Friday, September 1, 2006

The ‘holy men’ of the checkered board

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

If a chess team were to be formed among holy men, the team captain would be a woman, St. Teresa of Avila, a major figure of the Catholic Reformation and the patron saint of chess players.

She is a Doctor of the church and a monastic reformer. She wrote that we should play a “spiritual chess” with the Beloved of our hearts and that we should checkmate Him. She adds that He cannot escape from our moves and would not even wish to.

Another saint who plays chess is St. Charles Borromeo, who was so enamored of the game that his superiors reprimanded him and asked him what he would do if the world would come to the end and he would be playing chess. “Continue playing,” he replied.

Ruy Lopez was a Spanish priest who was the 1st unofficial champion of the world in the 16th century . He wrote the book, Libro de la invencion liberal y arte del juego del axedrez, which is considered the first fundamental book on chess. The most popular opening in chess is the Ruy Lopez, which is named after him

SECOND. Henrique Mecking is a grandmaster who trained for the priesthood and was hailed as the “Next Fischer” being rated third in the world in 1977, behind Anatoly Karpov and Victor Korchnoi. In 1979 he was stricken with the near fatal illness myasthenia gravis and it took him 12 years before he could recover. He sometimes play in tournaments, although he has not joined the world’s elite.

William Lombardy is a former Catholic priest who is famous in chess history as the official “second” of Bobby Fischer in the Match of the Century against Boris Spassky. He won the World Junior Championship in 1957 with a perfect score of 11-0, the only time it has been done. Because of this, he was awarded by Fide the grandmaster title without receiving the International Master title.

John Owen was ordained and became a vicar of Hooten from 1862–1900 and was one of England’s best players. He popularized the move 1. e4 b6, Owen’s defense. It is considered a hyper modern defense and he used it to win a game against Paul Morphy in1858.

It is well known that the late Pope Leo XIII’s recreation in his lifetime was chess. It is said that a favorite opponent of His Holiness, Father Guila, would sometimes take the game so seriously as to bring upon himself a mild rebuke from the Pope and a little homily upon the necessity of Christian resignation and self control.

HUNTERS. St. Thomas Beckett was one of the most pious and devout Archbishop in the 12th century and his best friend was Henry, later King Henry II of England. They hunted and played chess together, people said the two had “one mind and one heart”. He was martyred because of his defense of the church. He was canonized in 1173.

Cardinal Richelieu was a French Cardinal who was very influential and became chief minister of King Louis XIII. He is famous for creating the musketeer units, which was immortalized in the book by Alexandre Dumas “The Three Musketeers.” His favorite sparring partners in chess was the King himself and the Queen, who was rumored to be his lover.

Dr. Billy Graham is considered “the most potent evangelist in American history” and was listed as No.7 in Gallup’s list of admired people in the 20th century. He has sometimes mentioned chess when preaching and also compared the game to life.

Pope John Paul II is one of the most beloved and influential pope in history. In his youth he was a polyglot athlete, actor, playwright and an avid chess player. Earlier I wrote that the Popes was a composer of chess problems but I later learned that this was a hoax.

So there you are, if you are a chess player you are indeed in good company.

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