ALTHOUGH I'VE not been uncritical of the Fide world champion Anatoly Karpov in this column, I still think it a shame that, divested of the manifest advantage that he was granted last time by being seeded to the final, he's declined to defend his title.

The definite news was broken, as so often happens, not on Fide's own site but rather at Kasparov's ( Four players - Karpov, Zsuzsa Polgar (who is in dispute with Fide over the world women's title, of which they have now stripped her since, having recently had a baby, she naturally doesn't wish to defend it immediately), Morozevich and Velimirovic failed to respond. They are being replaced by Lautier, Ulf Andersson, Dreev and Milov.

While I certainly wouldn't have expected Karpov to fight his way all the way through from round two to retain his title, the tournament will be the poorer without him; he remains formidable, as you can see from today's game. Meanwhile those with Internet access can speculate on the results of the remaining players at "Fantasy Chess" (reachable on hi/hdcachess/tourn5.html).

Karpov was in Barcelona on Monday for a two-game rapidplay match with the Spanish champion and easily the strongest Catalan player, Miguel Illescas. It was held in memory of the Catalan arbiter Carlos Falcon, who died last year (he officiated, among others, at countless Linares tournaments), and drew a crowd of 500. There was commentary by the grandmasters Amador Rodriguez and Felix Izeta.

Illescas got some slight initiative in the first game - a Petroff Defence - but was repulsed and later had to defend himself a little before drawing.

In the second, a Slav, below, Karpov got one of those niggling advantages he likes so much and are so unpleasant to defend against him. Illescas ceded the two bishops and then bailed out into an opposite bishop endgame with 39 ...a4 but the lifeboat turned out to leak and when Karpov created passed pawns on both wings he had to surrender.

White: Anatoly Karpov

Black: Miguel Illescas

Queen's Gambit Slav

1 d4 d5

2 c4 c6

3 Nc3 Nf6

4 e3 e6

5 Nf3 Nbd7

6 Qc2 Bd6

7 Bd3 0-0

8 0-0 dxc4

9 Bxc4 a6

10 Rd1 b5

11 Be2 Qc7

12 Ne4 Nxe4

13 Qxe4 Be7

14 Bd2 Bb7

15 Rac1 c5

16 Qb1 Qb6

17 dxc5 Nxc5

18 Bc3 Be4

19 Qa1 Rac8

20 Bd4 b4

21 Ne5 Rfd8

22 f3 Bd5

23 b3 f6

24 Nc4 Bxc4

25 Bxc4 Kh8

26 e4 a5

27 Bf2 Rxd1+

28 Rxd1 Rd8

29 g3 Rxd1+

30 Qxd1 Qd6

31 Qe2 Qe5

32 Kg2 g6

33 Be3 Qc3

34 Qd2 Qxd2+

35 Bxd2 Kg7

36 Be3 e5

37 Kf2 f5

38 exf5 gxf5

39 Ke2 a4

40 Bxc5 Bxc5

41 bxa4 e4

42 fxe4 fxe4

43 Bd5 e3

44 a5 Kf6

45 Bf3 Ke5

46 Kd3 h6

47 h4 Kd6

48 Ke4 Ke6

49 a6 Ba7

50 g4 Bb6

51 Be2 Ba7

52 Bc4+ Kd6

53 Kf5 Kc5

54 Bf1 Kd4

55 g5 hxg5