And the Oscar goes to...

IN chess, like in the world of cinema, Oscar is associated with the one voted as the best in a given period.

RAKESH RAO

IN chess, like in the world of cinema, Oscar is associated with the one voted as the best in a given period. The honour brings with it global recognition and much more. Truly, it is a manifestation and validation of the efforts put in by a worthy performer. Chess, like acting, is an art practised by millions in pursuit of perfection. There are masters in both art forms but the search for a `perfect' exponent remains a never-ending exercise.

Viswanathan Anand with the 2003 Chess Oscar. Anand was voted the winner of the Oscar for 2004, too, the fourth of his career.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Never mind if the Indian actors and filmmakers have not won a single popular award at the Oscars so far. The incredible Viswanathan Anand has done enough to be voted for the Chess Oscar four times. What more, Anand is the only non-Russian to receive the honour as many times. Unlike the Oscar given away by the Academy of Motion Pictures, the winner of the Chess Oscar is the one chosen by the fraternity itself. This time, from 75 countries, 445 experts including 74 Grandmasters, several players and chess journalists submitted their list of 10 top performers of the year. The first place in the list was worth 13 points while the 10th was given just one point. The winner was the one with maximum points.

A look at the results of the voting gives a fair idea of what the chess fraternity thought of Anand's performances in 2004. He tallied 5205 points to stay way ahead of Gary Kasparov (3664), Peter Leko (3485) and Vladimir Kramnik (3344) in the list of 69 nominations. Significantly, 279 voters placed Anand as their first choice. He was also the only one in all lists.

Much before the voting was carried out, Anand was already an undeclared runaway winner. After all, he had won almost all the competitions that he entered during the year. He started by winning the prestigious Corus tournament at Wijk aan Zee for the fourth time. In a blitz event that followed in Sofia (Bulgaria), Anand defeated Veselin Topalov 1.5-0.5 to avenge the loss suffered in Corus.

Monaco was the next stop for Anand. After starting as the defending champion in the Amber blindfold and rapid tournament, Anand won the rapid title. After Corus, the high point of Anand's performance came at Dortmund where he won for a third time. For a change, the event followed a knockout format and Anand went on to nail Kramnik in the tiebreaker.

At the Chess Classic of Mainz, Anand became a four-time winner when he expectedly stopped Alexei Shirov. Anand's performance in the Sao Paolo Masters was equally dominating as he finished three points ahead of the field.

After 12 years, Anand returned to the Olympiad and led a young Indian combination to the sixth place, the country's best ever. He showed the way on the top table with an unbeaten record. Thereafter, Anand dominated the Corsica Masters and won it for the fifth time. All wins and one draw was a truly champion-like performance. As though to improve upon an already unenviable record, Anand played the Paul Keres memorial tournament in Estonia and emerged on top with a perfect 5/5 record! It is interesting to note what Anand had to say about his performances during the year.

"I think, I played the best in 2004. I silenced all the critics who thought that my rapid chess prowess clearly exceeded my classical chess skills. For me in the end it is chess, the time-control only changes the speed. Again winning by such a huge margin reflects my strength on the chessboard. Now I am the only non-Russian to win the award four times."

Last year, Anand matched American Bobby Fischer's record of three Oscars. Anand knows only too well how it takes to be chosen as the best by those competent of evaluating and understanding the significance of each performance. "In chess, that means a lot," confirms Anand.

Indeed, it is not easy to choose your best games of the year especially when you've had a dream run. Anand pointed at three games, all against Russians, as some of his better victories in the classical time-control during the year. "I played a nice game against (Evgeny) Bareev in Corus. A very nice French game (that was voted as the best game of the tournament). In Dortmund, the second-round win against (Peter) Svidler was a nice one. In the Olympiad, too, my game against (Alexander) Morozevich was sweet revenge for Monaco."

On his rapid games during the year, Anand said, "I played some nice games against (Alexei) Shirov (in Mainz), but winning Estonia 5/5 was like a script sure to win an Oscar."

Indeed, it did.

It was also very generous of Anand to share, in detail, what he thought of his previous three Oscar-winning years. Over to Anand:

1997: Moral World Champion:

"This was my first Oscar. Obviously I was elated. To be a non-Soviet and to win it made me feel real good. Generally, after my match (against Garry Kasparov) in 1995, my chess started to come like a breath of fresh air. Months of training had given me a lot of ideas and I was a more mature player.

"The award ceremony in Moscow was really special with (Boris) Spassky giving me the award and GM Taimanov playing the piano.

"In 1996, with Dortmund, my run of success started. I won Dortmund, Credit Suisse Masters, Villarobledo and finished second in the rather contemporary labelled Super Tournaments in Las Palmas. By then I was World No. 2 (also getting some of the Elo points for my PCA matches). So in 1997, my good run continued. I played very smoothly in Dos Hermanas and did the Triple Honours at Amber in Monaco, Frankfurt Chess Classic and won the Invesbanka Tournament in Belgrade. In that tournament, I played a very nice game with black against Kramnik and Ubilava (Anand's former trainer) then remarked that this was the sign that there was nothing to stop me.

RAJEEV BHATT

"But what got the critics' attention was my performance in Groningen. Being the first of the knockout championships and marred with a lot of controversy and unfair seeding, it sprung many surprises. My play went like a script, with its share of terror and suspense for my second game against (Alexander) Khalifman (a similar scenario, but more on the cliff's edge in New Delhi in the 2000 World Championship). Otherwise, I eliminated top players such as Nikolic, Almasi, Gelfand and Shirov with ease. My match with Adams would easily count as the costliest 10 minutes in chess. I was in excellent form and somehow played with a certain amount of confidence and the right amount of risk. My play surely made everyone feel that I was the Moral World Champion."

1998: Vishy, the Winner:

"To win the Oscar, two times in a row, felt excellent. The second time over, you can't feel as excited as the first one. But when you see a large number of Soviet chess journalists putting aside national patriotism or favouritism and only voting a player based on his performance made me feel very special.

"The year started with Luanne (with the World knock-out championship final against a well-rested Anatoly Karpov and Anand lost). I don't want to dwell on the match, but I surely fought back under very difficult circumstances. Since the chess circuit begins in January, there was not much time to work on nor did I want to. So in Wijk aan Zee, I started to play on `auto pilot'. We had done very good work for Groningen and I was able to use that in my play. I won Wijk with Kramnik and from there I went on to win Linares. A `double', I think, very few chess players can boast of. Again I played well at the Frankfurt Chess Classic eliminating both Kasparov and Kramnik to win. My win in Tilburg was the smoothest. I generally dominated the event start to finish. "Again it was a very nice game with Kramnik where I think on Move 28, I was still on home preparation. I remember Mickey Adams, making a funny quote during the event. He said, "Ya Vishy turns up at the tournament and sees who is the opponent and thinks what do I feel like today, a win maybe." I guess, something on those lines. Clearly I proved to be a top performer showing consistency and winning three classical events. The general impression was that I had played some of my best chess that too with ease. I think I won the Oscar for being Vishy the Winner."

2003: As good as the first one:

"This Oscar felt as good as the first one. In 2001 my chess was at a nadir. In 2002, at the Eurotel Trophy, I played some good chess and Vishy Anand was back in the house. I played my natural style and even the tiebreak with (Vassily) Ivanchuk had its moments but I pulled through quite well. In 2002, there was one quality of mine that started being noticed: My drive to fight back. "Many journalists have labelled me a `Gentleman player' who should have that little killer instinct. In a game of chess, unless you use off board antics, your aggression or killer instinct comes in the moves you play. In 2002, I did that excellently in the Mainz Chess Classic, the World Cup and in Corsica where I fought back to win. I think 2002 would count as one of my best years, too.

"In 2003, I won Corus, finished third in Linares. Won Monaco, Mainz Classic and finished second in Dortmund. I played one of the best novelties of my career against (Victor) Bologan in Dortmund. The crowning glory came at the World Rapid Championship in Cape d'Agde. (Peter) Svidler, Kramnik and I were seen as the hot favourites for the title. Svidler was truly in his best form. I played a good game against Karpov (108 moves) to qualify. My tiebreak against Svidler was the ultimate cliff-hanger but I won in the end. The final against Kramnik went off smoothly. When I won that event, Svidler congratulated me not on the title but said `I think with this you have won the Oscar.' I continued my win in Corsica for the fourth straight time. The 2003 Oscar was clearly a reward for my consistency. My win in Corus and all my rapid exploits got me the Oscar."

Roll of honour

It all started when the journalists covering an international tournament in Palma de Mallorca chose Bent Larsen as the best player of 1967. The following year, Jorge Puch took the initiative to form the International Association of Chess Press (AIPE). This body of chess journalists carried out in-house voting and declared the top-10 GMs of the year. With every passing year, the number of journalists voting increased. Later, GMs joined the polling process. Till 1988, the awards were presented regularly but the death of Jorge Puch in 1989 brought a sudden halt to the awarding ceremony.

In 1995, the Russian chess magazine `64' revived the Oscar by involving the world chess fraternity into voting for the best of the year.

Year Winner 1968 Boris Spassky (USSR) 1969 Boris Spassky (USSR) 1970 Bobby Fischer (USA) 1971 Bobby Fischer (USA) 1972 Bobby Fischer (USA) 1973 Anatoly Karpov (USSR) 1974 Anatoly Karpov (USSR) 1975 Anatoly Karpov (USSR) 1976 Anatoly Karpov (USSR) 1977 Anatoly Karpov (USSR) 1978 Victor Korchnoi (USSR) 1979 Anatoly Karpov (USSR) 1980 Anatoly Karpov (USSR) 1981 Anatoly Karpov (USSR) 1982 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 1983 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 1984 Anatoly Karpov (USSR) 1985 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 1986 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 1987 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 1988 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 1989-1994 Discontinued 1995 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 1996 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 1997 Viswanathan Anand (IND) 1998 Viswanathan Anand (IND) 1999 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 2000 Vladimir Kramnik (USSR) 2001 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 2002 Garry Kasparov (USSR) 2003 Viswanathan Anand (IND) 2004 Viswanathan Anand (IND)