Siegbert Tarrasch, one of the most influential players of our time once said, “Many have become chess masters, no one has become the master of chess.”
We have seen many of the best chess players come and go. However, this article introduces you to the greatest chess players ever.
It is incredibly difficult to compare players based on rating due to rating inflation, so we’ve improvised. We’ve covered the 10 greatest legends who dominated the chess kingdom during their time.
To make it a bit more fun, we’ll also dive deep into one of the best chess games from each player. So, let’s dive right in!
1) Garry Kasparov (1963) – Greatest of the Greats
Garry Kasparov had ruled the chess world from the age of 22 when he made his way up becoming the youngest ever undisputed World Chess Champion in 1985. He maintained the number #1 spot until his retirement in 2005. But as the famous saying goes, “every Chess master was once a beginner,” and the saying holds brief for the champion too.
Garry began training for chess at a tender age of 10 at Mikhail Botvinnik’s chess school. In 1978, the young chess master was accidentally entered into a professional tournament, which he surprisingly won. By 1983, he was ranked 2nd in the world. In 1984, he went on to challenge for the World Title but lost to Karpov in a striking 48-game match. Following his defeat, he would go on to win the title and then successfully defended it 3 times.
After Garry left FIDE in 1993, the title would remain split for 13 years. Kasparov would eventually lose his title to Kramnik in 2000. In the year 2005, the young chess master announced his retirement after winning the prestigious Linares tournament for the ninth time. He was also rated the #1 player in the world when he retired and had gone entirely unchallenged for 20 years.
Garry Kasparov’s Best Chess Game
2) Anatoly Karpov (1951)
Karpov was the youngest-ever Soviet National Master (age 15), World junior chess champion in 1969. He defeated the likes of Korchnoi and Spassky in 1974. He proceeded to challenge Bobby Fischer for the World Title. Fischer would eventually withdraw from the championship match which made Karpov the Champion by default.
His reign spanned 1975-1985 and 1993-1999 but disputed, with 160 first-place tournaments, he eventually lost his title to Garry Kasparov in 1985 after a solid defence against Kasparov just the year before.
Karpov went on to win the 1995 Linares tournament, tournament considered to be the strongest tournament in history. Following a successful defence of his title to Gata Kamsky in 1996, the chess prodigy conceded his title in 1999, a move in protest over FIDE rule changes to the way the title was decided. This remarkable feat certainly qualifies him as one of the greatest chess players in history.
3) Magnus Carlsen (1990)
Magnus Carlsen’s chess career is riddled with outstanding achievements. He just became 13 years old when he earned his grandmaster title back in 2004. In the year 2009, Magnus Carlsen made his way up reaching an impressive Elo rating of over 2800 and just one year later, and he went on to become the world’s No. 1 in the FIDE rankings.
Three years down the line, Carlsen defeated the reigning World Chess Champion Vishy Anand in a twelve game match. He also went on to win the match after only 10 games and became the new World Chess Champion.
The following year, Carlsen successfully retained his title in a rematch against Vishy Anand, a match that saw him win the 2014 World Rapid Championship and World Blitz Championships.
Later on in the same year, precisely May 2014, Carlsen reached a peak rating of 2882 – a feat recorded as the highest rating in the history of chess. In the year 2016, he successfully retained his title for a second time, this time against the Russian Super-GM Sergey Karjakin.
Among some, the characteristics that make Magnus one of the greatest chess players of all time is that he seems to have no weaknesses, a man of ruthless pragmatism if you will. His playing style is comprised of strategic and positional chess, but he rarely misses tactical opportunities – and once he a window, he’s likely gonna convert it into a win.
4) Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900)
Dubbed “Austrian Morphy”, was a great contributor to modern-day chess. In the year 1873, he invented a new style of positional play which was termed cowardly as it differed from an all-out attack style. Steinitz’s thoughts and writings about the game were very influential at the time which has earned him the nickname “the father of positional play.”
Most of his ideas came off as strange to modern folks, and they were the foundations for which of all the positional themes we all know how we’re built. Some of the worlds greatest chess players such as Tarrasch and Lasker, among others, recognized Steinitz as their “teacher.”
In the year 1866, Steinitz defeated Adolf Andersson, the then-strongest active player in the world. Between 1873-1882, Steinitz only played one match, against Blackburne, a game which saw him winning a perfect 7-0 score. He made his comeback in 1882. In 1886 he went on to defeat his bitter rival, Zuckertort, for “championship of the world.”
Steinitz reign continued for the next eight years, defeating Gunsberg and Chigorin but eventually lost to Emanuel Lasker in 1894. Unfortunately, he died in 1900 due to poverty. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest contributors to the game of chess.
5) Jose Raul Capablanca (1888-1942)
Capablanca is on record one of the most undisputed masters of blitz chess! He started his chess career at the age of 4, by 13, the undisputed master had defeated the Cuban champion. At 18, he went on again to defeat the US Champion Frank Marshall with a score of 15-8. Finally, in the year 1921, Capablanca went on to win the World Chess Championship and ended the reign of Lasker. The new World Chess Champion, Capablanca successfully defended the title for the next six years.
In the year 1922, Capablanca put up an outstanding performance when he engaged 103 players simultaneously, a feat the saw him win 102 games and drawing only 1! In 1927, he would eventually lose his title to Alexander Alekhine and thus came an end to his reign. Capablanca later went on to play in more tournaments, but never again did he reached his once attained mountainous peak and eventually retired in 1931.
6) Bobby Fischer (1943-2008)
Robert “Bobby” James Fischer started his chess career at the age of 14. At the time, he went on to win 8 US Chess Championships, making him the youngest Grandmaster (at aged 15), and the youngest-ever candidate on record for a World Chess Championship. In the year 1970 Fischer went on to win 20 consecutive matches in the “1970 Interzonal”. In the year 1972, Fischer defeated Boris Spassky is one of the most popular games to date, a feat that made him the World Chess Champion.
In the year 1975, the champion did not defend his title due to an inability to agree on match conditions with FIDE. Later on, he, unfortunately, his carrier was marred with numerous controversies and conflicts, but no player has ever had such potential between themselves and their rivals. His style of play easily makes his name one of the most popular among chess players of all levels.
Bobby Fischer’s Best Chess Game
Many of Fischer’s games could easily be tagged great, and it’s difficult to choose a single one. Undoubtedly, one of the most prominent games in his chess career was the sixth game in his legendary World Championship Match against Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972. This was the time of the Cold War being fought over 64 squares and as such, attracted massive media interest. He single-handedly ended the domination of chess by the Soviet School of chess.
7) Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946)
By the age of 16, Alexander Alekhine was already one of the greatest chess players of Russia and made his way up to become the strongest player in the world by 22. Alekhine began his reign by defeating Capablanca in 1927. His core objective was to strip Capablanca of his, a feat he accomplished with six wins, three losses, and 25 draws. Alekhine defended his title against Bogoljubov in 1929 and 1934, but would eventually lose in 1935 to Max Euwe. Interestingly, he regained it in 1937 and held the title until he died in 1946.
8) Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995)
Mikhail Botvinnik was coach to the greats of Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, and Vladimir Kramnik. Not only was he an acclaimed chess player in his own right, but went on to contribute immensely to the development of the World Chess Championship. In the year 1930, Botvinnik made his way to the top becoming the Soviet Champion. Due to World War 2, the champion was unable to challenge Alekhine. In the early 1940’s he defeated a strong Soviet field for the title of “Absolute Champion of USSR.”
Botvinnik began his world reign in 1948 and continued till 1963. He went on to defend his title against David Bronstein in 1951 (the match ended in a draw). He repeated the feat again in 1954 after another draw against Smyslov. Smyslov, his rival at the time, finally stripped the title away in 1957, but Botvinnik in an ambitious attempt regained the title in a rematch in 1958. In 1960, Mikhail Tal went on to win the title in 1960, but Botvinnik was able to regain the title yet again in the 1961 rematch. Sadly, he failed to defend the title in 1963 to Tigran Petrosian. Botvinnik took a bow and retired in 1970 and then devoted himself to the development of chess programs and training young Soviet Players.
Mikhail Botvinnik’s Best Chess Game
Mikhail Botvinnik’s best chess game trails back to the 20th century, a clash between two of the greatest players of the 20th century – Mikhail Botvinnik and José Raul Capablanca. The game was played in a tournament in 1938, featuring the strongest chess players of the time.
9) Paul Morphy (1837-1884)
Chess veteran Paul Morphy is regarded by many as one of the greatest chess players in history by many people, and easily one of the most gifted chess players to have ever lived. But Morphy didn’t choose chess as his main focus and career. At the age of 9, Morphy made his way up to become the best player in New Orleans & easily defeated General Winfield Scott in 1846. At the age of 12, he went on to defeat Hungarian chess master Johann Lowenthal in 3 matches.
In the year 1857, Morphy took part in the first American Chess Congress which he won to become the chess champion of the United States. In the year 1858, Morphy went on to defeat all the English Grandmasters except Staunton. Later, he relocated to France where he defeated Adolf Andersson (7W, 2L, 2D) and was then considered the strongest player in the world at the age of only 21. Morphy took a bow and retired from chess and only played occasionally, robbing us from seeing even more intriguing games!
10) Vishwanathan Anand (1969)
Vishy Anand, a chess player of Indian descent, was the undisputed World Chess Champion from 2007 to 2013 and is definitely cannot be left out of the greatest chess players ever.
Although today Vishy Anand has been relegated to the background thanks to Magnus Carlsen, we should not forget that Anand has had a successful career by winning almost every title a professional chess player could wish to win. With a FIDE rating close to 2800, Vishy Anand is still a strong contender among the top chess players in the world today.
This is re-enforced by the fact he won the Rapid World Chess Championships in December 2017. Vishy made his way up to become India’s first-ever Grandmaster when he was 18 years old.
He also became the undisputed World Champion in the year 2007. He successfully retained his title against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008, in the year 2010 against Veselin Topalov and again in 2012 against Boris Gelfand. Today, Anand remains a regular member of the Top 10 rated chess players in the world.
Conclusion – 10 Greatest Chess Players of All Time
If you found our list of the 10 greatest chess players of all time well-articulated? If not, who are the chess masters that grace your top 10?