Anatoly Karpov has been both criticising the new formula for the Fide world championship, and explaining why he is playing in it nevertheless. "I have my doubts," Karpov said of the new knock-out format, which will culminate in a six-game match for the title. "I still believe in matches when you know your opponent a long time in advance and you have the opportunity to prepare yourself, to study his style ... In this new system, you have too short a time and matches are not long."

In fact, as defending champion, Karpov is in the extremely privileged position of being allowed to wait on the sidelines while the best of the world's grandmasters have to fight through the knock-out rounds to determine who will meet him in the final. Karpov also dislikes the idea of resolving the title by quick-play games if the final ends in a 3-3 draw. "This is just like first running a marathon, then if you show the same time, then they offer you to run a sprint."

But he says that he will take part, because if he does not, "then it will be a terrible mess". Bobby Fischer withdrew from active competition after winning the world title in 1972; the Garry Kasparov refused, in 1993, to continue playing matches under the auspices of Fide. "If I don't play this competition, I will be the third one, and so there will be the winner of this competition and we will have four world champions. This is too much for one game."

Karpov has little real option. He has slipped to number five in the world rankings and still hopes for a unifying match with Kasparov - who is still ranked number one. It seems very likely that when the new competition is over, negotiations will begin for a match between Kasparov and the winner. Who knows, they might even try to persuade Bobby Fischer and Deep Blue to participate as well, to settle the issue of who or what really is the best chessplayer on earth. The first-round matches in the new Fide world championship will begin next week, and the final will be held in Lausanne, Switzerland, from 1-9 January.

Talking of world champions, it was nice to see Boris Spassky having a rare outing at a Rapid-play event in France last month. His recent lack of practice (or perhaps just lack of hard work) showed in his choice of openings: in all his games with Black that I have seen, his first moves were b6, Bb7, e6, d6 and Nd7 - but his talent showed through with victories such as this one.

White must have thought he was attacking, but Spassky's neat sidestep with 15...Kd7! left him well on top.

White: A Kogan

Black: B Spassky

1 e4 b6 14 Nh5 Ne5

2 d4 Bb7 15 Bh6 Kd7

3 Bd3 e6 16 Nhxf6+ Bxf6

4 Ne2 d6 17 Qh5 Rg4

5 0-0 Nd7 18 Rad1 Rh4

6 f4 g6 19 Nxf6+ Qxf6

7 f5 gxf5 20 Bg5 Rxh5

8 exf5 e5 21 Bxf6 Rg8

9 Ng3 Ngf6 22 Bxe5 Rxg2+

10 Nc3 exd4 23 Kf1 dxe5

11 Nce4 Be7 24 Kf1 dxe5

12 a4 a6 25 Rxe5 Rhxh2

13 Re1 Rg8 White resigns