Canberra Times, February 25

When Anatoly Karpov won the elite Linares tournament in 1994, he modestly described the result as the best in chess history.

Since then Karpov has suffered a steady descent down the world rankings, although he managed to hang on to his FIDE world title until 1999.

However when the 2001 Linares tournament began on Friday, Karpov, 49, was favourite to take the wooden spoon in the six player field.

Karpov's decline is mostly attributable to his non-chess activities, which have squeezed out the time needed for study to remain among the chess elite. (Karpov played only two serious tournaments in 2000, winning neither.)

The Russian's latest project is to work as a fund-raiser for the Palestinian YMCA.

At the conclusion of the Linares tournament, Karpov will visit village people on the West Bank and Gaza Strip to witness first-hand the difficulties the YMCA has been suffering since Intifada II began five months ago.

Then in May, Karpov plans to begin a two month tour of the Arab world, giving up to 20 simultaneous exhibitions in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, as well as the West Bank and Nazareth, an Arab city within Israel.

Karpov aims to raise $US5m for the YMCA, which would involve finding sponsorship of $US250,000 for each exhibition, a big ask.

While Karpov's motives may be of the highest order, it is hard to see this tour as anything other than a continuation of his long-running feud with Garry Kasparov.

Karpov has not previously shown much interest in the Middle East but he would have noted that both the Kasparov Chess Academy and the internet company Club Kasparov were based in Israel. (Club Kasparov has subsequently moved to New York.)

Since completing their fifth world title match in 1990, Karpov and Kasparov have clashed politically on a number of occasions.

While Kasparov made a visit to Sarajevo at a time when the Bosnian and Croatian wars were raging and the Bosnian capital was under siege, Karpov accompanied the victorious Yugoslav army to the devastated Croatian city of Vukovar and made comments which endorsed the destruction of the city.

Last year, when Kasparov supported the NATO bombing of Serbia as a response to the Kosovo crisis, Karpov spoke out against the NATO action.

One might therefore expect sparks to fly when the two meet over the board in Linares, for the first time since 1996.

Unfortunately after 171 games and more than 700 hours facing each other the contest is no longer an even one; Kasparov, 37, is still ranked first in the world, Karpov is 20th and dropping.

Unless Karpov has put in a special effort to prepare for his great rival and can avoid his now habitual time trouble, Kasparov can expect to have extended his 90-81 advantage over Karpov by the time the Linares tournament ends on March 6.