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Time to teach those Soviets a thing or two!

You are the perfect candidate to put them in their place. After all, you used to be a citizen of the USSR!

It is 1978, and here you are in Baguio City, the Phillippines for the World Chess Championship. You have been a grandmaster since 1956 and you are ready to destroy the Soviet chess machine. And you know that machine well since you grew up under its tutelage.

Over the years, you've grown tired of the Soviet chess machine. For a long time, you've refused to stand up for the Soviet national anthem. Your disdain for your country is well known; especially within the Soviet government itself.

They have turned the press against you.

And with the press, the people have also turned against you.

For so long you were considered such a risk for defection that the Soviet Government didn't let you play outside the country for years... until 1976 when you were permitted to play, and become joint tournament winner, of the 1976 Amsterdam Tournament.

You chuckle at how you managed you escape the Soviet Union. After the Amsterdam Tournament, you had a friend help you write "political asylum" on a piece of paper and you walked into a police station handing them the note.

Checkmate. No more Soviet shackles. You were free.

So today, just two years later, you are facing one of your old teammates, Anatoliy Karpov, in the 1978 World Chess Championship.

Things are going well for you until your mind starts to play games with you...

You hear a voice...

You shake your head... you rub your temples... Ugh, where did that voice come from?

You take a few sips of water and try to...

Ugh, there it is again! You take deep breaths...

Gah, your concentration is gone...

Where is this coming from?

You scan the audience for anyone or anything unusual. And then you see him... sitting in the front, staring at you intensely!

He's sending these messages!

He's telling you to lose!


You do... five times, in fact.

. . .

This is the incredibly odd story of the 1978 World Chess Championship. Competing were two of Russia's finest grandmasters: Anatoliy Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi.

Korchnoi would not win the tournament. No, he would go on to write that he was victim of a parapsychologist that the Soviets enlisted to use mind-control techniques on him.

The parapsychologist in question was Dr. Vladimir Zoukhar, a military psychologist. Korchnoi wrote that Zoukar sat motionless for hours, just staring at Korchnoi with a look of intense concentration on his face.

Things got even stranger. To combat the parapsychlogist, Korchnoi employed the assistance of two Yogis in orange robes who sat outside the hall in the lotus position and, upon seeing them, the Soviet parapsychologist left the tournament for good.

Strangely, after Zoukhar left, Korchnoi won four games in a row. But ultimately, Korchnoi just lost his mind completely and threw a fit with the tournament authorities, and just refused to finish playing. (Maybe the mind control worked after all?)

Karpov took the title that year.

So ended one of the weirdest World Chess Championships in history where a supposed parapsychologist beamed mind control waves at Korchnoi while orange-robed, meditating yogis simultaneously wrapped Korchnoi in some sort of psychic mind shield.

. . .

How about you? Have you ever been the victim of secret, Soviet mind control while playing chess? I think I have. Please share your mind control trauma in the comments below.

Also, if this story interested you, check out the great documentary: The Closing Gambit (2018).

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  • Glenn Julich

Created with Crello using public domain imagery. Used with permission.

You heard the whistle on that cool morning in 1915. You grab the ladder and you are up-and-over the top of the trench as you have done many times before.

But this time was different...

You remember a loud explosion and then... something akin to a being tossed about by a giant wave of water. Except that instead of cool, refreshing water it was smoke, dirt, and barbed wire.

There was a scream too... It might have come from you... or from one of your buddies? You don't know for sure.

When you regain a bit of consciousness, you find yourself lying in the mud. You then see a figure appearing through the smoke, a red cross on his armband. You manage to lift your head up just enough to look down at your body and survey the wreckage. Oh my... Waves of nausea hit you and you stop looking.

"Don't fret a thing, Tommy" the medic says as you hear some clamping sounds and the feeling of tight compression bandages being applied to your chest... your abdomen... your legs... everywhere.

"You got yer 'Blighty', mate!" the medic says as he unfastens your canteen and stuffs it into your bloody hands. "You will be home in no time!" He makes a waving gesture off into the distance and then he pats your shoulder as he crawls away in the direction of more explosions... more chaos.

You see two comrades running toward you with a stretcher. Then you pass out.

The Stretcher-bearer Party, painted by Cyril Barraud around 1918. Public domain.

After that, time was a blur. You remember vaguely bouncing around on a stretcher... then bouncing around in an ambulance... then getting pelted with rain outside a casualty clearing station... then an operating room... then clean sheets and smiling nurses.

You spend the next several weeks in-and-out of a morphine haze, occasionally waking up to surveil what was left of you. Until one day a nurse pins a tag showing that you are "Blighty bound." You are going home!

Still covered in bandages from head to toe, you are transferred to a bouncing stretcher... into another bouncing ambulance... and ultimately tucked into a bouncing bunk in one of Britain's finest locomotives: an ambulance train.

. . .

When a wounded Tommy was placed on an ambulance train, it was bittersweet. It was good in that the wounded Tommy was going home! It was bad, of course, because he was obviously badly, badly wounded.

Ambulance train. Public domain image.

Life on an ambulance train was one of near-constant waiting. The trains were delayed by damaged tracks, derailments, or even due to an ambulance train being ordered to move onto separate tracks to await the passing of higher-priority trains (i.e., those with ammunition for the Western Front).

A wounded soldier waiting on an ambulance train could be a brutal experience. Without adequate distractions, the soldier would be left to ponder painful questions. How would he provide for his family now? Would his wife still love him? Will society accept him in his current state?

Thankfully, one British citizen had a novel solution!

Inside an ambulance train. Public domain image.

Leonard Horner volunteered to serve on an ambulance train in the summer of 1915. He was a Quaker and, therefore, could not fight... but he could still serve! So he committed himself to care for the wounded.

Before leaving for the front lines, he took classes on first aid and basic medical care. Once he arrived at the Western Front, he was assigned to the Number 16 Ambulance Train that consisted of 15 coaches loaded with bunks for all of the seriously wounded Tommys.

Horner, like many of us who love chess today, thought the 64 squares of a chessboard would be a wonderful distraction for the wounded Tommys. So he arranged onboard chess tournaments!

The train trips could last for days, and so could chess tournaments! Instead of going to bed fretting about their future, the wounded Tommys could replay their games in their head. Ponder openings that could be played in tomorrow's matches. And like so many of us do, revel in the beauty that is chess.

Horner served from 1915 until he was finally released from service in 1919 after the last of the seriously wounded were able to make their final journey home. But it is pretty amazing to ponder that, for years, there were chess tournaments happening on train tracks in France among wounded soldiers on their final stretch home.

. . .

I am always fascinated and touched when I read about stories where chess is being used to comfort and focus a turbulent mind.

I know when I have felt stressed about something in my life, I have used chess to redirect my thoughts. I would study chess games of masters, study puzzles, or read books about chess and famous masters.

How about you? Have you ever used chess as a diversion to find peace or calmness in your life?

. . .

Source: Mayhew, Emily. Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I

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When you give orders, empires fall.

You've spent your entire life conquering nation after nation in Europe: Italy, Germany, Spain. Great nations fall under the weight of your well-disciplined army and your strategic brilliance. The mere mention of your name, Napoléon Bonaparte, strikes fear in the heart of any who oppose you. In England, so you've heard, school children call you "Boney" and tell tales of how you devour naughty children! Nonsense, of course... but it gives you a chuckle.

All was going well for you until the year 1814 when a colation of your enemies force you into abdication and, ultimately, into exile on the island of Elba, 12 miles (20 km) off the Tuscan coast.

You shrug off your defeat and exile. You could use a vacation, anyway. Conquering Europe takes a toll on a man.

While in Elba, you keep your mind active by playing chess and smirking as your opponents collapse on the 64-square battlefield, reminding you of days past when it was grand armies capitulating before your might and brilliance.

Ultimately, you grow bored. Always a master tactician, you craft your escape and the following year, 1815, you escape with 700 men and make your way back to Paris, taking command of an army of 200,000 men.

Europe hasn't thought much of you lately. But like a rook waiting patiently and lying forgotten across the board, you and your army sweep in at just the right moment to wreak havoc upon your foes!

Seeing your opportunity, you decided to attack the English in the Dutch town of Waterloo. The English, however, prove to be a formidable opponent. To make matters worse, the Prussians join the English and smash your right flank to pieces. Your entire army is routed.

Four days pass before you gather the strength to abdicate. This, you fear, is the end of the French Empire. Confirming your fears, the Allies marched into Paris the following month and your nation, which once called you emperor, has now turned on you. You again find yourself thrown into exile.

This time, however, your adversaries are taking no chances with your imprisonment. You've been exiled to the island of St. Helena, which surrounded by thousands of miles of the Atlantic Ocean. To make matter worse, the island is practically one giant cliff. If someone did want to rescue you, where would they even land their ships? Adding insult to injury, there are over 2,800 men guarding you and 500 cannons!

Napoléon on the cliffs of St. Helena. Public domain picture.

This might be it for you. You suppose it could be worse, though. You are comfortable at least. But you were born to lead men and nations, not to rot away on an island.

One day, a gift arrives. At least someone is thinking of you! It is a chess set and a beautiful one made of carved ivory. You don't know much more about it, unfortunately, as the poor lad who was entrusted to deliver it to you perished on the long sea journey to St. Helena.

Napoléon's residence at St. Helena.

No matter. You will still enjoy having a beautiful new set. And you do, winning many victories against the locals.

But you never did find the best move on the board: For contained within one of the pieces, was a rather intricate escape plan to return you to Europe and your former glory!

. . .

When I first read this, I was amazed.   The soldier entrusted with the delivery of this chess set and the piece containing the plans died of a heart attack while en route to St. Helena!  So when Napoléon received the set, he knew nothing of the plan contained therein.  It is interesting to think that Napoléon spent the rest of his life staring at one of the greatest possible moves of his life on the chessboard, but unable to see it!

From my reading, there were a number of different plans to break him free of exile. Some were incredibly intricate involving a pulley system to get him down the cliff and deliver him into one of the finest submarines the 1820s had to offer (spoiler: they weren't fine at all; they usually just plunged straight to the bottom).

But many historians have speculated that Napoléon would have declined many of these far-fetched escape plans. If he couldn't escape in style, he would have none of it. But who knows, it is still fun to contemplate how history might have changed if he had escaped.

And on the plus side, an old patzer like me will likely never miss a move as important as the one he missed!

. . .


Shenk, David (2006). The Immortal Game: A History of Chess. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-51010-1.

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