Chess masters square off and battle verbally Short, Kasparov prepare for match


LONDON -- The chess grandmasters sounded like boxers trading pre-fight insults, but the jabs lacked the real heavyweight muscle of Muhammad Ali or Smokin' Joe Frazier in their prime.

British challenger Nigel Short swung first at a news conference Wednesday: World champion Garry Kasparov was a creature of the KGB and not even pretty, he said.

"Anybody who has seen Garry Kasparov by the swimming pool will know he is extremely hairy," said Mr. Short. "The Norwegian women's team call him 'The Rug.' "

Not exactly "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," but then Mr. Short's not the Muhammad Ali of this match.

Mr. Kasparov is the overwhelming favorite to win the Times of London's "World Chess Championship" that begins Tuesday. William Hill bookmakers make Mr. Kasparov a 9-2 choice to take the championship prize, valued at more than $2.5 million.

Mr. Kasparov counterpunched at his news conference yesterday: "I don't think anybody can take seriously the accusations from the English boy who never lived through what I and my contemporaries lived through."

At 28, Mr. Short, a chess prodigy who first challenged British champions when he was 12, does indeed still look like a fresh-faced boy.

Mr. Kasparov has a harder, darker look. He wore a natty double-breasted navy blazer, gray trousers, blue shirt and a foulard tie that looked very, very expensive.

The challenger, he said, had "never had the privilege of talking to a high KGB official telling him, 'Now you are very young; wait three years [to play for the championship].'

"I never hurt anybody," he said. "But I did whatever I could to defend myself and defend my right to play chess against [Anatoly] Karpov."

Mr. Kasparov took the world championship from Mr. Karpov in a bitterly fought series of games in 1985 and 1986.

"I think Mr. Short needs to invent a reason to hate me." he said. "I think it's a kind of prewar preparation."

He sounded sometimes as if he could hardly believe there was such a thing as British chess anyway. Mr. Short is the first British grandmaster to contest a world championship. Only America's mysterious Bobby Fischer has succeeded in cracking the Soviet hold on the world championship in contemporary chess.

Mr. Fischer, whose malevolent portrait peered out from a poster at the news conferences like a hired gun looking for a target, still claims the world championship. He was deposed but never defeated.

The chess world, in fact, may soon have as many -- if not quite as articulate -- champions as heavyweight boxing.

The Times Chess Championship is held under the auspices of the Professional Chess Association, which consists of Mr. Kasparov, Mr. Short, three businessmen and a lot of hopes.

When they formed PCA and announced the championship, FIDE, the international chess federation, stripped the contestants of their ratings.

That's a kind of loss of identity for chess players who are graded within a closed system on their performance against other players. Mr. Kasparov was rated 2805, the highest in history. Mr. Short was 2685, the highest ever in Britain.

FIDE is so angry that it's holding a simultaneous world championship in the Netherlands between Mr. Karpov and Jan Tinman, the Dutch champion.

"Whistling in the dark," Mr. Short said. He and Mr. Kasparov have beaten both of the FIDE contestants.

Mr. Kasparov has never been fond of FIDE. When he took the world championship from Mr. Karpov, he felt that he had to fight both the KGB and Florencio Campomanes, president of FIDE as much as his opponent.

Mr. Kasparov dismissed the rival match in the Netherlands.

"I had a quick look at the Savoy Theater, where we will play," he said. "And I had the impression more people will be watching us there than live in the little village where Karpov is playing Tinman."

Both Mr. Short and Mr. Kasparov work out in the gym to be at a physical peak. They'll play 24 matches over eight weeks on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Mr. Short told the news conference that he was analyzing Mr. Kasparov's game for weaknesses.

"Kasparov has weaknesses," he declared. "You just have to probe them."

Mr. Kasparov conceded that he probably has more weaknesses than anybody thinks. But he didn't sound sincere.

"I can imagine I can lose some games," he said. "But I can hardly imagine I will lose the whole match."

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