World of chess is torn by championship match Federation spurned, to hold own contest

September 06, 1993|By New York Times News Service

LONDON -- So far the run-up has been more Atlantic City than Savoy Hotel.

There has been all the hype and hoopla of a heavyweight bout: the mandatory pre-match exchange of insults, the hawking of overpriced tickets and the talk of back-stabbing deals for television coverage.

It's not what you would expect from chess. And that's the point. For after the match that begins tomorrow between Gary Kasparov, the world champion since 1985, and Nigel Short, the first British challenger this century, chess may never be the same.

The two players, who genuinely seem to dislike each other, have joined together in a marriage of convenience. They have spurned the International Chess Federation, the organization that has run every championship match since 1948, and formed their own organization, the Professional Chess Association, to run this $2.55 million rogue encounter and dominate chess from now on.

The international federation -- known by its French acronym, FIDE (pronounced FEE-day) -- has in turn stripped both of them of their ratings and drummed them out into the cold.

Insisting on its right to bestow the title, FIDE is holding its own championship match, which will begin today in the Netherlands between Jan Timman, a Dutch grandmaster, and Anatoly Karpov, the Russian former world champion and Mr. Kasparov's longtime nemesis.

Mr. Short, 28, defeated both of these men in his climb up the ladder to challenge Mr. Kasparov. So the event in the Netherlands, while it will have all the ceremony and trappings of the genuine article, may turn out to be a shadow match.

Holding a championship without the reigning champion, Mr. Kasparov, 30, who may be the greatest chess player who ever lived, takes chutzpah.

Already, the Dutch sponsors have failed to raise the money for the match, the purse for which has shriveled to $1.38 million. That sum has been offered by the sultan of Oman, where the second half of the match is to be held.

In the world of chess politics, which seems to rival Lucrezia Borgia's 15th-century Italy for intrigue and poisonous relationships, the prospect of two top-level matches at the same time is not only riveting. It's also rending, since there are now dual organizations as well as dueling players.

Most chess organizations of grandmasters around the world are in an identity crisis.

"Our position is a difficult one," said Simon Brown, international director of the British Chess Federation.

"We're affiliated with FIDE. So Karpov-Timman is the one we recognize as the world title. Still, both of those players were once eliminated from the cycle and everyone realizes that the world champion is Kasparov."

Where is it all heading? "It will end up like boxing," said Mr. Brown. "That's our great fear. Boxing now has four different titles at each weight."

At the moment, the PCA has only two members, Mr. Kasparov and Mr. Short.

To complicate matters, there is the brooding, spectral figure of Bobby Fischer, the American one-time world champion. He reappeared last month in Budapest, Hungary, having dropped out of sight in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, after his match with Boris Spassky, to propose a blitz match against Judit Polgar, who two years ago at the age of 15 years 4 months became the youngest grandmaster ever.

Such a match could bring out the chessboards around the world. But reports that Mr. Fischer has demanded an unrealistic purse of $5 million make it increasingly unlikely. The 50-year-old recluse, a wanted figure in the United States for violating the sanctions against Yugoslavia by playing there, is now said to be in the Philippines.

In the London match, no one expects Mr. Short, a prodigy who began taking on grandmasters at the age of 12, to beat Mr. Kasparov. In previous encounters Mr. Short has lost 9 or 10 games, depending on who is doing the counting, and won one.

But his supporters point out that he is at his best in a match, as opposed to a tournament, where he settles in for the long haul and possesses a rare and almost spiritual gift for a chess player: He is well-adjusted enough not to be totally destroyed by losing a single game.

Also, not to be overlooked, Mr. Short is a home boy -- a lad from Lancashire -- and so he is one of the few people born west of what used to be the Berlin Wall who can rise to the level of championship play.

Chess players are hoping that his ascent would ignite an enthusiasm for the game among Britons, who seem to prefer snooker, the way Bobby Fischer did in the United States when he beat Mr. Spassky in 1972.

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