Anand wins by a mile

THE Lord of the Rings was expected to dominate the Oscars this year. It didn't dominate; it made a sweep of them. The chances of Viswanathan Anand winning the Chess Oscar were even greater. And yes, the Oscar went to Anand.

P. K. AJITH KUMAR

Viswanathan Anand poses with the 1998 Chess Oscar. Anand won the coveted honour for the third time this year, for his brilliant show in 2003. — Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM-

THE Lord of the Rings was expected to dominate the Oscars this year. It didn't dominate; it made a sweep of them. The chances of Viswanathan Anand winning the Chess Oscar were even greater. And yes, the Oscar went to Anand.

Peter Jackson's film may have faced some competition from other contenders such as Mystic River and Lost in Translation, but for Anand it was a cakewalk. The mystic of Kasparov didn't work in 2003, while the other big stars while Kramnik, Svidler, Leko and Polgar lost out to the genial genius from Chennai without a fight.

The Chess Oscar is given to the best player of each year, and he is chosen based on the votes he (or she) receives from chess journalists throughout the world. It's a greatly respected and coveted honour by the world's leading players. It was instituted in 1967 by Jorge Puig, a Spanish journalist. Since 1995, Russian chess magazine 64 has been in charge of the Oscar.

"Winning the Oscar is a great feeling," said Anand in an interview to The Sportstar from his home in Spain. Anand had also won the Oscar in 1997 and 1998.

"It is the most honoured trophy in chess. When I first won the Oscar for 1997 I was on top of the world. Now I have joined Bobby Fischer as the only other non-Russian to win the award thrice. This speaks a lot for the high standards that are set. Since chess is played a lot in Russia and the old Soviet Union, a majority of the journalists tend to be from there. So if they chose you over their own compatriots it really reflects the esteem they hold for you. This 2003 Oscar reassures me that my game is moving in the right direction. Early in 2002, I wanted to do something different, give my game a fresh perspective and enjoy my chess. The chess Oscar reassures and takes my confidence and motivation to the next level."

It's only apt that Anand should be the man to emulate Fischer, for, he's indeed the most gifted player the sport has seen since the great American, who single-handedly turned chess into a popular global game from an essentially Russian hobby. Renowned coach Evgeny Vladimir, who helped Garry Kasparov win the World championship in 1985, called Anand an improved Fischer in an interview to The Sportstar once. In 2000 Anand had become the first player from outside the Soviet Union to win the World championship after Fischer did it in 1972.

Anand received 4150 points from over 50 countries, 1575 points more than the second-placed Peter Svidler of Russia, making it one of the clearest verdicts in the history of Chess Oscar. The top 10 players are ranked by the voters. While the No. 1 player is given 13 points, No. 2 gets 11, No. 3 receives nine and so on.

Of the 358 voters, 232 put Anand at No. 1. The second in terms of first place was Kasparov, but he got only 38 votes, while Svidler got 35. Kasparov, a five-time Oscar winner, finished fourth overall with 2262, his worst placing ever. Peter Leko of Hungary was third with 1867.

It wouldn't have been a surprise if Anand had been ranked first by all the voters for he played so well in 2003. He began the year on an impressive note, winning the Corus tournament at Wijk aan Zee, with a half-a-point lead over the second-placed Judit Polgar. At Linares he shared the third spot with Kasparov, but he triumphed at the Amber tournament in Monte Carlo. He expectedly emerged the champion at the SIS-MH Masters in Denmark with a score of 5.5 points from six rounds in what wasn't a particularly strong field.

"In 2003, I felt I performed the best and the Oscar is a satisfying reward for that," says Anand. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

Dortmund was his next stop where he finished runner-up to Victor Bologan of Moldova at the Sparkassen Meeting. Then at the Chess Classic at Mainz, Anand, the king, overcame Polgar, the queen, in an exciting series of rapid games. A couple of months later, he proved he was indeed the king of rapid chess when he won the World rapid championship at Cap d'Agde (France). He followed it up by winning the Corsica Masters at Bastia. In his last event of the year, at the Bali International Rapid in Spain, he was the runner-up. So, in an eventful year, he played nine tournaments, won six of them and came runner-up in two. "In 2003, I felt I performed the best and the Oscar is a satisfying reward for that," he said.

Abhijit Kunte, one of the many successful young players of India who took to chess only because of Anand, agrees to it. "He really had a wonderful year. He was very consistent and really deserved the Oscar," said the Pune-based Grandmaster.

Anand has had a good start to this year too, retaining the Corus title. Last month he moved to the No. 2 spot in world ranking, swapping places with Russian Vladimir Kramnik. And the fact is that he is arguably the world's best player at the moment, though Kasparov continues to be the World No. 1 in FIDE's ranking. The great Russian is of course the world's strongest player ever, but he doesn't play as many tournaments as Anand or other top players do.

To beat Kasparov in a match (where you play a series of games with one player, unlike in tournaments) is about the only thing that Anand hasn't done yet in his glorious career. He's played only one match with Kasparov — the PCA World title match, in 1995 at the World Trade Center, New York, which he lost, after taking an early lead.

He would've got an opportunity for revenge had he decided to play at the World championship to be held in Libya from June 18, as the champion is slated to play in FIDE's Unification match with Kasparov. But he opted out of Libya, as did most of the world's top players. Indeed, the chances to find an undisputed World chess champion look very slim now.

He may not play in the World championship this year, but Anand still could lead India to the top of the world. He will captain the country at the Chess Olympiad in Spain later in the year. He's returning to the Davis Cup of chess after a gap of 12 years and his young team has the talent to strike gold.

He'd done one billion Indians proud when he won the World championship in Teheran. They still expect a lot from him. After all, he's the greatest sportsman India has ever produced.

The nominees

01. V. Anand (Ind) 4150 pts. 02. P. Svidler (Rus) 2575. 03. V. Kramnik (Rus) 2518. 04. G. Kasparov (Rus) 2262. 05. P. Leko (Hun) 1867. 06. J. Polgar (Hun) 1528. 07. A. Morozevich (Rus) 1381. 08. V. Bologan (Mold) 1359. 09. N. Short (Eng) 539. 10. E. Bareev (Rus) 535. 11. A. Shirov (Esp) 485. 12. V. Topalov (Bul) 392. 13. A. Grischuk (Rus) 311. 14. T. Radjabov (Aze) 278. 15. V. Malakhov (Rus) 238.