Hypnotism and black magic in Baguio, 1978 | Inquirer Opinion
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Hypnotism and black magic in Baguio, 1978

/ 05:05 AM December 11, 2020

The 1978 World Chess Championship in Baguio between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi is remembered in history not so much for the brilliance of their games, but for the background of international Cold War politics at the time and, of course, Marcos and martial law in the Philippines. Making international headlines then was not chess, but the sideshows like a squabble over yogurt and the hysterics over the supposed effect of hypnotism or mind-bending on the outcome of the tournament.

Before the opening ceremony on July 17, 1978, it was agreed that the Philippine National Anthem would play first as the host country and the Soviet anthem second, for the Russian reigning champion Karpov. But what about the stateless challenger Korchnoi, a Russian defector? As a resident of Switzerland, he was not entitled to the Swiss anthem. Korchnoi proposed playing the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony instead. Better known as the “Ode to Joy,” this tune is something I associate today with the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall. Back then, it would rub into the Soviets since Beethoven wrote music around a Schiller text called “Freiheit” (Liberty). Furthermore, Korchnoi planned to insult the Soviet anthem by sitting down when it was played.


On opening day, the orchestra brought the wrong music and played the “Internationale” instead of the Soviet anthem. This reminded me of a visiting West German VIP in 2006 who laid a wreath at the Rizal monument—and was honored by the military band with the East German anthem.

Issues in the Baguio games were provoked by the Korchnoi camp, making the match memorable for its inanities. When Korchnoi refused the chair supplied by the organizers, opting for his own custom-made chair, the Karpov delegation suspected it contained hidden gadgets, so the chair was dismantled at the Baguio General Hospital and placed under an x-ray machine. It found nothing but chair foam and metal.


When blueberry yogurt was served to Karpov during the second game on July 20, 1978, the Korchnoi camp suspected the move contained a coded message and protested in writing to the organizers, declaring that:

“Reception of Yoghourt or alternative sustenance is [a]… serious infringement of the FIDE regulations. It is clear that a cunningly arranged distribution of edible items to one player during the game, emanating from one delegation or the other, could convey a kind of coded message. Thus a yoghourt after move 20 could signify ‘we instruct you to offer a draw,’ or a sliced mango could mean ‘we order you to decline a draw.’ A dish of marinated quails’ eggs could mean ‘play Ng.4 at once’ and so on. The possibilities are limitless.“

To resolve the issue, only violet-colored yogurt was allowed and served at a specific time to Karpov by a designated waiter. Other yogurt colors or flavors and other food and drinks were disallowed. Nonetheless, yogurt was not the issue that hogged the news. Korchnoi protested the presence of Dr. Vladimir Zukhar, a parapsychologist in the Soviet delegation who sat in the front row and gazed intently at the challenger for hours during games. Korchnoi claimed Zukhar was more than a distraction; he was trying to hypnotize or disrupt his brain waves! Organizers relegated Zukhar from the front to the seventh row, but this was not acceptable to Korchnoi, who said he had been informed by a Cambridge academic that he could be hypnotized even from a distance.

To counteract Zukhar’s supposed mind-bending powers for a few days, Korchnoi first brought in Dr. Vladimir Bergina, an Israeli psychologist, and later, Steven Michael Dwyer and Victoria Shepperd from Ananda Marga, who taught him transcendental meditation. The couple made a scene by appearing on-site in their orange Ananda Marga gowns and turbans. They sat on the floor, assumed the lotus position, and meditated to support Korchnoi against Zukhar. They were later evicted from the Baguio Convention Center when it was discovered that they were out on bail for the attempted murder of an Indian diplomat in Makati in February 1978.

To fill the seats in the empty hall, the Korchnoi camp brought in other support, like parapsychology students from Ateneo headed by Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ.

Postscript to this event: In September 1978, the Baguio police arrested three people who threatened to use black magic on Korchnoi and make him lose unless they were paid $15,000. More fun in the Philippines indeed, where truth is stranger than fiction.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: 1978 World Chess Championship, Anatoly Karpov, Baguio, black magic, Chess, Cold War, History, hypnotism, marcos, martial law, Viktor Korchnoi
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