Saturday, January 3, 2015

Pestaño: Popes who love to play chess

Monday, January 5, 2015

THE greatest achievement of any man is not winning the Nobel Prize or becoming president of a large country like the USA but becoming Pope.
There are an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, according to Vatican figures.
His Holiness Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention for his simple message of God’s boundless love and mercy. My observation is that he will be one of the greatest and most popular Popes of all time.
Pope Francis will visit the Philippines on Jan. 15-19 primarily to comfort Filipinos devastated by typhoon Yolanda and the earthquake that hit the Visayas. He will visit at least 11 venues in the province of Leyte and Metro Manila.
Because of the stature and importance of the man, it has been proposed that there will be no classes in Metro Manila, Samar and Leyte.
I hope that the Pope will also visit Cebu, being the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines.
I don’t know whether Pope Francis is a chess player but I would not be surprised if he is. Chess is a popular sport among seminarians.
Popes who played chess included Pope Leo XIII, Pope Gregory VI, Pope Innocent III, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Leo X.
Chess and religion did not always get along. Chess was forbidden by  Roman Catholics and other religions as it was considered idolatry because of its graven images and a waste of time. Catholics were forbidden to play chess up to 1299.
When it spread to Europe, the pieces were changed to keep from being “graven” images--King and Queen, knights, castles (rooks) and foot soldiers (pawns).  Bishops had great power 400 to 500 years ago in Europe and actually had their own armies.  Hence the Bishop fit nicely.
A History of Chess by H.J.R. Murray (Oxford, 1913) stated that Leo X (1475-1521) was “a keen chess player.” This mentioned not only Leo X but also Leo XIII , described as “a constant player for over 30 years whose skill at the game was by no means mediocre.” A game (Giuoco Piano) purportedly played by Leo XIII, while he was still Cardinal Pecci (i.e. in the mid-1870s) has been widely published.
What is not generally known is that John Paul II was a composer of chess problems. I have known a lot of chess players and those who compose chess problems are the rarest of all. It requires a lot of creativity. Because of his passion for chess, Fide awarded the title “Grand Commander of the Legion of Grandmasters” to him in 1999.
Pope Gregory VI was described as an avid chess player. He was very controversial as he was accused of purchasing the papacy and freely admitted it. The bishops called upon him to resign. Gregory VI, seeing that little choice was left to him, complied on his own accord and resigned. had several online tournaments named after Pope Innocent III.
The next Wesley So? Whenever you come across a kid named Alekhine, you can be sure that the father is a chess player. I have known two fathers who named their child Alekhine--Cepca stalwart Jun Olis and Hamid Nouri--a familiar figure during my Luneta days and a Fide Master.
In the Asean Age Group Championships in Thailand in June last year, Alekhine Nouri won the Open 8-Under category and was awarded a FM title, making him the youngest in the world.
Now he is making waves in an on-going major tournament in Las Vegas with six straight wins against adults in the 1900 category. His family moved to California last year so he would be exposed to world-class chess.

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