Death before dishonor
Géza Maróczy (pronounced GAY-zaw MAHR-otsee not MarOXy) died on May 29, 1951, shortly after reaching his eighty-first birthday. With his passing the chess world lost another of those world masters whose fame started in the previous century. In Maróczy, however, the chess world lost more than a grandmaster and a fine gentleman. It lost the unchallenged champion of chivalry in chess.
This chivalry is hard to describe. It is sportsmanship with a medieval touch. It is the Occidental version of the Asian’s anxiety about “face.” It is a basic and noble belief that a man should prefer to die than do wrong, to kill rather than submit to an insult; that honor is sacred.
The Magyar nation (often misleadingly called Hungarian) has always been famous for its chivalry, and chivalry was certainly the norm at the time Maróczy was born. An autonomous part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it had its own laws that respected the feelings of its indigenous Magyars. Dueling, for example, though outlawed in Austria, was common in Hungary. Nobles of the Budapest parliament often settled their disputes that way, a practice that was approved by the general citizenry. The typical Hungarian man was chivalrous, charming, proud, gallant, chauvinistic, and, at times, intolerant. Hungarian schoolchildren were taught in their Latin classes that Extra Hungariam non est vita (There is no life beyond Hungary), and, like grandmaster Rudolf Charousek, they held to that idea even at the brink of starvation.
Such was the atmosphere in which Maróczy grew up. He was born March 3, 1870, in Szeged, Hungary’s second city, where to this day the genuine Magyar lifestyle is most clearly preserved. This allows us to understand the sixty-one-year-old Maróczy’s decision, during the tournament at Bled in 1931, to challenge Nimzovitch to a pistol duel. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, though, when Nimzovitch flatly refused to participate in what he termed his own assassination. Maróczy was satisfied. To his way of thinking, refusal to accept such a challenge was, as a matter of honor, worse than being shot to death.
Yet Maróczy was hardly a warrior. He was, in fact, an extremely peaceful personality. I suspect that, had that duel actually taken place, Maróczy would have been hard put to decide which end of the pistol to hold.