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Grand gambits as Kasparov and Short move in for chess coup

THE FUTURE of world chess will be decided in the next six days. That is the time remaining for the International Chess Federation, FIDE, to defuse the bomb primed by the world champion, Garry Kasparov, and his challenger, Nigel Short.

According to Short, the game is already over: 'FIDE are checkmated,' he says. He believes the players' coup, to seize control of the world championship match from the official governing body, is certain to succeed: 'I don't see any way for FIDE to get back into play.' Others offer a different analysis of the position: 'It is still in the early middle game,' said a source close to FIDE.

Last month, Short beat Jan Timman to win the right to challenge Kasparov for the world title. The moves since have been as complex as any chess game. After a Spanish Opening (a rumoured pounds 2.5m bid from Barcelona later replaced by one of a pounds 450,000 from Santiago de Compostela) and an unsound Belgrade Gambit (nearly pounds 4m of tainted Serbian money), the first round of bidding for the world title match ended in acrimony. The players demanded that further bids be invited. A new game began.

Move 1: The English Opening. Adam Black, publicity director of the British Chess Federation, and Raymond Keene, chess writer and entrepreneur, advertise for an English sponsor.

Move 2: Black makes a mistake. At 4pm on 22 February, the deadline for bids, he phones FIDE in Lucerne. Manchester City Council, supported by Manchester airport, has offered a prize fund of pounds 1.2m; the 'London Chess Group' has offered pounds 1.1m, but failed to conform to FIDE's terms by not including a bank guarantee. Black tells Manchester that it has won.

He then phones FIDE again to discover that another bid had arrived just on the deadline. Channel 4, in conjunction with the sports management group IMG, had bid pounds 1.3m. One reason it was delayed was that Black had inadvertently given the bidders the wrong fax number. The bid is conditional on TV rights.

Black tells Manchester that it might not have won after all.

Move 3: Short takes a time-out. FIDE cannot contact him as he is travelling from Cannes to Athens.

Move 4: Manchester are furious, but is persuaded to talk to Channel 4.

Move 5: Just as these talks begin, Florencio Campomanes, FIDE's president, awards the match to Manchester, as the only bidder conforming to regulations.

Move 6: Short plays a surprise move. Told of the FIDE decision, he rings Kasparov, who rings Keene. Keene and Kasparov have both lost battles against Campomanes. In 1986, Keene, who had aided Campomanes in the early years of his FIDE presidency, was part of an unsuccessful challenge to unseat him. At the same time, Kasparov founded the Grandmasters' Association, a players' union, to wage war against FIDE. However, internal disputes led to its foundering.

And so, move 7: Kasparov, after agreeing things with Short, dictates a press release to Keene, accusing FIDE of 'wilful disregard for the players' and declaring that FIDE 'cannot be trusted to organise the most important professional chess competition'.

It announced that the match would be organised by a new body, The Professional Chess Association, and invited yet more bids. The contact name on the press release was Keene's nanny.

The players are aware that organising the match themselves would be financially beneficial: under FIDE 25 per cent of the prize fund would go to the organisation.

The deadline for bids is Friday, and the current position is:

Manchester: The Manchester group feels sour, believing that it played to the rules and won. Any involvement with an anti-FIDE organisation could damage the city's chances of being awarded the 2000 Olympic Games.

London Chess Group: Matthew Patten of The Sponsorship Consultancy put together this consortium, still very much in play. 'The decision of the players was right for chess,' he says. The group will certainly bid again.

Channel 4 and IMG: Rumoured to be talking to Manchester about a joint bid.

FIDE: 'We had no choice', says Casto Abundo, its general secretary. 'If we had not awarded Manchester the match, we would be open to a law suit.'

Keene: 'Campomanes miscalculated. He thought that Nigel and Garry would never talk to each other.' Since Short had, the week before joining forces with Kasparov, referred to him as 'one of the most unpleasant men in the chess world', their alliance was indeed a surprise.

Short: 'People imagine this is some big negotiating ploy. It's not. It's just a takeover.'

Kasparov: Unavailable for comment. His manager, Andrew Page, confirms: 'There is total solidarity between the two players. FIDE stepped over the line one time too many.'

Kasparov's next move will be crucial. 'Campomanes will pull something out of the bag,' said one source close to FIDE. On previous occasions, the FIDE president, who has a Harvard degree in political science, has extricated himself from similar messes. This time, however, he will need Kasparov's help.

Kasparov can destroy FIDE if he wishes. But he must be aware that, by making a different move, he could destroy Nigel Short.