Short faces his greatest trial

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The Independent Online
NIGEL SHORT, 27, will today begin his attempt to become the first Briton ever to challenge for the world chess championship. Over the next four weeks, he and Jan Timman, 41, of the Netherlands, will play 14 games. The winner will meet Garry Kasparov for the title later this year.

Short reached this stage by defeating the former world champion, the Russian Anatoly Karpov, in the previous round, while Timman beat Artur Yusupov, also of Russia.

The rewards for the winner of their match, which will be played in a modest theatre in San Lorenzo de El Escorial in Spain, are still a matter of some mystery. The formal prize fund is 300,000 Swiss francs (about pounds 130,000) of which more than pounds 80,000 goes to the winner. That sum, however, is dwarfed by the promised dollars 4m prize fund for the subsequent world championship, of which even the loser would take home dollars 1.5m (almost pounds 1m).

That particular bucketful of dollars, however, must be in doubt, since Los Angeles, which had won the right to stage the match by putting up the prize, has now indicated that it is unable to raise the money.

Ontario came in next, at the same price, but has also had to withdraw through lack of funds.

Meanwhile, another curious dispute rumbles on about an additional offer of Sfr1m ( pounds 430,000), offered by Mephisto, a German chess computer company, to the first Westerner to challenge for the world title.

According to Mephisto, the company withdrew the offer long ago; according to the players, it backed down only after Short and Timman won their semi-final matches. Threats of legal action and hurriedly arranged meetings left the million Swiss francs back on the table, partly as a prize and partly as an endorsement contract.

Even at the most pessimistic reading, however, the winner of the Short-Timman match looks set for instant elevation to the ranks of millionaires.

The last time a British player was so high in the chess world was exactly 150 years ago, when the Shakespearean scholar Howard Staunton defeated Pierre de Saint Amant in a match between England and France. The two countries were then the major chess powers, so the winner was generally accepted as the strongest player in the world. However, the title of world champion, and formal contests for it, began only in 1886, when Wilhelm Steinitz beat Johann Zukertort. (Steinitz was declared insane in 1900.)

In the present match, Short is generally considered the favourite. Having beaten Karpov, and generally shown a magnificent temperament for match play, he seems to be playing better with every round.

At 41, Timman is the same age as Karpov, and as the Short- Karpov match showed, life for a grandmaster tends to end at 40. But the Dutch grandmaster always was a later developer.

The two men have played 35 times before in international competition, with Timman ahead by 11 wins to nine. But several of those victories were scored when Short was still a teenager.

Timman, however, has the advantage of having been at this stage before. In the previous world championship cycle, he was crushed by Karpov in the challengers' final. After that unpleasant experience he promised: 'Next time I get to the final, I shall win.'

(Photograph omitted)