Some said it was fixed. Some said drugs were involved. Some said the whole thing was disgusting.
"It was the lowest quality and most disgusting match in the history of world championship chess," said Lev Alburt, the U.S. chess champion, after learning that the world chess title match was called off today after five months, apparently on account of exhaustion.
The match between champion Anatoly Karpov and Gary Kasparov began Sept. 10 in Moscow. Since then, Karpov has won five games and lost three, not to mention 22 pounds. Together, they have dragged the international chess elite through the mud of 40 draws, 17 straight from Oct. 8 to Nov. 21. Today, Florencio Campomanes, president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), called the whole thing off, just as things were getting interesting.
"It might have the trappings of 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty,' " said Dave Gertler of the U.S. Chess Federation. "There are parts of it that might seem like soap opera but by and large it's too close to reality for comfort."
Gerard J. Dullea, executive director of the U.S. Chess Federation, issued a statement saying "the action seems to have compromised FIDE's stewardship of the world title" and echoing the sentiments of those who feel Kasparov was robbed -- he had won games 47 and 48. The U.S. Federation pronounced itself officially bewildered at a decision "that apparently favors the champion while the challenger is in the process of scoring a TKO."
Others pronounced themselves appalled. "Oh yes, it's a scandal," Alburt said.
Fridrik Olaffson, the former president of FIDE, said over the telephone from Iceland that the decision "smells" of politics.
The normally hushed world of chess is in an uproar. In Moscow, the players stormed today's press conference, loudly protesting that they wanted to play on -- the match will be restarted in September with no score.
Some say the match had gone on plenty long enough. Under the current rules, a player must win six games to claim the title. Draws do not count. Play is theoretically unlimited.
"The match under these rules is an absurdity," said grandmaster William Lombardy, who was Bobby Fischer's second at the world championship in Reykjavik in 1972. "The unlimited time is just an impossibility. Given two basically equal players, it could go on another 50 games.
"The whole thing is a fiasco. Five months of a chess match goes back to the 19th century, where they would sit for hours. In the 19th century, they didn't use the clock. Players would sit and sit and outsit their opponents. They could sit for two or three days. So they instituted the chess clock. Now it's a different kind of sitting. Now, you've got both players cooperating in playing it safe. When there is a choice of moves available, they play it safe, not to lose. The result is a great number of draws. Even if Karpov needed only one more game to win, it might have taken another century."
Lombardy said the whole thing reminded him of a famous chess poster that showed two players, sound asleep, with cobwebs hanging from their pieces. "I think chess is in trouble," Lombardy said. "How are you going to talk somebody into taking up chess when it takes five months to play a match?"
Such logic causes some to sputter that exhaustion is the point. Chess is an excruciating test of stamina, both psychological and physiological. "Physical endurance is supposed to play a part," Olaffson said.
"Once Bobby Fischer was advocating to play for 10 wins," said Lubos Kavalek, a former U.S. champion who grew up in Czechoslovakia and now lives in Reston. "I said, 'Bobby, that can take six months.' He says, 'So what? The baseball season is six months long. Why not?'
"This is like somebody walking in and stopping the World Series if the World Series was not the best of seven but the best out of 100. They play three or four months and then someone says, 'Well, gentlemen, you are exhausted, we are going to stop it.' "
Alburt says there is no doubt that the rules dictated the tactics and ultimately the embarrassing denouement. "At the beginning, Kasparov tried to win and he failed and he lost four games," said Alburt, who is also a syndicated chess columnist. "He understood that he couldn't win. He said, 'I'll try another tactic,' not a very nice-looking tactic. He decided to wear Karpov out. He is very weak. Kasparov tried to break his health. Karpov tried to break his psyche."
Kasparov is 21, the youngest man ever to play for the world title. Karpov is 33 and frail. Alburt, who emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1979, wrote in the March issue of Chess Life magazine: "Those who have worked with Karpov know that, like most leading Soviet and East European sportsmen, he relies heavily on a scientific regimen of drugs and hypnosis."
Alburt also said in that story that Karpov received "injections of powerful stimulants in order to keep playing" during the 1974 world championships.
"I wouldn't call it a drug problem," Alburt said over the phone yesterday. "If you say 'drug problem,' people think cocaine. Karpov, who has the best doctors, takes very sophisticated drugs, vitamins, stimulants. When I was in Russia, I took certain things myself. It helped me to stay alert. It's a whole complex of exercise, diet, hypnosis. The aim is to keep him in the best shape for two or three months. But the match lasted more than two or three months. The body has its limits. After five months, the body collapses. There is nothing illegal, nothing immoral. He just tried to be in the best shape.
"After the 35th game, it was visible how bad Karpov looked," Alburt said. "His hands were trembling. He could hardly walk. He looks like Chernenko."
In November, Karpov had a 5-0 lead, one game from his fourth consecutive championship. He lost the 32nd game. There were more draws. Then he lost the last two games. "Those games were played by an extremely exhausted man who cannot force himself to think," Alburt speculated. "In this moment, he decided to use his political friends" to arrange for a postponement.
At the press conference, Karpov insisted that he wanted to continue.
But: "He does not want to play on, that's quite clear," Olaffson said. "He is not physically fit. He is not able to cope with the situation. Through the Soviet Federation, he is trying to stop the match. The decision is very unfair to Kasparov."
In his story in Chess Life, Alburt named two chess experts whom he said believed the match was rigged: Leonid Shamkovich, a Soviet emigre, and Harry Golombek, of Britain. Alburt does not agree with them. "The quality is very poor," he said. "The tactics have nothing to do with chess.
"It's clear Karpov was playing from exhaustion," he said. "It was so boring. It's not illegal to try to wear your opponent down. That's not immoral but it's not inspiring. Everything was so cynical, so pragmatic, so impotent on both sides.
"The decision was very, very bad to do, but the whole match was so bad, it is probably a fitting ending.