The world chess title match was plunged into confusion today when the scheduled game was unexpectedly canceled amid reports that champion Anatoly Karpov was trying to postpone the marathon series or at least limit the number of games to be played.
The action was taken by Florencio Campomanes, president of the international chess federation, FIDE. It produced great consternation in the camp of challenger Gary Kasparov, 21, who has won the past two games to reduce Karpov's lead to 5 to 3.
Kasparov's advisers charged that the action by Campomanes provided a respite for Karpov, 33, who is said to be physically exhausted and feeling growing psychological pressure in the five-month-long match.
Until a week ago, Karpov was leading 5 to 1 and needed only one more victory to defeat his challenger. In late November, the champion's edge was 5 to 0 in what has become the most grueling match in modern chess history, setting records for duration and for the number of draws. Draws do not count in the scoring.
According to Soviet sources, Karpov had asked that the match be postponed for several months so that he could regain his health.
Campomanes, from the Philippines, said in an interview this evening that he had canceled today's game because of special circumstances. He also hinted that he could change the rules of the match under unspecified conditions, but refused to say whether he was planning to do so.
Well-informed chess sources said the FIDE president had proposed that the current championship series be terminated after the 60th game. Under this proposal, if neither of the players wins the required six games, Karpov would retain his title.
Campomanes was also reported to have proposed that future world championship matches be limited to 24 games.
The pressure on the world champion increased after the 46th game when Kasparov won the two subsequent games and appeared to be in great form. Chess experts say Karpov's form declined noticeably during the past two weeks and his fatal errors, particularly in the 47th game, were attributed to physical exhaustion.
The cancellation statement did not say when the 49th game would be played. Campomanes, however, was quoted tonight by the Associated Press as saying play would resume on Friday.
Both Soviet players are believed to have been affected by the organizers' decision to move the match from the Hall of Columns in central Moscow to a suburban hotel. Chess specialists said both objected to the change in venue, presumably because it could adversely affect their concentration.
The series, which began Sept. 10, was interfering with various scheduled meetings at the Hall of Columns, however. The longest previous world title match -- between Jose Raul Capablanca of Cuba and Alexander Alekhine of the Soviet Union -- lasted 34 games in 1927.