Person of day - 23 JANUARY 2024
At the mere age of 15, the young Brazilian chess player first participated in the inter-zonal tournament. In our time, it is hard to impress with this achievement, but in 1967 only Fischer came to mind, since there were no other parallels. In total, the “Pele of chess” played in inter-zonal tournaments five times. He was the winner twice- in 1973 and 1976.
Although he did not achieve success in contenders’ matches, losing to Korchnoi in 1974 and Polugaevsky in 1977, the very emergence of a strong player from Brazil who was also a wunderkind was a sensation in the 1970s. Mecking became Brazil’s first grandmaster and he was a dangerous opponent for any player- on his count are victories against the leading players of that time, both from the West and the Soviet Union. Many compared him to Fischer and Mecking himself challenged the American champion to a match.
In history, there is left an external exchange of barbs between the two ex-wunderkinds. “If Fischer loses to me, it will in no way harm his reputation”, the Brazilian claimed. “Windbag!” replied Fischer. “I will only lose to Mecking if a deadly snake bites me.”
At the end of the 1970s, Mecking occupied third place in the world rankings list. In 1979, the Brazilian played in another inter-zonal tournament in Rio de Janeiro, but he dropped out of the tournament on the insistence of doctors. Soon, his illness forced Henrique to leave chess and he did not play for more than ten years. Mecking believed his recovery from a long illness to be a divine miracle: he became deeply religious and wrote a book: “How Christ Saved My Life.”
At the beginning of the 1990s, Mecking made an effort to return to chess after being blessed by the Church. Though he did not return to his former heights, he continues to participate in tournaments from time to time.