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The insider's guide to the Chess World Championship

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(CNN) -- Everything you need to know about this month's Chess World Championship and the Buddhist Republic of Kalmykia that is hosting it.

The World Chess Championship. It's not exactly the World Cup, is it?

Maybe not, but the 12-game match, which got underway on Saturday, is historic in chess terms at least, re-uniting the sport for the first time since it split into rival factions 13 years ago when Garry Kasparov broke with the World Chess Federation (FIDE), accusing the world governing body of corruption and mismanagement.

Kasparov? I've heard of him. He got beaten by a computer right?

Well, yes, but not just your average chess-playing PC. In 1997 Kasparov was narrowly beaten in a six-game match by the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. But many consider the "Beast of Baku," who became the world's youngest ever world champion aged 22, to be the greatest chess player ever to pick up a bishop -- the sport's equivalent of Tiger Wood or Pele.

So Kasparov is finally returning to claim his crown as the king of the checkered board?

Not this time. Kasparov retired from the sport last year at the age of 41, disillusioned with chess and intent on entering politics as an avowed critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kasparov is a leading figure in the pro-democracy "Committee 2008: Free Choice" pressure group and has been talked about as a possible rival to Putin at Russia's next election.

So who's playing instead?

Veselin Topalov, known as the "Bulgarian Chainsaw," is the world's top-ranked player and earns his place at the table by virtue of winning a world championship tournament in Argentina last year. He'll face Russian grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik, who has been considered the "classical" world champion since beating Kasparov in 2000. Topalov is the more charismatic of the two while Kramnik, who is struggling with arthritis, is considered a measured, minimalist player. Surprisingly though, Kramnik has won the two opening games, mounting a daring counterattack as black in the second game to force mate after Topalov twice failed to spot winning positions.

And where is this 64-square shootout taking place?

In Elista, the capital of Kalmykia.

Excuse me?

Kalmykia is a Russian republic on the banks of the Caspian Sea, bordering Kazakhstan. The Kalmyks are notable for being Europe's only Buddhist nation and trace their ancestry back to the Mongol empire established by Genghis Khan, who rampaged across Eurasia in the 13th century quicker than a rook through a line of pawns. Under Tsarist rule, the Kalmyks were granted autonomy in return for protecting Russia's southern flank from Turkish attacks. But they fell out of favour under Stalin, who deported the entire nation to Siberia in 1943. They were finally allowed to return to their homeland in 1957.

Paris, London or New York not good enough for chess players obviously.

The odd choice of venue might have something to do with the fact that Kalmykia's president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, is also president of FIDE and has been trying to bring the world championship to Elista for years. Since winning power in 1993 the millionaire Buddhist businessman has made chess the Kalmyk national sport, making it compulsory for school children and building a $50 million "Chess City" in Elista for the 1998 Chess Olympiad. Now he's playing both Don King and Joseph-Desire Mobutu to Topalov's Ali and Kramnik's Foreman.

Sounds like a nice guy.

Ilyumzhinov is eccentric at best, corrupt at worst, according to his critics. He once ran for election by promising to give a mobile phone to every shepherd and claims to have been abducted by aliens during a business trip to Moscow in 1997. Despite campaigning with the slogan "a wealthy president is a safeguard against corruption" he faces accusations of diverting the state's resources for his own uses, human rights abuses and suppressing media freedom. In the chess world his opponents accuse him of bringing the game into disrepute.

So where can we watch this Caspian classic unfold?

Not on television unfortunately, though with games sometimes lasting six hours or more, there might not be much to watch. But you can follow the "action" on the Web at the match's official siteexternal link and weigh up the merits of the Catalan Opening vs. the Latvian Gambit for yourself.


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