Garry Kasparov's game has kept him atop the chess world for 13 years. But recently, with a challenge looming from another highly regarded Russian, he felt some serious practice was in order.
He turned to an avenue where he could work on his game anonymously but face a level of competition that would help sharpen him up.
Kasparov logged on to the Internet.
There, on a Web site known as "The Internet Chess Club" at www.chessclub.com, the world champion - playing under the user name Dahlia - found an opponent who more than measured up. "This guy is no ordinary grand master," Kasparov's friend, Shay Bushinsky, recalls Kasparov saying. "I feel very tough resistance here. This guy is quick!"
That's when, Bushinsky said in an online remembrance, the two of them suddenly realized that the username "PBS" probably stood for Peter Borisovich Svidler, Kasparov's opponent-to-be.
Even with the formal match coming, the two couldn't tear away from each other, Bushinsky recalled, with Kasparov winning three of four matches.
The idea of two players in even the remotest of locations sharing a game of chess is nothing new, as many ham radio enthusiasts can tell you. But the introduction of the Internet has taken the concept to unprecedented levels, allowing those who visit the site to monitor any of literally thousands of chess matches that go on each day, or to easily find opponents at their own level.
Claiming by their tabulation as many as 50,000 individual chess matches in play at the site at any time, the Internet Chess Club is "literally a gold mine" for the enthusiast, says chess expert, columnist and TV commentator Shelby Lyman. "It's better than a gold mine."
"Chess is a worldwide activity - very, very literally," Lyman added in a recent interview. "The Internet has sped up the flow of information that a journalist needs several-fold. So, if there's a tournament in Moscow or Spain, I don't have to make a call to the tournament room and get the information I need faxed. I can go to the Web site."
Referring to the site's database of previous matches (which includes the "Dahlia" vs. "PBS" encounter), he continued, "Not only can you check on things as they're happening, but you can find out about something that happened a month or so ago. It means that I'm much more up-to-date and topical. It makes my job as a journalist much easier."
Additionally, the anonymity factor of Internet chess - most people play under their user names - has provoked a new twist on an old theme that periodically resurfaces in chess circles, Lyman said.
"Oh, yeah," he notes, with a hint of resignation in his voice, "there are always rumors that Bobby Fischer is playing online."
While Internet chess has been a win-win situation for chess writers like Lyman, there have been some losers, too. Lyman said he recently decided not to renew his subscription to a Swiss chess journal he's subscribed to for a number of years that provided information he now finds more expediently online.
Other online players aren't nearly as celebrated as Kasparov, but they are just as enthusiastic.
Elias Lanides, 12, of Mineola, N.Y., refers to the Internet Chess Club as "sort of like a chat room for me."
Lanides' parents, Marguerita and John Lanides, are founders of Long Island Chess Nuts, a group that for the past two years has been providing a regular schedule of play and instruction for school-age children who, like their son, have more-than-average talent for chess.
They like the online experience and suggest other parents look into it for their children. Elias has been a member of the Internet Chess Club for about a year, where he is known to his online opponents only by his chess club ID.
"The most exciting part is you have no clue who the person is or how old they are," said his mother, Marguerita. "That's part of the fascination. They can even be from another country. The anonymity makes it really fascinating."
As Elias describes it, the information exchanged by players meeting online is little more than that necessary to initiate play: "You ask people what kind of game they want to play, how many minutes they want to play and whether they want to play white or black. You also ask their rating."
The ratings ICC players receive when they first become members are the key to assuring that play is usually competitive.
Additionally, highly rated players such as grand masters or international masters have a GM or IM designation attached to their online handles.
For Elias, the ratings mean he can find a level of play that previously might have required traveling to one of Manhattan's fabled chess clubs.
Here, ICC offers another major advantage: "I can play at home and I can play almost anytime I want," said Elias, who plays online at least twice a week.
Lyman was recently able to watch games in a blitz match between Kasparov and the world's third-ranked player, Vladimir Kramnik, staged at the Kosmos Hotel in Moscow without having to leave the comfort of his rural Pennsylvania home.
"It was really wonderful, and I could just follow it on my screen," Lyman said. "There was a chat box, and I could follow comments from grand masters from all over the world."