The Real Chess War

September 03, 1993

It sounds like boxing, with rival world governing bodies proclaiming rival champions. Chess has, indeed, much in common with boxing in its shear combative intensity. But just for consumer guidance: The 24-game, 8-week, so-called world championship match between champion Garry Kasparov and challenger Nigel Short sponsored by the Times of London is the real thing.

The rival match sponsored by the World Chess Federation (or FIDE), between former world champion Anatoly Karpov and

Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman, in the Dutch town of Zwolle and in Oman, is the phony. Whoever wins it must be considered a challenger, nothing more.

Mr. Kasparov, a former Soviet rebel, took the world championship from Mr. Karpov, who was more the establishment guy, in 1985-86. That's history. FIDE held an elimination last year to produce the next legitimate challenger. The young Englishman, Mr. Short, won it to become the first Briton ever to go for the world championship. The elimination round took care of both Mr. Karpov and Mr. Timman. Mr. Short earned the shot; Mr. Kasparov is champ.

Now then, Mr. Kasparov and Mr. Short have feuded with FIDE, which they call Soviet-dominated, over the terms of the match. Yawn. Chess champions invariably do. These two split from FIDE and are trying to set up a rival Professional Chess Association. You are entitled to any side of that quarrel you want. It's politics, not sport.

FIDE stripped champion and challenger of their status and is putting on a substitute Karpov-Timman "championship." Don't believe it, any more than you should believe that the American champion of a generation ago, Bobby Fischer, is still the champ just because he says he is. FIDE undermined its credibility with that one.

Mr. Kasparov and Mr. Short are doing battle in London's Savoy Theater, which was built for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. That's an appropriate site for the struggle between the two top players and the grandmasters of chess bureaucracy. But their match itself is not comic. This is for real.

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