Chess

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The Independent Culture
FOLLOWING HIS two simultaneous displays last week, Gary Kasparov on Friday went to a journalists' lunch hosted by Bill Colegrave from publishers Cadogan, who are about to change their name to Everyman.

The event at the exclusive Home House club in Portman Square - due to open officially in January - was splendidly convivial; so much so that you feared that all would have become too anaesthetised for much interesting to emerge. Happily it was quite the reverse as Kasparov held forth on a number of topics, particularly the world championship.

I generally refer to Kasparov as the Professional Chessplayers Association (PCA) world champion, after the organisation which he set up with Nigel Short for their breakaway match in 1994 - an action that he clearly now regrets. This in contrast to Fide's (Federation Internationale des Echecs) champion, who is still - following the fiasco when he defeated an exhausted Viswanathan Anand in January - Anatoly Karpov.

Kasparov, however, argues from a historical perspective, placing himself in the direct line of descent from the first acknowledged world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, who defeated Johannes Zukertort in 1886. After several successful defences, Steinitz was eventually unseated by Emanuel Lasker, who was followed by Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe and Alekhine again, after their return match in 1937.

Up to this stage, the title had essentially been the property of the world champion himself, who invited bids from challengers sufficiently well regarded and financially supported. But following Alekhine's death in 1946, the Soviet Union joined Fide - created in 1924 but hitherto ineffectual with regard to the world championship. It was under Fide's auspices that the 1948 world championship tournament in The Hague and Moscow was organised, from which Mikhail Botvinnik emerged victorious.

The line then continued under Fide's auspices, fractured only by Bobby Fischer's refusal to defend his title in 1975 (Kasparov's take on this is that Fischer was being unreasonable precisely because he demanded better conditions than he received as challenger) up to Kasparov, who still, as far as he is concerned and whatever the political fall-out, remains the undefeated 13th champion.

I see two main problems with this. The first is that his relative "inactivity" recently will be easily addressed in 1999, when he intends to play much more. But the essential thing is that he defends his title soon - however it is described.

Following the collapse of the World Chess Council and the failure to find a (good enough) alternative sponsor for a match with Alexei Shirov, it's now three-and-a-half years since his match with Viswanathan Anand in New York in the summer of 1995.

It seems absolutely clear that Kasparov won't, under any conditions, play in the Fide president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's world championship knockout tournament next year. But he may play a match with the winner or, independently, with either Anand or Kramnik. Arguably, none of these options is ideal. But the one thing which is absolutely not credible is glorious isolation.

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