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Independent Pursuits; Chess

JUST AFTER midnight on Tuesday morning, the minister for sport, Tony Banks, announced his total support for and intention of implementing the recognition of chess as a sport.

His very welcome announcement came at the end of the adjournment debate at the House of Commons. Opening, Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, had explained that like many others he was drawn to the game by the 1972 Fischer vs Spassky match. A former Liverpool Schools Champion who as a junior reached the most respectable grading of 150, he outlined a knowledgeable potted history of our great successes, quoted from the first early-day motion of Charlotte Atkins (Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands) to recognise chess as a sport - she will be announcing a second on 25 March - and explained the pecuniary reasons why the change of status is so important.

In answer, the minister for sport, on "...a wretchedly inconvenient evening... completing a day between the Scylla of dodgy boxing results and the Charybdis of chess recognition", recapitulated the arguments for the physical component of chess but explained that recognition will require amendment of the 1937 Sports and Recreation Act, after which the Sports Council will have to promulgate the necessary changes in its Royal Charter.

Primary legislation may also be necessary to amend the National Lottery. So the process seems far from trivial. But given the necessary political will it will surely happen, and the importance was underlined later on Tuesday by Fide's president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who unexpectedly visited the House of Commons to meet the minister, together with Dr Harris and Ms Atkins, to express his support.

Meanwhile, Monaco has been reverberating not to the plunking of tennis balls or screeching of racing cars but rather to the thudding of chess pieces. After three days, Karpov led the rapidplay with 2.5/3 and Kramnik and Shirov led the blindfold also with 2.5/3, while overall Karpov and Kramnik led with 4.5/6.

Blindfold chess can still embrace huge complexity, as in this tactical slugfest. In a critical line of the Grunfeld, White took pawns in return for development. The crisis came after 16 a3 when 16 ...Na2! is very strong after either 17 Ra1 Nxc5 18 Nxc6 Rxc6 19 Rxa2 and either 19 ...Nd3+ taking the exchange or 19 ...Nb3!?; or 17 Rc2 e5! 18 Nce6!? Ba4! 19 Nxg7 Bxc2 20 Bxe5 f6!. Instead Lautier got hit with the vicious 21 Nc6! and soon succumbed.

White: Predrag Nikolic

Black: Joel Lautier

Grunfeld Defence

1 d4 Nf6

2 c4 g6

3 Nc3 d5

4 Bf4 Bg7

5 Rc1 0-0

6 e3 c5

7 dxc5 Qa5

8 cxd5 Ne4

9 Nge2 Na6

10 Qa4 Qxa4

11 Nxa4 Bd7

12 c6 bxc6

13 dxc6 Nb4

14 Nd4 Rac8

15 Nc5 Bxc6

16 a3 Nxc5?

17 Rxc5 Bxg2

18 Rxc8 Rxc8

19 Bxg2 Nd3+

20 Kd2 Nxf4

21 Nc6! Nxg2

22 Nxe7+ Kf8

23 Nxc8 Bxb2

24 a4 a5

25 Nb6 Ba3

26 Nd5 Nh4

27 Rb1 Nf3+

28 Ke2 Ne5

29 f4 Nc6

30 Rb6 Ne7

31 Rb8+ Kg7

32 e4 Nc6

33 Rb6 Nd4+

34 Kd3 Nf3

35 h3 h5

36 Rb5 Ng1

37 h4 Nf3

38 Rxa5 Nxh4

39 Ke2 g5

40 fxg5 Ng6

41 Rb5 h4

42 a5 Ne5

43 a6 Nc6

44 a7 1-0