The Revenge of Charles Saatchi; He Was the King of Brit Art, Propelling Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin to International Acclaim. Then He Lost His Crown to Tate Modern and Sir Nicholas Serota. but Now Saatchi Is Planning to Wrestle Back His Mantle

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Byline: LUKE LEITCH;BERNADETTE CARROLL

FORGET being adored: Charles Saatchi plays to win. Scrabble is his favourite game, and the private room of Knightsbridge's Montpeliano restaurant has seen some epic battles with hundreds of pounds in bets at stake. As often as not, the onetime advertising guru is victorious, despite playing against such high-calibre opposition as media big cheeses Alan Yentob and Janet Street-Porter.

A former player at the Saatchi Scrabble salon rather ruefully recalls: "Charles dominates the board, not always with charm, and he plays for points.

It's not about the money, or even the fun of it - he just wants to score more than anybody else around the table."

But his thirst for supremacy extends well beyond the Scrabble board. The advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi, which Charles founded in 1970, at the age of 27, and made into the largest company of its kind in the world, gave him a fortune of up to [pound]120 million.

His competitiveness is also regularly on show in the unlikely milieu of the the go-kart circuit, where he often takes top spot on the podium.

It is in the art world, though, where Saatchi's compulsions have attracted the most attention. His obsessive art patronage was the vital component in kick-starting the Nineties phenomenon of the Young British Artist, starring Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.

His gallery in Swiss Cottage was London's coolest venue.

Canny buying and selling in the feverish art market of the time made him a fortune all over again.

And just as with his Scrabble partners, some of the artists he made famous did not appreciate Saatchi's ruthless playing style.

Nevertheless he was the Medici of British Art, and he dominated the board.

But not any more.

He lost his undisputed supremacy to what has been called the best gallery in the world, Tate Modern, and its puritanically zealous director, Sir Nicholas Serota. It has become the venue in British art, for cognoscenti and hoi-polloi alike. Even Madonna has taken a private tour, and its opening night parties attract the cream of fashion, music and art. Serota, not Saatchi, is the name that resounds loudest now.

But Charles Saatchi, who was 59 this summer, is poised to unleash his riposte. After long negotiations, his team has recently secured the lease on 30,000 square feet of County Hall's sweeping first floor, and next spring the new Saatchi Gallery will open there with what is expected to be a huge retrospective of Damien Hirst.

After that, says the grapevine, will come a similar blockbuster show of Tracey Emin's canon. Both will be curated by Saatchi himself, and both will boast new work. It is his best shot at outplaying Tate Modern, re-establishing himself on the summit of the British scene.

Saatchi has been quietly buying and selling art with gusto, revivifying his 3,000-plus collection of works and readying it for the task he wants it to achieve - attracting nearly one million visitors a year and rivalling Tate Modern's South Bank dominance.

HE certainly has the ammunition to at least aim for this target: Charles Saatchi's art collection, begun in 1970, has recently been estimated at around [pound]50 million in value and is the finest repository of recent British modern art in the world.

And Saatchi's name, though in these days of the publicly-funded Tate Modern ascendancy not quite the label it once was, is still the most recognisable marque in contemporary commercial art. His backing has helped propel his star artists Hirst and Emin into the tiny group of internationallyknown modern artists, and provided a healthy livelihood for countless, more dubious, talents.

But while Saatchi's name is synonymous with a new art movement, comparatively little is known about the man himself. His Who's Who entry is a tad over two lines long. His last meaningful interview was more than five years ago, to coincide with his Sensation! …