a good chess player may not sometimes be able to play at a grandmaster level or close to it”, the answer is quite clear. This would be like saying an intelligent guy who can drive his car to work might be able to hop in a space shuttle and fly it to the moon, or that a smart guy (who is not a doctor) might be able to perform brain surgery successfully once in a while. There is far too much technical know-how, and far too much natural talent required.
In a fight, it may be possible that once in a rare while, a random person off the street might take a swing at a champion boxer and knock him out. However, no boxing expert would conclude the guy off the street performed as well as a top-100 boxer. Playing chess at a high level, like performing a difficult surgery, requires the person not only know about many thousands of different scenarios, but all of the contingencies in every one of those scenarios. “An intelligent amateur” does not have a puncher’s chance of completing a difficult surgery. While some sports, like boxing, feature an “instant win” scenario where a person can get lucky and defeat a more highly skilled opponent, chess, and surgery, do not have any such feature. One misstep, and the patient dies on the operating table.
Please think about how far an average person is from a top-100 performer. To get a basketball scholarship at a division-1 or division-2 college in the USA, you have to be in the top 3%. You are in the 96th percentile? Sorry, no scholarship for you. There are about 8000 to 9000 players in D1 and D2 college basketball. Of those 8000-9000 players, only 60 will be drafted into the NBA each year, and most of them will never play one minute in the NBA. Even if you surpassed all of these odds, and made it to the NBA, you are only in the top 420 or so. Let’s say you are a starter on an NBA team. Sorry, you’re only top-150.
In order for Rollans himself to become a top-100 player in the world, he would have had to receive coaching by top trainers, and he would have had to compete in many high-level tournaments over a decade or more. One cannot become a world-class chess player without interacting and competing with many others over a long time period. The idea that someone could sit in their room at home and one day emerge as a world-class competitor is absurd. Life does not work that way. If Rollans was able to achieve this, someone would have known who he was.
Now the question is, could Rollans have consulted with a top-100 chess player, for almost 8 years, before the internet, and coaxed him into playing in the style of Maroczy? The options would be quite limited in a pre-internet era. In 1985, there was only 1 player in Germany ranked in the top 100, and only 2 ranked in the top 200. Further, once this story got out, why have we never heard from the top-100 player who produced this game? If we suggest that multiple top chess players were involved, so that none of them knew the full story and would never be able to say “it was me”, then we are building a bigger and bigger conspiracy, as we now need a group of top-100 players involved, many of whom do not speak the same language, to be in contact with Rollans in a pre-internet era.
In some ways, the game is stronger evidence than getting 85 out of 85 facts correct. Eisenbeiss and Rollans could have conspired to put forth questions and answers that they knew a third-party would verify. The game that was produced is something that is effectively impossible to produce except for about 100 people on the planet. Perhaps there was a great conspiracy behind this, but that is the point. When your only way to explain something is to construct a larger and larger conspiracy theory, it lends strength to the original evidence being questioned.
Steve, Mon 4 Apr, 03:57
Jon, Tue 4 Jan, 16:27
Unfortunately, mediumship is not as simple as you and other skeptics seem to think. To begin with, the medium does not find discarnates, as you suggest. The medium’s spirit control goes looking for them.
Generally, they can contact spirits who are still close in vibration to the earth’s vibration, meaning those who have recently passed on. It is usually difficult to find spirits who have passed on more than 50-100 years ago, although apparently some spirits who passed on that long ago are still in earth’s vibration for one reason or another. But it is highly unlikely that any spirit who can speak an ancient language would be within earth’s vibration.
Apparently, some very advanced spirits are able to get through now and then, i.e., to lower their vibrations to the point they can communicate, but it is rare. See the “Confucius Speaks” case in the Features Section of this blog.
Thanks for your comments.
It would be very easy to give extremely strong evidence that mediums can communicate with the dead, if this were in fact possible.
Choose a medium. Choose 10 languages that are no longer spoken by anybody in the world, but for which there are still a few scholars that can read/write the language and know roughly how it was spoken. Then choose 5 languages at random from the 10, and have the medium find dead people who spoke each of the 5 languages.
Challenge the medium to have a live conversation, where written questions are given to the medium by the language scholars, and the medium must have the dead person communicate back the responses. This must be in realtime, not spread out over weeks or months. If the medium could respond correctly in all of the dead languages, this would be *extremely* strong evidence that there is life after death.
If there is in fact life after death, it should be easy to find one of the millions of dead people who spoke each of the languages (but I’m sure the believers would have some excuse why this would be too difficult).
The reason nobody has gone to the effort of doing this sort of a rigorous test is that we all know what the result would be. There would be no communication. And it would not make any difference at all to the believers, who would find a convenient excuse why the test failed.
Joseph, Mon 3 Jan, 00:49
I just recently obtained some additional information about this case in order to write an article for the next issue of “Atlantis Rising” magazine. As a result, I have to take back what I said earlier about having a hard time placing it in my top 50. With the new information, I now place it in my top 10, maybe as high as #6. Not being a chess player, I am unable to fully appreciate the evidence offered by the chess game itself, but the personal and factual information communicated by Maroczy, which I had not seen when I originally posted this, is very convincing. It is too much to go into here, but will be mentioned in the AR magazine article for the October issue.
Michael Tymn, Sun 8 Aug, 13:11
Thank you for your comments. Yes, I have most of the old GAIA posts and some of them will be posted here eventually. Some of them need to be polished up a bit and I just haven’t found time to do it. Soon, though…
email@example.com, Thu 8 Jul, 03:29
Your blog is always interesting, Michael. Do you still have access to your older blog posts at Gaia or are they lost?
Roger K, Wed 7 Jul, 03:57
If available, perhaps they could be posted here?
Jon and Amos,
Michael Tymn, Sun 4 Jul, 03:14
Thank you for your comments.
Amos, I understand what you are saying. I have a hard time ranking this case among my top 50, but it may be because I don’t play chess. I learned how to play at the very basic level about 60 years ago, but have forgotten all I knew, which wasn’t very much. The expert players seem to value this case much more than the non-players.
The biggest obstacle I have is in ruling out he possibility that Rollans could have consulted with some chess players before making each move, especially given the length of time of the match. I don’t believe he did, but that possibility lends itself to the arguments of skeptics relative to the scientific method, etc., etc. I have a problem understanding why a good chess player may not sometimes be able to play at a grandmaster level or close to it. But, again, the chess experts apparently have a much better handle on this than those not versed in chess and they all seem to be in awe of the case.
Again, thanks for your comment.
Thanks for the article Michael. For me, this account is very weak evidence of survival. I agree though that the personal information may be the better evidence, not the chess game. I don’t believe that “Super Psi” requires ACTIVE cogitation as Neppe “feels”. What is missing from the story is what languages did Rollins speak, German? Hungarian? English? What languages did Rollins write in? And, surely over 7 years and 8 months, Rollins would have become somewhat curious about chess and how it is played. Maybe an intelligent amatuer chess player might make moves that seem “in an old-fashioned style”. Neppe says they were not paid for their participation so there was no real motive to cheat. How naive is he? People fabricate either consciously or subconsciously all kinds of strange phenomena for reasons other than money. Whenever someone says basically, “Trust me, I know these people wouldn’t make this up” that’s when the red flag goes up for me.- Amos
Amos Oliver Doyle, Thu 1 Jul, 04:22
Great story Michael…
Jon, Wed 30 Jun, 13:12
I remember attending a remote viewing convention in 2007 where Russell Targ was speaking about the chess match. Targ felt that the ‘Chess’ story was one of the best pieces of survival evidence he had come across; he had discussed the nature of play with his brother-in-law Bobby Fischer, the chess master, who had confirmed to Targ that the ‘deceased player’ was playing to grand master standard, albeit in an old fashioned style.
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