Pursuits: Chess

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The Independent Culture
IF THERE'S one thing the chess world needs more than anything else, it's a resolution of the world championship imbroglio. Following his pyrrhic victory against an exhausted Viswanathan Anand last January, Fide (Federation Internationale des Echecs), officially recognises Anatoly Karpov. Their next world championship knockout was scheduled for June/July in Las

Vegas and, by not seeding anybody beyond the first couple of rounds (Karpov, remember, went straight through to the final), should have had some credibility even in the certain absence of Kasparov.

But, not content with his good fortune, Karpov has been fighting tooth and claw to prolong his reign to the agreed two years by getting this postponed; and he seems to have won - for Fide have now parted company with the intended organisers. I would be (pleasantly) amazed if it were not held in Elista, capital of Fide and Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's Republic, in the end: though the dates are anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, with Karpov only ninth on the current rating list it's generally agreed that Kasparov, who became the the PCA (Professional Chess Players Association) world champion following his breakaway with Nigel Short in 1993 and successfully defended his title against Viswanathan Anand in 1995, is still the strongest player - and Anand the next strongest.

Last June, Alexei Shirov, who had been brought in when Anand declined, won a sterling victory against Vladimir Kramnik under the auspices of a new organisation, the World Chess Council (WCC) founded expressly for that purpose, which gave him the right to challenge Kasparov. But the WCC foundered when the Junta Andalucia withheld its financial support. And Shirov is now in limbo, while Kasparov wants a match with Anand instead.

Last Thursday, Shirov broke his silence to issue a long statement, in which he rehearsed the historical background and modestly volunteered that several other players, including Ivanchuk and Svidler, could reasonably have been selected to play Kramnik. But he pointed out that he had not received any money, let alone the $200,000 guarantee in the event of the Kasparov match foundering, as stated in the incomplete contract; and he was adamant that "the only more or less serious offer" he had received was for a match in California to be split $400,000/$200,000, for though $650,000/$350,000 in Spain had been mooted, this was only verbally.

He ended: "I presume that my legitimacy as the World Championship contender is not any lower than Kasparov's legitimacy as the World Champion... I have won all the matches I played since 1991 with a high score, so I feel ready to beat Kasparov in match play."

What a mess! In the unlikely event of sufficient money and goodwill coinciding, all could be solved, for example by a tournament of many rounds with Kasparov, Anand, Shirov and the next Fide world champion; but the perceived danger of players colluding, not to mention fractious people and organisations and flying pigs, will now doubt scotch such a pipe-dream.