Pelé of the chessboards

South-American, the first youngest International Master in history (at 15, in 1967) and a strong player in the 1970’s, Mecking has never been a world champion, but had such a good performance that became the third place in FIDE world rankings – only behind the world champion and the vice world champion at the time, Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi, respectively.

He was so popular that, in his country, he was compared to Pelé (in soccer) and Emerson Fittipaldi (in the F1). Also, he had his face in the covers of many magazines and newspapers, like Veja magazine, the one which sales more in Brazil (see image). His prestige was such that his name turned into song lyrics, composed by the rock singer Raul Seixas and the writer Paulo Coelho. He had even the governor’s support at the time, who always met him after his triumphs at the boards.

He won twice the Interzonal Tournament, which gave him a place at the World Championship cycle, in Petropolis 1973 (Brazil) and Manilla 1976 (Philippines), ahead of names such as Boris Spassky, Vassily Smyslov, Efim Geller, Lajos Portisch, Lev Polugaevsky, Vlastimil Hort and David Bronstein. His matches against sovietic players excited so much the world that, after 30 years had passed, when they had the opportunity to meet him, in Netherlands 2009, players of the caliber of Vassily Ivanchuk (UKR), Levon Aronian (ARM) and David Navara (CZE) looked for him to comment on his famous matches against Korchnoi (Augusta 1974) and Polugaevsky (Luzern 1977) in the Candidates Tournament. “I grew up studying his games”, Ivanchuk would have said to him at that time.

The Next Fischer

When Mecking was at his peak, Bobby Fischer had already quit and some had even said that he was the “next Fischer”. Against the North-American he played twice: a draw, when he was only an International Master, and a loss. They would play a match, in Argentina, but negotiations failed and the encounter never happened. “I went to the hotel where Fischer was every day, but, I can’t explain why, we never finished the negotiations for the match to take place”, Mecking once said.

He was polemic, made controversial statements and accused the system which determined the World Champion at that time to favors the soviets (something Fischer also did). Maybe due to this, the Russians criticized him much, as a way to affect him psychologically. Before his match in Augusta against Viktor Korchnoi – who, at that time, still belonged to the URRS – , Tigran Petrosian and Mikhail Tal gave interviews criticizing his game very much, something some other soviet players openly did as well….

Interview with GM Henrique Mecking

Rádio Xadrez – How is your daily routine nowadays?

Henrique Mecking – As many people already know, I had a very serious disease, 33 years ago, and I’m almost cured. Nowadays I do simultaneous exhibitions, lectures and also teach, apart of playing international tournaments or rapid tournaments. Also, I run and practice the karate alone. Summing up, I have been preparing myself in chess. Few days ago, I launched a book about my best games [Henrique Mecking – The Chess of a Grandmaster] and this book will be sought by Brazilian chess players and will be published in other languages also. My first book, How Jesus Christ saved my life, is already in its sixth edition in Brazil and was published in the Romanian language. In the last five matches I played against Grandmasters, I didn’t lose any, won three and drew two.

Rádio Xadrez – About the beginning of your career, when Brazil was under a dictatorial regime and you had the support of the government at the time, did you have the political conscience of this?

HM – Well, to begin answering this question, I loved chess. I had 18 years old, studying physics in college and invitations for tournaments came. I saw Grandmasters playing and I was eager to give up college, because I preferred chess rather than physics. Chess at that time was less developed in Brazil. So, there was no chance of my being exceptional in chess at that time. And I didn’t live in São Paulo, where there is, naturally, the greatest economic potential of the country. Then, there were no practical chances for me to dedicate entirely to chess unless I had the support of someone strong. So he [Brazil’s President at the time – General Médici] gave me all the support to play chess, because he liked the sport very much.

Rádio Xadrez – In 2010 Chess Olympiad the Brazilian team had a very expressive result. Weren’t you willing to be part of that team?

HM – Yes, but it was not possible for me to play. I have a plan for my life and nothing makes me deviate from this plan. To any invitation I have, I pray, and ask Jesus for an answer, acting according to the orientation he gives me.

Rádio Xadrez – What plan is it?

HM – I will be again one of the best players in the world. To God, everything is possible. Most people think I won’t make it. The cure Jesus is giving me is progressive and I’m almost fine. In 1979, I was almost dying, couldn’t chew, just ate liquid food, didn’t have the power even to brush my teeth anymore, and today I’m almost cured and returning to chess. I’m 58 years old and, only by myself, I would never have the conditions to reach this level again. My age is only 10% of the obstacle. The rest of the disease I still have corresponds to 90% of reaching my goal. However, as soon as I’m totally cured, I believe I will be back on top. My rating will go up slowly and my strength of play will highly increase also.

Full article here.

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Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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