Karpov Challenges World ... And Wins

On Monday, Anatoly Karpov took on the whole world and won.

In a chess match billed as "Karpov vs. the World," the former world champion, playing a total of 20,000 people via the Internet, was nearly forced to concede a draw to the least prestigious opponent imaginable -- the masses.

But the World voted to resign after Karpov, in his usual constrictive style, trapped it in a hopeless position in its own kingside. "By an overwhelming majority, the world has voted to resign," computer screens around the planet announced.

The match, organized by the Finnish telephone company Telcom, allowed Web site visitors a chance to vote on what move to make next after accessing the playing board on screen. The move that received the highest number of votes in the 10-minute waiting period between moves won and was entered on the board.

This was the second large-scale chess match to be held on the Internet, and it proved again the drawing potential of cyber-chess. Last winter, 6 million Web site visitors watched world champion Garry Kasparov defeat IBM's supercomputer Deep Blue in the most celebrated man-vs.-machine match of all time.

Karpov's first venture into the world of cyber-attractions came just days after he met and spoke with his archrival Kasparov for the first time in five years.

According to Alexei Kucherinko, a spokesman for World Chess Federation president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the two players met for several hours Friday in Ilyumzhinov's office in Moscow to discuss plans for a possible reunification match.

"They had hoped to hold a press conference Saturday to announce the match formally, but some minor obstacles still needed to be cleared up," he said. "But we have every hope that the match will be formally announced soon."

The long-standing feud between the two players has resulted in a schism in the chess world in which there are two world champions, with Kasparov the champion of his own Professional Chess Association and Karpov the champion of Ilyumzhinov's World Chess federation. Kasparov, who broke with FIDE in 1992 to form the PCA, has never lost to Karpov in their five championship meetings and is widely considered to be the true world champion.

Kasparov and Karpov have entertained one of the more venomous personal rivalries in the history of sports. Neither player conceals his intense dislike for the other and their unwillingness to speak to one another has become legendary. They last spoke in 1991, when Kasparov defeated Karpov to defend his title for the third time.

Karpov's Internet chess victory over the world marked a new chapter in the relentlessly competitive relationship between the two chess geniuses. Both players have spoken often of the need to stake out the Internet as the territory of their respective organizations.

First, came Kasparov's defeat of Deep Blue. Then came Karpov's announcement of the Finnish net exhibition and that was quickly followed up last month by Kasparov's announcement of a rematch with Deep Blue next spring.