quinta-feira, 10 de agosto de 2017

Away from the board the lean teetotaller with the thinness of an ascetic vegetarian smiled a lot. He looked older than his age, at the same time exuding a forceful kind of fitness. Immediately after his first game against Dreev he saw no objections to answering some questions. In fact, he did not need a first question. As we sat down he lost no time to lower his head to the microphone and explain a point I might have missed. 'Do you know that I am a Catholic theologist? You know that? I always play wearing a cross, but I forgot today. I came in a hurry and I forgot.'

What I understood from the reports on your matches against Nikolic and Seirawan was that you first wanted to finish your theological studies before you would continue in chess.

'Let me tell the whole story. I once was the third rated player of the world. This was in 1977. I played a Candidates' match against Polugaevsky and one or two months after this match I fell ill with a very grave disease. In the beginning of 1978 I was in the United States and the doctor told me that I had myasthenia gravis. It's the same disease that Onassis, the Greek shipping tycoon, had for thirty years. The doctor told me that when this disease was acute they could not do anything to save my life and that I would die in a matter of days. Because it affects every muscle of the body. One year later, in 1979, I had a very bad crisis and I was about to die. It got worse and worse and I could not chew for one and a half months. I was only drinking liquids, no solid food anymore.'

Why were you not hospitalized?

'There is no medicine against it. That doctor in the United States was one of the biggest names in neurology in the world. He told me, "Mr. Mecking, we are very happy that today you can talk because tomorrow you may not even breathe. You can die in days if the disease gets worse. We cannot do anything for you." So, what to do? I went back to Brazil and stayed there. In 1979 I was about to die. My friends thought that I had only two weeks to live as I had been one and a half months without eating. Only drinking. I was weak, weak. I could not even brush my teeth. I completely lost the strength in my arms and I had no defence at all against the cold. (In a lamenting voice) Oh, it was terrible. In Rio de Janeiro we have a warm climate. You know, in May I was covered with four blankets all the day. I had no defence against the cold. I had trouble breathing, my eyelids were affected, my legs, my arms, everything. Now, I was a Catholic when I was young. I was born in 1952 and I was eighteen or nineteen when I left the church. So, in 1977, when I got sick I returned to the Catholic Church. Then in 1978 I found out that there was a very strong group in the Catholic Church, called Catholic Charismatic Renewal. In the United States twenty per cent of all Catholics belong to this group. There are, I think, 55 million Catholics and ten million belong to this group. It's growing very, very fast. They pray for the sick and Jesus Christ has been healing many, many people that were about to die. Who had no chances with medicine anymore. People with all kinds of diseases. Blind people, people with cancer, all kinds of very grave diseases. So, in '79 when I was about to die I began to pray in this group. It follows the Pope.'

It's also recognized by the Pope?

'Yes, the Pope likes it very much. Three persons came to my house. One of them was a very famous person in Brazil. She was called Zia Laura. Zia means 'aunt' in Portuguese. She died three years ago. She was on television praying for the ill. She came to my house and prayed for me. At that time Jesus Christ did not heal me completely. But my condition improved very much. After that my life was not in danger anymore. Still I suffered from the disease for the years that followed, facing smaller crises. Sometimes when a person has a very strong faith he or she is healed completely the first time. With others Jesus Christ goes little by little. Progressively, so that they pray more and are sorry about their sins.'

This was the case with you?

'Yes, really. Then there was something else. In Brazil Our Lady appeared in two different places. In Pesqueira and in Piedade dos Gerais. Nine times I was in Pesqueira. The first time was at the end of'86. At that time, every time I played chess I would feel horribly after ten or fifteen minutes. It was like a dark cloud in my mind. This ceased completely after I had gone to this place. I could play chess again and I even played a simultaneous.'

Your first, unsuccessful comeback you tried at the Interzonal in Rio in '79.

'Oh no, then I had no condition. This was only months after Jesus Christ had saved my life. The first miracle. At that time I knew very little about religion. I was completely sure that a miracle had happened. So I thought, "That's fantastic. If Jesus Christ did not let me die, I will play in the Interzonal and I will win." But it was not like that. He really performed a miracle and saved my life. But he did not heal me completely. Only a certain percentage. I don't know, fifty or eighty per cent.'


You feel you have the strength to heal other people?

'Not myself. It's what Jesus wants... This woman Zia Laura used to pray in the biggest soccer stadium in Brazil in front of one hundred and thirty thousand people. And Jesus healed many people. But she died of cancer, because one day you must die. Jesus Christ heals when he wants. Not when I want him to. This person should be without grave sins.'

Did you have the feeling that you were full of sins when you got the illness?

'Yes, I was out of the church.'

This was your sin?

'And other sins. Two other sins.'

Sins that you think other people would call sins?

'Now that I am a theologist I understand very well what is a sin and what is not. I graduated as a theologist after four years of study. (With an unpredictable switch) So, I want to thank the tournament very much for inviting me. When they invited me in February I was so sorry. I said, "Oh, I cannot go." But the last time I was in Piedade dos Gerais this young man prayed for me and he said, "In three days Jesus Christ will heal you completely." I went back to the capital of the state, the State of Minos Gerais. There some seven persons were two days more praying for me and Jesus Christ healed me. You know that twenty years ago I was very nervous. (In a slower, soothing tone) Now you see I play the games very calmly. If I lose, of course I don't like this. But my faith is very great. And like the man said I was healed in three days. And I could stop all the medicine. I still do have my special food. I have been eating this special food since '79. I'm a specialist. If l eat this food I don't even have a cold. I'm always perfect.'


Do you have a computer?

'Yes, I have it, I have it. (Again turning to a subject he must not forget) Another thing that is very important for me is that I would like to ask the Catholic people in Holland to pray for my win in this tournament. Oh, I would thank them so much. I believe that if many people are praying... You know what happened in this team competition I played in in July? I will tell you. My team was from the biggest city in the State of Sao Paulo, Campinas, more than a million inhabitants. There was another strong team with the junior champion of Brazil on fourth board. I was the top player of my team but the average rating of the other team was higher. And so we played the decisive match. At one point I get up and look at the games. Oh, it was terrible. We are going to lose 3,5-0,5. Only one game was level. Two were lost, and one was much inferior. The probable result would be 3,5-0,5. However, on this day, before six a.m. I had telephoned to a sister who wakes up at 4 a.m. to pray and I had asked her and her fellow sisters to pray during the hours of the match. And they began to pray, pray, pray. And what happened? We won the match 3-1. It was unbelievable.'

Is it fair to pray for victory? If you're supported by God that's quite a strong help.

'Why don't the others do the same? That's what I want. If the other grandmasters... Mr. Portisch is a Catholic... '

So, what would happen if you played Mr. Portisch and both you and he pray for help? Who would God have to help?

'(Enjoying the problem and starting to laugh) Look, that's very serious. Look, there's another thing that's very important for me. I would like to ask all the Dutch Catholic people to go to this group Catholic Charismatic Renewal. It's very good. They pray for the sick and they glorify the Lord. Oh, it's fantastic.'

But is there a solution to this question we just touched on?

'The thing I want to tell you is that ifl were World Champion, of course, I would speak about chess. I would try to develop chess. Chess is a fantastic game, I love it. But I also do things in religion. That's my very big wish. To pray for millions of people to heal them.'

But is there a solution to this question? You say the others should pray as well. Now suppose they start praying. God might be left with a problem.

'The persons I asked don't pray for Portisch.'

But suppose they would. What would happen in this game?

'Well, many, many times when you ask for something, God gives it to you. But of course both cannot win. So, (laughs in short repetitive laughs) we can ask God. The thing I can tell you is that no prayer is lost. Suppose you pray for a person who is very ill. He's about to die. You pray, pray, pray, but the person dies. That's because Jesus Christ had another intention. But your prayer is not lost. Jesus Christ will use your prayer for somebody else or for something that is better for you. You understand? So, if l play against a Catholic, both of us cannot win. One must lose or it must be a draw. But in the Bible it says pray always, incessantly. So, that's why I have good hopes to be World Champion. It's not crazy this idea. This is my first tournament in sixteen years and if I could draw against an abso­lute top player with Black I have chances.'


Do you ultimately intend to become a priest once your chess career is over?

'I don't know. I know that I prayed very much, many days, and at the mo­ment my faith tells me that I should not be priest right now. But if Jesus Christ tells me to do that, oh, pffff, I'll do that on the same day. But now I have to play chess and try to develop my chess. And that's very tough. (Gets excited again) Tomorrow, oh, a very difficult game.'

What's the nature of your faith right now? Are you pledged, let's say, to celibacy?

'No, no, but I don't want to marry. I want to play chess and this requires a lot of time. I need a lot of time to analyze games and so on. So, I don't want to marry. If in the future I will have to be a priest, I will be a priest. Right now I don't want to be priest. (Recalls another message he should not for­get) Please add the name of the sponsor in your interview. It's lnterpolis. They like that. They are very nice people.'


Did you ask or pray for any moves when you were playing your game today?

'(Hesitates) Ah, eh, I always do that. Almost always. Before I make a move I ask for confirmation. Usually I do that. For almost all moves. Of course, some moves are very simple. But I'm always praying.'

Do you pray in silence?

'I can pray only thinking, and also in a very low voice that will not disturb the others. I use a gift that the Holy Spirit gave me. The gift of tongues. I pray in a different tongue. Not in Portuguese, not in Dutch, not in Ger­man, in English. You can find this in the Bible, The Acts, chapter 2. You know at Pentecost these people were from Galilea. They spoke the lan­guage of Galilea. But all the people there understood them. With the gift of tongues they spoke the language of the Arabs, the language of Libya and other countries. Saint Paul used this gift very much. As he says in the Bi­ble, "Do not forbid anyone to pray in tongues."'


Is it only the diet or do you also do physical exercises?

'Yes, I run. Three times a week. One day I run, the other I don't. About four kilometres. But fast. Like a boy of twenty.'

Do you ever drink?


So, a very clean life.

'You understand that if after all these years of being sick I will be a great player again it will be a sign. People will realize that God did fantastic things in my life. Because they don't expect me to play well again. So, if I do and again become a Candidate to the world title. Oh.'

Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, "The Day Kasparov Quit & Other Chess Interviews"
New in Chess, 2006