Mother of all matches

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At the end of last week, the International Chess Federation, Fide, announced that the world title match between Anatoly Karpov and Gata Kamsky will be held in Baghdad in June. Saddam Hussein himself will preside over the opening ceremony and a quarter of the $2m prize fund will be donated to a Unicef fund for Iraqi children.

Developments over the weekend, however, suggests this may be only the first salvo in another round of chess lunacy. Firstly, a spokesman for the US State Department described the Fide statement as a "curious decision" and said: "It tells you something about Saddam Hussein's priorities that instead of feeding people he's going to host a bunch of chess grandmasters." A possible $1m fine was also mentioned if Kamsky plays in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Fide has asked the United Nations for a ruling on whether chess is included in sanctions against Iraq. The Fide president, Kirsan Ilyumjinov, said: "Saddam Hussein is no terrorist. I have met him several times. I found him rather pleasant." According to one report, Ilyumjinov and Saddam are old friends, and the Iraqi leader has been given a plot of land "in perpetuity" in the Republic of Kalmykia where Ilyumjinov is also president.

After an executive committee meeting on Sunday, Fide modified its line slightly, saying that the match could be moved from Baghdad to another venue, possibly Moscow or Baku, should Kamsky be denied a visa.

This Baghdad gambit may be simply a ruse to gain publicity and attract a sponsor who can save chess from Saddam. There is, however, another intriguing prospect. In January, Ilyumjinov spent a day with Bobby Fischer, and even paid him a cheque for $100,000 to settle a long-standing grudge about royalties on a Russian edition of Fischer's book of best games.

Fischer, who was 53 on Friday, is already unable to return to the United States for fear of arrest for playing in the former Yugoslavia. What if the Karpov-Kamsky match in Baghdad is only a trailer for a three-sided contest in which the winner would be joined by Kasparov and Fischer? Now that really would be the mother of all chess matches.