If you watch any tournaments of the old, you may notice that there is an award that is not getting its place in contemporary competitions. The one that I am talking about is the brilliancy prize.
The popularity of this award is starting to fade with the passing of time, and for a reason. But what is the brilliancy prize in chess? And is it important?
As someone who constantly observe in chess tournaments, here is what I know:
The brilliancy prize is an independent tournament award granted to the player who has produced the most beautiful game in the chess tournament. The game that won the brilliancy prize doesn’t require perfect play, just unique and creative.
I personally believe that the brilliancy prize has its place even in modern tournaments, this post is to inform you about what it is in the first place.
The brilliancy prize is for the most creative game
The brilliancy prize is a tournament reward that is given to a player who produced the most creative/beautiful game in the tournament but not necessarily the most instructive.
It is a game so overwhelmingly creative that spectators and arbiters alike can appreciate its aesthetic value. There is a catch though, it doesn’t mean that it is the best game.
When we say “the best game”, it is a game that is played with almost all perfect moves that have a surgical-like precision. Brilliancy deserving games are usually not like that.
In order for something to be visually pleasing, mistakes have to be made for both sides. Otherwise, the game would be too stale and probably would end in a draw.
The one who wins the match is the one who will be given the brilliancy prize and not their opponent (even if they have contributed to the brilliant game).
The brilliancy prize is given to the one who wins
There are games where both sides played beautifully and can arguably be both deserving of the brilliancy prize. However, only one can truly be awarded of such a title.
The primary factor used to determine who would win the award is the one who wins the game. If someone plays a brilliant game but loses, then they probably wouldn’t get the award.
It is important to note though that the winner of the brilliancy award doesn’t necessarily have to win the tournament, it is a separate award that is not based on the outcome of the competition.
Brilliancy award on general poor performance
The brilliancy prize is judged based on individual games and not necessarily the performance of the player throughout the tournament.
This means that a player can be at the bottom of the standings, yet can still qualify to win the award if they produced the most pleasing game.
Consequently, winning the tournament doesn’t necessarily make a player the favorite in winning the brilliancy prize if they win with a boring, systematic, but solid approach.
It is to balance out the quality over quantity, a player that has produced the best quality game but is not able to reflect the same quality in quantity will be recognized.
It also serves to incentivize players who make exciting games even with a lot of risks, making an award that appreciates what these kinds of players bring to the table even without winning the tournament.
It is important to note that only one can win the brilliancy prize even if there are multiple creative games in a tournament, this is a common practice.
There is only one who can win the brilliancy prize
There can only be one winner of the brilliancy prize. Even if there are multiple creative games in a tournament, only one can win the award.
This is because the organizers are looking for the best of the best and not just the list of the most creative games, there is a competition involved in this as well.
This is why some people think that some other games that have not been awarded the prize are deserving than the one who actually gets it, it can be pretty subjective after all.
In other words there have been conflicts with the criteria used to determine a player deserving of the brilliancy prize. Games that can be considered brilliant are very hard to judge.
Brilliancy awards can be subjective
The methodology to determine who deserves the brilliancy prize is usually subjective, something that may not do justice for the most beautiful games.
This is because the definition of beauty can differ from individual to individual, which makes objective judging challenging.
No one really gets truly satisfied in the end, since somebody’s description of aesthetic is different from another. This means that the line can be blurry and it makes it difficult to pinpoint the actual winner.
Funny thing is, if a tournament awards a brilliancy prize on default, they would force the award even if no games are supposedly brilliant.
Brilliancy prize without brilliant games
The brilliancy prize can still be awarded even if there are no games in the tournament that are supposed to be beautiful. The closest one would be considered then.
It is sort of a technicality that the organizers will have to name a winner even though no one is deserving. The arbiters will still have to consider the aesthetic value of the game though.
They can’t just put on a long boring game that ends when one pawn gets pushed and promoted. It has to be a little bit exciting at least.
Why is the brilliancy prize so important though?
The brilliancy prize prompts creativity
The brilliancy prize is an award that is supposed to incentivize creative play independent of tournament outcomes resulting from excessive risk-taking.
This is the thing with the most creative players, they produce the most beautiful games but take a lot of risk in doing so.
The more solid players who prefer boring lines and play it safe are usually the players who excel in the tournament result sheet. However the numbers do not tell the whole story.
Games orchestrated by the creative players are usually more decisive, they will win some games but they will also lose a lot of them since there is an element of risk.
The brilliancy prize is an award to appreciate the efforts made on individual quality games independent of the tournament results. This way, creative players can be in the spotlight for once.
The prizes included in the brilliancy prize
The one who won the brilliancy prize will have a separate trophy along with bonus prize money that is independent of the tournament results.
The one who wins the tournament (and maybe some players who also performed well) will get a trophy. The one who wins the brilliancy prize will have a customized trophy that is unique.
The tournament prize for the one who wins the tournament will also be different from the one who wins the brilliancy prize.
This means that if a competitor wins the tournament and also wins the brilliancy prize, they will make so much money than any other player on similar tournaments.
This is such a good idea, however, it is fading with the passing of time.
Brilliancy prizes are starting to disappear
In the modern era of chess where results are heavily incentivized, there are no more brilliancy prices given for the most beautiful games.
I am not sure when the practice of giving brilliancy prizes stopped, but modern elite tournaments do not award the brilliancy prize as of the moment.
This is potentially because of the existence of engines, the supposedly beautiful games under the criticism of a strong engine does not seem that beautiful at all.
Plus it is really hard to judge creativity in an environment filled with memorization and preparation, any creative schemes that can be seen are likely produced by the engine.
It is not completely gone though, just fading.
Brilliancy prizes on less known competitions
There might be brilliancy prizes that are still being granted in lower-tiered tournaments. Privileges tournaments however almost wiped out the existence of brilliancy prizes.
Small-scale tournaments can afford to grant the brilliancy prize because most competitors are not that immersed in preparation. This means that creative games are more likely to be played.
In small-scale tournaments the results are not treated as grandeur as well, if the organizers want to appreciate a beautiful game or two that they have witnessed then they might award it.
The brilliancy prizes are undeniably in the most unpopular places though rather than on the spotlight among the ranks of the elites.
Modern chess does not sit well with brilliancy
Modern chess is mostly about preparation and memorization, giving a prize that is supposed to be about creativity is just hard in this environment.
Most tournament games on the higher end results in a draw more than any other, sometimes there wasn’t even any room to give the brilliancy prize even if the organizers wanted to.
What will usually happen is they have to pick from a limited number of games that do not have a glimpse of creativity at all. That is just how modern chess is played.
Giving the prize on a game that is boring and ends after 100 moves does not sit well with the purpose of the brilliancy prize, so tournaments just stopped giving them all together.
There are a couple of tournaments here and there that still give the award but are really fading in modern chess competitions.
Creativity is something that a lot of chess players crave for in contemporary chess, however, we cannot deny that a solid boring approach is for the most part, the best approach to win.
Personally I believe that the existence of the brilliancy prize can be optional, where it can only be granted if there is a game deserving for it.
Most organizers would not bother if they wouldn’t even have the opportunity to grant it in every tournament. I do understand that there is a logistical problem about this but it will make the competitions interesting.
Players are mostly struggling financial-wise. Not only is this an additional prize money to shoot for it will also promote creativity!
I personally think uniqueness is important in the future of chess. But that is just my opinion, sleep well and play chess.