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Apart from the two parallel competitions for the PCA and Fide world championships, and the drastic defeats of Michael Adams and Nigel Short by Viswanathan Anand and Gata Kamsky, and the threat to kill Nigel Short made over dinner by Kamsky's fath er, andAnatoly Karpov's brilliant victory at Linares and generally unimpressive results elsewhere, and the Olympics in Moscow, and the re-election of Florencio Campomanes, supported by his former arch-enemy Garry Kasparov, as President of Fide, it has b een a quiet year in world chess. However, there have been a couple of remarkable news stories that you might have missed.

First comes an uplifting tale from the United States of the prison chess programme at the Powhatan Correctional Center in Virginia, which is finally operational following the analysis of results of the 1972-74 pilot study. "The purpose of the current prison chess program," says the official news release, "is to build a statistical base which can be used to demonstrate the value of chess in reducing recidivism and thereby reducing crime!" (Their exclamation mark.)

The success claimed for the pilot scheme is based on the recidivism statistics: of the 44 prisoners who took part in the study, only 10 have returned to prison, a rate of 22.7 per cent, compared with over 70 per cent among all prisoners in state custody in Virginia.

It is, of course, possible that the volunteers for the chess programme were only those least likely to re-offend in the first place - or one might even suggest that a sound grounding in chess strategy has helped them not get caught.

We, however, would never be so cynical, and take the view that chess can undoubtedly have an uplifting moral effect, among law-abiding citizens as well as criminals. We recommend the game to anyone of violent disposition, particularly those inclined to make death threats at dinner.

Another possible explanation of the data from Powhatan is suggested by a report in the Weekly World News. The 77.3 per cent who have not returned to prison may have avoided it because their heads exploded.

According to the 24 May issue of WWN (a journal not famed for scientific rigour) a Russian named Nikolai Titov was playing in a recent tournament when he suddenly clutched his temples and screamed in agony. Then his head exploded, spraying players and officials with blood and brain matter.

They say it's a rare condition called Hyper-Cerebral Electrosis, caused by overloading the brain's electrical circuits by thinking too much. The victims, the report suggests, "were literally too smart for thier own good".

The condition is very rare, and "at this stage medical science still doesn't know much about HCE", but early signs are headaches and eating too much ice-cream. Merry Christmas.