In the 1990s, a fight between Garry Kasparov, the World Champion, and the World Chess Federation led to a split in the chess world and, ultimately, competing claims for the title.

The 1980s had produced an epic series of battles for the title between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov and as the 1990s dawned it was more of the same as Kasparov and Karpov had squared off in the 1990 title tilt.

It was inevitable that someone else would come along to challenge for the crown, but not many people could have predicted who would do it and how it would upset the long-standing system for choosing a champion.

In the fall of 1991, Karpov had reached the semi-finals stage of the Candidates once again where he faced Nigel Short, an English grandmaster and former prodigy. Though Short, an almost exact contemporary of Kasparov’s, had reached the No. 3 ranking in the world in 1988 and held it through June 1989, it was still considered something of an upset when he beat Karpov in the semi-finals. Short went on to win the Candidates final match against Jan Timman, a Dutch grandmaster, to become the official challenger for the title.

With Short, a westerner, as the challenger, the question of where to hold the match was quite interesting. A match in England, which was acceptable to Kasparov, was plausible, but the bidding process to become the host city was opaque.

The most detailed explanation of what happened is in the book “Nigel Short: Quest for the Crown,” by Cathy Forbes (Cadogan Books, 1993). Forbes was critical of decisions by Florencio Campomanes, then president of the World Chess Federation, otherwise known as FIDE. She wrote that Short had received vague promises of a bid of three million pounds (about $4.5 million, based on exchange rates at the time) from Manchester, which is the nearest big city to his home town of Atherton. But the actual bid fell far short of that amount.

Manchester, having apparently lost a potential sponsor, offered one million pounds, which it eventually increased to about 1.15 million pounds, or about $1.67 million, according to Forbes.

Campomanes accepted this, although he had been advised that efforts were underway to put together a higher British bid. Short, who at the time the decision was made was travelling to Greece from a Spanish tournament, was not consulted. After speaking to friends for advice, he telephoned Kasparov and suggest they look for a better offer.

Kasparov and Short broke away from FIDE and created a new organization, the Professional Chess Association. 

Kasparov and Short broke away from FIDE and created a new organization, the Professional Chess Association, which signed a contract with The Times (of London) newspaper to have the match in the English capital at the Savoy Theater. The prize fund was $2.5 million.

FIDE responded by Kasparov of the title and announced that it would organize its own match for what it now considered to be the vacant throne. The federation even removed Short and Kasparov from the official rating lists for July 1993 and January 1994.

The chess world was now divided. There would soon be two competing matches and eventually two competing claims to the title of World Champion.

The Kasparov-Short match was a best of 24 games, just as in previous championships. There was great excitement in England because all of the games were televised by the independent British station Channel 4 – a first for chess. English spectators were asking: Could the local hero make a good stand against the seemingly irresistible Kasparov?

The match began in London on Sept. 7, 1993, with a very dramatic game. Kasparov, with the White pieces, opened with the Ruy Lopez and at one point missed a clear win, but Short defended doggedly. The Englishman had achieved a slight advantage when his time expired before he could make his 40th move. Short had lost Game 1 and thereafter he struggled with the Black pieces.

As many feared beforehand, the match was rather one-sided. Perhaps it could have been different had Short been able to adjourn that first game in which he had winning chances in the ending.

With White, Short put up a good fight in the early stages of the match. In Game 2, rushing to beat the clock, he made an inferior choice at move 37, after which his winning chances evaporated. In Game 3, Short was again in bad time trouble and missed a draw. He went on to lose Game 4, in which he could have forced an early draw. He also lost Game 7.

Short was a brave fighter, though, and in Game 8 (the first of two which I witnessed at the Savoy) he came close to earning his reward. He played brilliantly at first after Kasparov chose the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Najdorf Sicilian, but Short missed the decisive continuation against fantastic defense by his opponent and the game was drawn.

Game 9 extinguished the last of Short’s hopes. He was outplayed throughout until an endgame of rook and two pawns against rook arose where Kasparov made a subtle slip which for just one move would have allowed Short to draw the game. Probably already believing the game irretrievably lost, Short failed to seize the opportunity and the score became 7-2 (including the four draws). Thereafter, Kasparov was content to make draws, except for Game 15, which he won. Short’s only victory in the match came in Game 16 after Kasparov equalized comfortably but relaxed too soon and allowed a pretty winning combination.

After another anti-climactic draw in Game 20 on Oct. 21, the score had reached 12.5-7.5, so Kasparov had retained the title. But the terms of the television contract required that the remaining four games were due to be played. In this farcical situation, it was finally agreed that Kasparov and Short would play some rapid games for the cameras and the dwindling national audience.

Meanwhile, FIDE had gone ahead with its decision to stage an “official” World Championship match. To contest the match, FIDE had chosen Karpov, both because he was the last titleholder before Kasparov and because he had reached the semi-finals of the Candidates matches, and Timman, the other finalist aside from Short.

FIDE had gone ahead with its decision to stage an “official” World Championship match. It chose Karpov and Timman to play the match. 

FIDE immediately ran into trouble finding sponsors for the match. This was hardly surprising because Kasparov clearly held the world title by “apostolic succession” and the match to decide an alternative FIDE world champion would be contested by players who had been defeated in the last Candidates cycle by Short.

The Timman-Karpov match would be played in two different countries: The first twelve games in various towns in the Netherlands and the second half in the Sultanate of Oman, which had agreed to provide a prize fund of $2 million. A total prize fund of $4 million was originally announced but it never materialized — while the first half of the match was under way, it became clear that the sponsorship money raised by the Dutch organizers would only cover expenses and they could not contribute to the prize fund.

The first half of the match began in Zwolle on Sept. 7, 1993, to coincide with Kasparov versus Short. Karpov won the first game, but Timman struck back immediately by winning Game 2. Karpov then won Games 6 and 10 to take a two-point lead. By then rumors were spreading that the Omanis had reneged on their contract with FIDE, so in Game 11, Timman protested by agreeing to a draw after only 11 moves. The match had to be suspended for two weeks after Game 12 while Campomanes urgently sought a new sponsor and venue for the second half of the contest. The match, and FIDE, ultimately were rescued by a wealthy Indonesian businessman, Bob Hasan, who was President of the Indonesian Chess Federation.

Probably no chess match billed as being for the World Championship ever attracted less public interest than the second half of the Karpov and Timman match. Play resumed with a drawn Game 13 in Jakarta on Oct. 17. Karpov then won three games in succession to put the ultimate result beyond doubt. After five more games, of which four were drawn and one was won by Timman as a sort of consolation victory, Karpov captured FIDE’s World Championship by a margin of 12.5-8.5.

At the final press conference, Timman told his opponent and a large corps of journalists: “Karpov is not the world’s number one. Kasparov has proved himself the best in both tournament and match play. Karpov is the official World Champion, but I’m not sure what that really means.”

For the first time, there were two different World Champions, rather like the situation in professional boxing which has multiple champions recognized by different organizations. Chess players were not happy with the split. Some certainly sympathized with FIDE, which had run the World Championship cycle quite well since 1948. The newly formed P.C.A. had little meaning other than its two superstars.

At the final press conference, Timman said, “Karpov is the official World Champion, but I’m not sure what that really means.”

However, the fiasco of the Timman-Karpov match undoubtedly lent credibility to the P.C.A.. The breakaway body soon secured sponsorship from Intel, the giant microchip manufacturing company, for a cycle of competitions to decide who would challenge Kasparov for his version of the world title. This began with a strong Swiss tournament, held in the Dutch city of Groningen in December 1993, to find seven grandmasters who would join Short in a set of Candidates matches.

FIDE slowly recovered from its propaganda defeat, organizing its own cycle of qualifying events just as it had in the past. Ultimately Viswanathan Anand of India emerged as the next challenger for Kasparov’s P.C.A. title, and Gata Kamsky, the Russian-born American grandmaster, then 21 years of age, earned the right to challenge Karpov. There was some symmetry in how Anand and Kamsky had become the challengers – each had done so at the other’s expense. Anand had been eliminated by Kamsky in rapid play-off games that decided the second round of FIDE Candidates matches, but a few months later he had to face Kamsky again in the final of the P.C.A. eliminations. Anand “cleared his calendar” to prepare, even missing the 1994 Olympiad. When they played in Las Palmas in March 1995, Anand convincingly defeated Kamsky, his only loss being on time.

The Kasparov-Anand title match was held on the 107th floor observation deck of the World Trade Center in New York City. It began on Sept. 11, 1995, with a prize fund of $1.5 million. Unlike all the previous matches of a fixed duration since World War II, that had been limited to 24 games, the match was fixed at 20 games. The match began quietly, with a run of eight draws – a record for a title match. There was not much fight in many of the games, although Anand had missed a forced win in Game 3, and there were some opening novelties in several of the games.

Anand broke the deadlock by winning Game 9 but his lead did not last long. In the very next game Kasparov surprised him with a brilliant sacrifice, which had been discovered by Mikhail Tal, the ex-World Champion, but which had only previously been played in the 1989 Norwegian Team Correspondence Championship, a wild game that Black won. Probably neither Kasparov nor Anand knew that game. At the board Anand had little chance against Kasparov’s deep preparation, which extended to move 21, and soon the score was level.

In Game 11, Kasparov surprised Anand by playing the Dragon Sicilian for the first time in his career. Anand turned down an early draw offer, only to fall into a horrible trap a few moves later and lose. This was psychologically, as well as technically, the decisive moment in the match. Anand would not win another game, while Kasparov put the match out of reach by winning Games 13 and 14. Kasparov then cruised with draws to a 10.5-7.5 victory, the last two scheduled games not being required.

While the fledgling P.C.A. seemed to doing alright, FIDE continued to confront a crisis. In 1995, Campomanes, facing a widespread revolt, stepped down as president. Neverthesless, he helped engineer the naming of his replacement: Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a largely unknown politician who at that time was also leader of the autonomous Russian region of Kalmykia, which is situated on the north-western shore of the Caspian Sea. Its capital, Elista, was chosen as the venue for the 1996 FIDE World Championship match between Karpov and Kamsky. The match began on June 6, 1996 and as with the Kasparov-Anand match, it was for the best of 20 games.

Though Kamsky was unquestionably enormously talented, it was unlikely that he could overcome such an experienced match player as Karpov, even if the latter was by now past his best, and so it eventually proved. Karpov, with the White pieces, got off to a great start by winning Game 1, but Kamsky levelled the score in Game 2, suggesting that the contest would be a good one. But in Game 4, Karpov took the lead by winning with Black, and increased his lead in Game 6, once again winning with Black. Another win in Game 7 extended Karpov’s lead to 3 points, and after another win, in Game 9, he had stretched it to 4 points.

Kamsky showed good fighting spirit by winning the complicated Game 10, which could have gone either way, Karpov’s time trouble eventually proving the decisive factor. The next three games were drawn, although in Game 13, after adjourning the game down two pawns, Karpov and his seconds spent a sleepless night working out how to save the endgame.

For the first time, there were two different World Champions, rather like the situation in professional boxing.

Karpov struck again in Game 14, making the score 9-5, with six games to go. Now he only needed three draws and duly achieved his aim, though, on the way to victory, he played his worst game of the match to lose Game 16. After Game 18 was drawn, Karpov had clinched the match, 10.5-7.5 — precisely the same final score as between Kasparov and Anand. The last two scheduled games were left unplayed and Karpov retained the FIDE title. Soon after, Kamsky gave up chess to concentrate on his law studies, only to make a comeback in 2004, eventually winning the World Cup and coming within one match of another title shot.

The Karpov-Kamsky match was the last one organized by FIDE for the next decade. Soon after, Ilyumzhinov abandoned the idea of holding classical World Championship matches and replaced them with large knock-out tournaments, usually involving 128 players with the winner being crowned champion. This format proved extremely unpopular with fans and many elite players, partly because it often led to winners who were not among the world’s very top players.

The first knock-out tournament was held in Groningen, the Netherlands, in December 1997, but the original scheme had to be changed. It had been proposed that Karpov and Kasparov be seeded into the semifinal, but Kasparov, unsurprisingly, declined his invitation. In the reorganized plan, Karpov was, in effect, seeded into the final and did not have to play in Groningen at all. The system was rather like the bad old days in Wimbledon tennis, when the winner of the tournament was not automatically crowned champion but had to play a “challenge round” against the previous year’s winner.

Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik, who was second only to Kasparov on the July 1997 rating list, declined his invitation in protest of the privilege granted to Karpov. The knock-out tournament was won by Anand, who defeated Michael Adams of Britain in a blitz playoff game, but who then had to travel immediately to Lausanne, Switzerland, to play Karpov.

In January 1998, Karpov beat the completely fatigued Anand in the superfinal, which was scheduled for six games. They each won a game with the White pieces and Karpov then won Game 4 with Black. Anand managed to stay alive in the match by winning Game 6 to level the score at 3-3 score. But in the rapid tie-breaker (25 minutes each for the whole game), Karpov scored two wins to retain the world title.

It was Karpov’s last hurrah. More surprisingly, Kasparov’s days as a World Champion would also soon be cut short.


Dr. Timothy Harding, who has a PhD in history from Trinity College Dublin, is a senior international master of correspondence chess who has written many books on the game. His most recent, “Joseph Henry Blackburne: A Chess Biography,” published by McFarland, has received favorable critical reviews. 

Dr. Harding is on on Twitter (@TimDHarding). He has a Web site and a list of his books can be found at GoodReads.