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The world of chess is entering one of its golden periods with more players of genuine world class than we have seen for a long time. In the long era of Soviet supremacy from 1948 until 1972, there was never a single dominating figure: Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian and Spassky took turns at being world champion, and Keres and Bronstein could just as easily have done so. Then Bobby Fischer came along and shattered the confidence of an entire generation.

Karpov was then able to dominate the chess world for a decade, and Kasparov for the decade after him. From 1975 until 1995, they were the only two great players around.

However, there is nothing like a fading champion to encourage a new generation, and with Karpov and Kasparov both showing signs of vulnerability in recent years, the competition to supplant them has been intense. There are now six players who could be a genuine threat.

Viswanathan Anand is still there, but will need time to recover from his demoralising match with Kasparov. Alongside him are three players of outstanding brilliance and two of phenomenal discipline.

At the spectacular end, we have Vladimir Kramnik, Vassily Ivanchuk and Alexei Shirov, whose imaginative games have made them the most exciting players of the present day. On the sober side, we have Gata Kamsky and Boris Gelfand, both models of determination and concentration, whose best games are masterpieces of strategic complexity.

The Belgrade tournament, which just finished, ended in a tie for first place between Kramnik and Gelfand. Characteristically, Gelfand won his final game in 82 sure-footed moves, while Kramnik did it his own way, with a Joshua-like destruction of Belyavsky's stonewall set-up in 18 moves.

White: Kramnik

Black: Belyavsky

1 Nf3 d5 10 cxd5 cxd5

2 g3 c6 11 h3 Bh5

3 Bg2 Bg4 12 e4 fxe4

4 0-0 Nd7 13 Ng5 Bf7

5 d4 e6 14 Ndxe4 dxe4

6 Nbd2 f5 15 Nxe6 Bxe6

7 c4 Bd6 16 Qxe6+ Qe7

8 Qb3 Rb8 17 Rxe4 Kd8

9 Re1 Nh6 18 Qd5 resigns

The idea of 12.e4! and 13.Ng5! is quite magnificent. A typical possibility is 13...Qxg5 14.Nxe4 Qe7 15.Bg5 Qf8, when White wins with 16.Qxd5! exd5 17.Nxd6 mate.

After 15.Nxe6, Black can hardly hope to survive 15...Qe7 16.Rxe4, but the game continuation was just as bad. If he exchanges queens with 17...Qxe6 18.Rxe6+ Be7, White wins with 19.Bxh6 Kf7 (gxh6 is met simply by Rae1) 20.Bd5 Nf6 21.Bb3 gxh6 22.Rae1 and Black has no good move.

In the final position, a possible finish is 18...Qf8 19.Re6 Be7 20.Rxe7 Kxe7 21.Bg5+ Nf6 22.Re1 mate. The frightening thing is that Kramnik must have seen all this when he played 12.e4.