The off-the-board battles for the world chess championship entered another phase of turmoil this week with the confirmation of a new style of world title contest to be staged in the Russian republic of Kalmykia in December. The force behind it is Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of both Kalmykia and the International Chess Federation, Fide.

First, however, we need to recap the plot so far. Since 1993, when Short and Kasparov launched the Professional Chess Association (PCA) and broke away from Fide, we have had two world champions, Kasparov for the PCA and Karpov for Fide. Both organisations then discovered that the schism made it more difficult for them to attract sponsors: the PCA lacked credibility because it did not have the support of the game's official governing body; Fide lacked credibility because it did not have the support of the world's leading player. Kasparov defended his title against Anand in 1995; Karpov defended his title against Kamsky in 1996, but neither match attracted a purse as high as those of the Karpov-Kasparov matches.

So pressures grew for reconciliation and a unification match between the two Ks.

At the end of 1994, Florencio Campomanes was reelected president of Fide on a platform of unification, but was forced out of office a year later when he failed to deliver. In his place came Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who almost brought about the disintegration of Fide when he announced that the Karpov- Kamsky match would be held in Baghdad. Then he said it was all a publicity stunt and they would play in Elista.

His other plan, however, was to get rid of the traditional challenge matches for the world title and replace them by an annual knock-out tournament. Yesterday, he confirmed that such a tournament will take place in Elista, with $5m in prizes to be shared among 100 grandmasters, including $1.37m for the winner. Both Kasparov and Karpov, however, have strongly criticised the idea and appear unlikely to play.

Meanwhile, independent plans for a final showdown between the two champions appear to be well advanced, with Las Palmas tipped as a likely venue towards the end of this year. It could even coincide with the new Fide championship. Which would, of course, mean that we'll need another unifying match next year. The turmoil goes on.