Chess prestidigitation--in more ways than one--by a Soviet ex-champion. Remember Karpov? He was the bad guy, the wolfish-looking favorite of Soviet hard-liners who a few years ago lost his title to handsome good-guy dissident Gary Kasparov. But what's this? Did we get it all wrong? A charming, if utterly eccentric, Karpov emerges here, prattling disingenuously about his childhood chess obsession, which sounds like something out of Nabokov or the wet-dreams of pawn-pushers everywhere: chess contains not only ""harmony"" but ""goodness""; in fact, ""everything is contained within it, even immortality."" Great stuff, this chessophilia, and Karpov's rise to prominence is told thrillingly. Along the way, we also meet, to our astonishment, Karpov the dissident, ever distrustful of Stalinist thugs, bureaucratic stagnation, and prisons disguised as mental hospitals. But didn't Karpov hate Korchnoi--his primary chess opponent for most of his career--for defecting to the West? No, for Korchnoi he feels only ""pity and regret"" because ""I was mightier."" Doesn't he hate Kasparov for being a democrat? No, the trouble is that Kasparov is ""unprincipled,"" ""a hypocrite"" who believes ""might makes right""--in fact, Karpov intimates, as we tumble with him through the Looking-Glass (on the other side of which, as you recall, mad hatters and dodos scramble over a crazy chessboard), the reason he lost the world championship wasn't because he choked, but because Kasparov hired a ""parapsychologist"" who messed with his head. The only living player whom Karpov deems his equal is Bobby Fischer, whom he never played and who doesn't play anymore. He describes Fischer as ""unique in his solitude."" That makes two.