The Best Chess Players of All Time are:
Magnus Carlsen: Reigning World Champion from 2013
Garry Kasparov: World Champion from 1985 – 2000
Bobby Fischer: World Champion in 1972
Anatoly Karpov: World Champion from 1975 – 1985
Vishy Anand: World Champion from 2007 – 2013
Magnus Carlsen is currently the best chess player in the world. He is the reigning world chess champion and has been since 2013. But is he also the strongest chess player in history? This is always a controversial topic.
Many prominent players and chess writers have offered their own rankings and opinions of the greatest players. Of course, there can only exist a subjective list for the question of who is the best chess player ever.
Obviously, we don’t have a time machine which would allow us to bring all the chess giants from history together for a decisive super-tournament.
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Garry Kasparov would play Bobby Fischer, Magnus Carlsen would play Mikhail Tal, Vishy Anand would play José Raúl Capablanca, Anatoly Karpov would play Paul Morphy and Vladimir Kramnik would play Emanuel Lasker. Although a tournament like this would catch a lot of attention (and not only in the chess world), it will never take place!
Still, it is interesting to compare all these legendary chess players throughout history in order to find out who is the best chess player of all time.
The Greatest Chess Players – Why The Elo System Does Not Help
Due to the fact that it has always been a basic human need to compare each other because everybody wants to be better than others, there is also a rating system in chess.
The most common rating system today is the Elo system which was invented by Arpad Elo. At first glance, it seems logical to compare players of different eras by comparing their Elo ratings.
So let’s take a look at the table of the Top 10 chess players of all time according to Elo:
It turns out that except for Garry Kasparov, who retired from professional chess in 2005 after 20 years as the world’s top-ranked player, all of the players in the list are still actively participating in professional chess.
Former World Chess Champions like Anatoly Karpov, Bobby Fischer or José Raúl Capablanca are not featured in the list. The reason for this is that the average Elo rating of top players has risen over time. This rating inflation makes it impossible to compare players of different eras.
While Anatoly Karpov, for instance, was the world’s number 1 chess player with an ELO rating of 2725 in 1980, having this Elo rating today, he would not even make it to the Top 25 club.
The Best Chess Player Ever – Top 5
#1: Magnus Carlsen
Magnus Carlsen’s chess career is full of great achievements. He was only 13 years old when he earned his grandmaster title in 2004.
In 2009, Magnus Carlsen reached an impressive Elo rating of over 2800 and just one year later, he became the world’s No. 1 in the FIDE rankings.
Three years later, Carlsen defeated the reigning World Chess Champion Vishy Anand in a match of twelve games (Carlsen even ended the match after 10 games) and became the new World Chess Champion.
In the following year, he retained his title in a rematch against Vishy Anand and won the 2014 World Rapid Championship and World Blitz Championship.
Later that year, in May 2014, he reached a peak rating of 2882 – the highest rating in the history of chess. In the year 2016, he successfully defended his title a second time against the Russian Super-GM Sergey Karjakin.
What makes Magnus the best in the world is that he seems to have no weaknesses. He plays strategic and positional chess, but he also rarely misses tactical opportunities. And once he gets a small advantage, he knows how to convert it into a win.
#2: Garry Kasparov
Garry started his training at the age of 10 at Mikhail Botvinnik’s chess school. In 1979, he was accidentally entered into a professional tournament, which he won. In 1984, he challenged for the World Title but lost to Anatoly Karpov in a 48 game match. But the following year he won the title.
He lost his title to Kramnik only many years later in 2000. In 2005, he announced his retirement after winning the prestigious Linares tournament for the ninth time. Garry Kasparov retired from professional chess in 2005 after 20 years as the world’s top-ranked player.
Today, many chess fans hope that Garry Kasparov returns to professional chess in order to see how he would perform against today’s young chess giants like Caruana, Karjakin, and Carlsen.
#3: Bobby Fischer
Many chess fans consider Bobby Fischer to be the best chess player ever. In 1970 he won 20 consecutive matches in “1970 Interzonal”. He became World Chess Champion in 1972 after beating Boris Spassky in a match in Reykjavik.
Three years later, Bobby Fischer refused to defend his title against a new challenger, Anatoly Karpov, because he was unhappy with the format of the World Chess Championship. From 1972 on, Bobby Fischer stopped playing serious chess. Read all about Bobby Fischer’s chess career in a nutshell.
#4: Anatoly Karpov
Anatoly Karpov was junior chess champion in 1969, defeated Korchnoi and Spassky in 1974 and challenged Fischer for the World Title. Fischer, however, didn’t agree to the playing conditions and Karpov became the Champion by default. Reigning from 1975-1985, he lost his title to Gary Kasparov in 1985 after defending it successfully just a year before.
He won the 1995 Linares tournament which is considered to be the strongest tournament in history. Anatoly Karpov is known for his positional style. It looked like he effortlessly placed his pieces on the best squares before starting an attack against the tiniest weaknesses in his opponent’s camp with relentless pressure.
You can compare his playing style to the style of Capablanca and Magnus Carlsen who also like to obtain microscopic advantages and to squeeze their opponent’s until they collapse under the constant pressure. His achievements and skills qualify Karpov to be among the greatest players in history.
#5: Vishy Anand
When we talk about the greatest chess players of all time, we often cite Magnus Carlsen, Bobby Fischer or Garry Kasparov and compare their weaknesses and strengths.
But Vishy Anand from India, the undisputed World Champion from 2007 to 2013, also must be considered.
Although today Vishy Anand lives in the shadow of Magnus Carlsen, we should not forget that Anand has won almost every title a professional chess player could wish to win.
Moreover, it is important to note that, with a FIDE rating close to 2800 Vishy Anand is still very much among the top chess players in the world today as evidenced by his recent title in December 2017 as rapid chess world champion. And his longevity as a chess great is also indisputable – Vishy became India’s first ever grandmaster when he was 18 years old.
He became the undisputed World Champion in 2007. He defended his title successfully against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008, in 2010 against Veselin Topalov and again in 2012 against Boris Gelfand. Today, Anand is 48 years old, but still a constant member of the Top 10 chess players due to Elo rating.
Who is the Best Chess Player Ever? – Conclusion
Players often raise the question of who is the best chess player ever. As we’ve seen, it is tough to make a definite conclusion on this question. As Siegbert Tarrasch correctly said, “Many have become chess masters, no one has become the master of chess.”
There have been, and there are now, many outstanding chess giants from whom we can learn plenty of key concepts today.
It’s very difficult to compare the play of completely different players from different periods. Of course, there is no doubt that the chess giants presented in this article are among the best players in the history of chess.
Still, there are many more great chess players like Capablanca, Lasker, Tal or Kramnik who would also deserve it to be in the Top 5 list of the best chess players ever.
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