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IN DANGER of being swallowed alive by the extraordinary, 80-acre Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the Fide world championship opened on Friday evening (Saturday morning UK time) with a singular opening ceremony in the "Circus Maximus Showroom".

Graced by Fide's president - and President of Kalmykia - Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, and the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, Anita de France, it featured the presentation of a letter of support from President Bill Clinton himself; the official opening by President Ilyumzhinov; superb singing by the tenor Zurab Zutkolova; a mind-blowingly non-PC presentation of designer furs; and, best of all, the emergence from a wooden birthday cake of Willy Iclicki!

Mr Iclicki, a member of the organising committee and former treasurer of Fide, had been placed in the cake to invite everybody to the celebration on 20 November in Paris of the 75th anniversary of the formation of Fide in that city. This he did in French, which was "mock-translated" by the MC - so the announcement that President Chirac is due to attend was presumably caught by less than half the audience - though Mr Iclicki did explain in English afterwards. I was just thinking that this gag would work better in Chinese, when it was repeated by a lady from Hong Kong, announcing that next year's championship will be held there.

The meat of the ceremony, though, was the drawing of lots itself, by the US champion Nick de Firmian. He drew Black for the first game, so Tony Miles and I both started with that colour against Ralf Akesson and Pablo Ricardi respectively. I drew and he lost our first games but we both won the second, albeit I pulled mine right out of the fire; so I've qualified against Boris Gelfand and Tony had to play off on Monday. Michael Adams is to play Mihail Kobalija (Russia), Nigel Short plays Daniel Fridman (Latvia) and Matthew Sadler was awaiting the play-off between Andres Rodriguez (Uruguay) and Karen Asrian (Armenia).