Blood on the Board

The chess world erupts in its strangest move yet: dueling championships

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Amid the noise of jostling photographers and clacking shutters, the two combatants finally squared off last Tuesday on the stage of the Savoy Theater in London. In one corner, the challenger and clear crowd favorite, a pink- cheeked, brush-cut 28-year-old and the first native-born Briton ever to contend for the world title. In the other, the defending champ, an Armenian- born egoist, 30, with killer instincts and a reputation as the best warrior of all time. At stake: competitive pride and a purse of $2.6 million.

And then, as the din gradually subsided, Nigel Short and Gary Kasparov began to push chess pieces across a board.

Meanwhile, the official World Chess Championship had opened a day earlier, with considerably less hubbub, in the small town of Zwolle, the Netherlands. There, former world champion Anatoly Karpov faced Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman for prize money of roughly $1.4 million.

What in the world of chess was going on around here? Since matches determining the best player on earth normally crop up only once every three years, the phenomenon of two such face-offs commencing during the same week left rank-and-file devotees with divided loyalties and confusion aplenty. On the one hand, the Karpov-Timman contest bore the imprimatur of FIDE (pronounced FEE-day), the Federation Internationale des Echecs, the powerful governing body that has been running world championship competitions since 1948. In the past, FIDE's authority would have been enough to convince chess fans that Karpov-Timman was the match to follow. Unfortunately, Karpov and Timman had both been eliminated by Short during the FIDE-sponsored competitions to determine who would challenge Kasparov for the championship.

So why were Kasparov and Short not playing for the FIDE world title in Zwolle? Because these two, who seem genuinely to dislike each other, had nonetheless banded together to mount an unprecedented challenge to the reigning chess establishment. When FIDE decreed last February that the Kasparov-Short match would take place in Manchester, England, for a purse of about $1.8 million, Short claimed angrily that he had not been consulted. He was unhappy with the choice of Manchester, hardly a high-profile or glamorous setting, and he didn't like the prize money either. He phoned Kasparov and said, as he recalls, "Look, why don't we play this match outside of FIDE?"

Kasparov had his own reasons for warming to the idea. His resentments against FIDE date back to the mid-1980s, when he was challenging his compatriot Karpov for the world title. After an epochal, 48-game struggle, with Kasparov surging from behind and Karpov near collapse, FIDE president Florencio Campomanes suddenly declared the contest finished "without result" and ordered it to be replayed from the start. Outraged, Kasparov decided that the monolithic Soviet chess federation, which grudgingly tolerated him while championing Karpov, had leaned on FIDE and Campomanes to salvage Karpov's title, at least for a while.

And Kasparov was not the only one who thought that the U.S.S.R., long the dominant force in world chess, dictated FIDE policies. Bobby Fischer had accused the Soviets of match rigging and clashed repeatedly with FIDE officials before and after he won the world title from Boris Spassky in 1972.

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