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POOR OLD Karpov. The pain of seeing Nigel Short and Jan Timman playing to take his place at the world championship table seems to be overwhelming him. For on Monday, Anatoly Karpov lost the shortest game of his career, blundering to defeat in 12 moves against Larry Christiansen in the tournament at Wijk aan Zee, Holland.

Karpov was world champion from 1975 to 1985, the longest continuous tenure of the title since Lasker's reign ended in 1921; with over 80 first prizes, he is the most successful tournament player in history; and he is still officially ranked No 2 in the world.

But world No 2s do not lose in 12 moves unless something is wrong. Here are the moves of his ludus horribilis:

White: Christiansen

Black: Karpov

----------------------------------------------------------------- 1 d4 Nf6 7 e4 cxd4 2 c4 e6 8 Nxd4 Nc6 3 Nf3 b6 9 Nxc6 Bxc6 4 a3 Ba6 10 Bf4 Nh5 5 Qc2 Bb7 11 Be3 Bd6 6 Nc3 c5 12 Qd1 1-0 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Everybody knows that unprotected pieces demand extra care. Black's 10 . . . Nh5? should have put him on his guard, especially when he began to consider 11 . . . Bd6?? The retreat 12. Qd1 is easy to overlook, but with two men hanging loose on d6 and h5, such a move is exactly what one should be looking for.

In the Weekly World News of 8 December 1992, near a story entitled 'I Was Married on a UFO', there appeared an alleged news item under the heading 'Eskimo Seal Hunter Beats Top Russian Chess Champs'. It told of a 57-year-old Eskimo who had 'rocked the chess world' by beating three Russian grandmasters in fewer than 10 moves. They taught him the moves, then lost to him. 'I felt like a boxer in the ring with a polar bear,' one said.

I thought the tale unlikely at the time, but if Karpov can lose in 12 moves, he had better look out for the next Eskimo.