SEVILLE, SPAIN -- At 4:30 this afternoon, Anatoly Karpov will make the first move in a new match for the world chess championship. It will be his last opportunity to regain his lost title for at least three years and possibly his last chance ever.
Most chess experts here expect reigning champion Gary Kasparov to keep the title, but according to reports in the local press, a group of Russians consulted a Gypsy fortuneteller and she has predicted a Karpov victory.
In the war of words and gestures that accompanies all championship matches, Kasparov has already made his opening move and it's his most elaborate ever. While Karpov will probably start the 24-game match by pushing a pawn two spaces forward, Kasparov has brought out not a mere pawn but a book.
Kasparov's new autobiography, "Child of Change," published simultaneously this week in Spain, Britain, France and Germany, identifies the champion with the style and objectives of the Gorbachev government and associates Karpov with the defunct Brezhnev regime. "My struggle is a symbol of much larger battles between black and white, the old and the new, that are taking place in many parts of our society," Kasparov claims.
In his prematch press conference, Karpov dismissed the book as an act of "psychological war" and protested, "I don't like to bring political terms into chess."
"Are you, too, a child of change?" a reporter asked him. "I am a man of 36," he replied. "I cannot be a child."
The American edition of the book is scheduled for publication in January. No Russian edition is planned, a fact that Kasparov seemed to find embarrassing during his press conference. He explained that it was written "for a western readership" and would have to be written differently for Soviet readers.
The match is taking place at "a very important moment for the Soviet Union," Kasparov's book says. "I believe that from my small place in society I am upholding the ideals of openness and democracy that Gorbachev has introduced."
At his news conference, Kasparov said innocently that he has "tried to diminish tensions" with Karpov. In the book, he says that "the reign of Anatoly Karpov, who took the world championship without fighting for it, coincided with a period in Soviet life that was marked by bureaucratic inertia and corruption." It is true that Bobby Fischer did not defend his title when Karpov became champion in 1975, but Karpov did fight for the title by winning an interzonal tournament and defeating several other challengers, notably Victor Korchnoi, in matches.
At his own press conference, Karpov challenged the book's accuracy and the underdog image Kasparov has given himself. He said that many facts "have been intentionally forgotten by Kasparov in his own favor ... He writes only the truths that are useful to him."
Kasparov claims that the Soviet chess establishment "stopped him and kept him from advancing, and he was able to get ahead only by his tremendous talent," Karpov said. "But nobody in the world has had such fine conditions for developing his talent. He was given two professional trainers while he was still only a master. He had all the financial help he needed from the government, and after a short time his mother began to get a special fee as his coach. Who can get such conditions in any country?"
Karpov and Kasparov appeared together at still another press conference, and relations between the world's two strongest chess players seemed peaceful, if not friendly. That conference was held to make a progress report on the work of the Grandmasters Association (GMA), a professional organization of the world's top players that was founded late last year. Kasparov is president of the GMA, and Karpov and Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman are its vice presidents. Kasparov and Timman spoke to the gathered reporters; Karpov sat silently and left early.
Some observers have described the GMA as a counter-organization to FIDE, the International Chess Federation, which is the subject of chronic complaints from grandmasters and particularly from Kasparov. GMA officers and spokesmen insisted repeatedly that there is no antagonism between the two organizations, but they also boasted that the GMA has been able to accomplish things that FIDE has been unable to -- notably in the popular promotion of chess and the organization of major tournaments.
The purpose of the organization, according to Kasparov, is "to defend the interests of grandmasters" -- a function that may sooner or later involve it in disputes with FIDE. Asked if the establishment of the GMA is the beginning of a break with FIDE, Kasparov said, "I do not understand the question." A few minutes later, he added: "I hope there is no open war now, but FIDE rejected our proposal on relations."
The GMA's functions will include the development of pensions for grandmasters, who are free agents and subject to great financial insecurity. It will also try to establish minimum fees for grandmasters participating in tournaments and to exercise control over playing conditions.
The first major activity of the GMA will be sponsorship of the Chess World Cup competition, a series of six major tournaments to be held in 1988-89, involving the 24 leading players in the world and offering a total of $2.4 million in prizes. The tournaments, in Brussels; Bilbao, Spain; Reykjavik, Iceland; Barcelona; Rotterdam; and Skelleftea, Sweden, were organized by Washington grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek, who has been appointed the GMA's full-time tournament organizer. Kasparov and Karpov will both participate in the World Cup, and the expectation is that this event may eventually be recognized as a "tournament championship" comparable in prestige to the "match championship" last won by Kasparov and administered by FIDE.
One American, U.S. champion Yasser Seirawan, will participate in the first World Cup. Half the 24 participants will be from the Soviet Union and three (John Nunn, Nigel Short and Jonathan Speelman) from England, which is becoming one of the world's chess powers.
This year's chess championship games will be played in the Teatro Lope de Vega, a baroque-style building, dating from 1929, that has served as a playhouse, movie house, opera house, casino and (during the Spanish Civil War) hospital. The theater has been renovated for the chess match and new management has been installed that is already making plans for the celebration of Expo '92, which will be held in Seville to mark the 500th anniversary of the historic voyage of Christopher Columbus.
Columbus, who is buried in Seville's cathedral, is a major figure in the city's history. The beginning of the match was symbolically scheduled for Columbus Day, an important holiday in Seville particularly and in Spain generally. Workers were still swarming over the building, pouring concrete, setting tiles in place and repainting the walls a few days before the match was to begin.
Asked whether the smell of fresh paint might bother him while he plays chess, Kasparov said, "I hope it will stop by itself; if not, it may be a problem for the first game. It's too bad, because this is a good place for chess. But I have never played in a place with such an unusual smell.