It is always a great source of inspiration to see some of the most famous chess games from the world’s strongest chess players throughout history.
If you want to get better at chess, you don’t only have to learn from your own games, but also from other player’s games.
One of the best chess training techniques is to study the games of the greatest chess players in history.
In this article, we are going to present 7 of the most famous chess games of all time. This exploration can be seen as the ideal start to using the chess training method all the chess giants constantly use to improve – studying the classics.
Most Famous Chess Games: 19th Century
The history of chess goes back many centuries! Not only have there been many rule changes throughout history, but also the playing style has changed significantly.
During the 19th century, right up until the 1880’s, the game developed into the shape of the modern chess game. This period is known as the romantic era of chess.
Let’s take a closer look at two of the most famous chess games from the romantic era of chess, the Immortal Game between Anderssen and Kieseritky and a fantastic attacking game by Paul Morphy.
Adolf Anderssen – Lionel Kieseritzky, 1851 (The Immortal Game)
There are many famous chess games from the romantic era of chess but one stands out as being so great that all other brilliancies are named after it. We’re talking about the original Immortal Game, played in 1851 between Adolf “Attack, always attack!” Anderssen and top French player Lionel Kieseritzky.
Paul Morphy – Duke Karl/Count Isouard, Paris 1858
Paul Morphy (1837-1884) was an American chess player. He was considered to be the greatest chess player of his era. Even the great Bobby Fischer included him in his list of the ten greatest players of all time.
Unfortunately, Morphy died before the first official World Chess Championship took place in 1886. It would have been interesting to see how he compared against Steinitz.
Most Famous Chess Games: 20th Century
Mikhail Botvinnik – José Raul Capablanca, Rotterdam 1938
The next game is 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.
Capablanca, the third World Chess Champion from 1921 to 1927, was still considered to be one of the strongest players in the world at that time.
Mikhail Botvinnik would later become a 3-time World Chess Champion (1948–57, 1958–60, 1961–63) and would be best known for leading the Soviet School of Chess for decades.
He was more than 20 years younger than Capablanca, and in these earlier stages of his career, he had a chance in the tournament to show that he can compete with players like Capablanca and Alekhine.
Garry Kasparov writes about this game:
“The chess tournament organized by the Dutch radio company AVRO was the most representative gathering of all of the strongest chess players of the time.
Mikhail Botvinnik was only third (!) in this magnificent event, but his two superb victories over Alekhine and Capablanca gave a serious foundation to his claim to the world title – a dream he eventually fulfilled ten years later.
The game described below belongs to the golden treasury of chess. It proves that Botvinnik’s strategical vision was already superior to the greatest genius of the old guard.”
Donald Byrne – Robert James Fischer, New York 1958
The following game is known to be the game of the 20th century. It was played between Donald Byrne, one of the leading American chess players at the time, and the 13-year-old Bobby Fischer. The game features two stunning sacrifices by Fischer who completely crushed his 26-year-old opponent with the Grunfeld Defense.
Anatoly Karpov (2740) – Veselin Topalov (2640), Linares 1994
Anatoly Karpov is known to be a brilliant positional player. Karpov himself once described his playing style with the following remarkable words:
“Let us say the game may be continued in two ways: one of them is a beautiful tactical blow that gives rise to variations that don’t yield to precise calculations; the other is the clear positional pressure that leads to an endgame with microscopic chances of victory…
I would choose [the latter] without thinking twice. If the opponent offers keen play I don’t object; but in such cases, I get less satisfaction, even if I win, than from a game conducted according to all the rules of strategy with its ruthless logic.“
The following famous chess game occurred in a game Karpov played in the strong tournament in Linares in 1994. Karpov won the tournament with an incredible score of 11/13.
The names of the players he left behind him in the final standings are impressive: Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand, Alexei Shirov, Veselin Topalov, Vassily Ivanchuk, Boris Gelfand, and Evgeny Bareev – just to name a few.
Garry Kasparov vs Veselin Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 1999 (Kasparov’s Immortal)
A collection of the most famous chess games could not be complete without a chess game by one of the best chess players ever: Garry Kasparov.
In 1999, Kasparov was one of fourteen players invited to compete at the Wijk aan Zee tournament in the Netherlands, now known as Tata Steel Chess. The tournament was super-strong with Anand, Kramnik, Topalov, Alexei Shirov, Vassily Ivanchuk, and Rustam Kasimdzhanov also challenging.
Ultimately, Garry Kasparov would win with a fantastic 10/13 score. However, one game, in particular, stood out and was soon being described as one of the greatest chess games ever played, Kasparov’s Immortal.
The game Kasparov vs Topalov took place in round 4 with the Bulgarian Super GM expected to give the chess world champion a tough test. Kasparov, however, played a true masterpiece.
Most Famous Chess Games: 21st Century
The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century revolutionized chess with the invention of databases, chess engines and several new methods for comfortable and efficient strategical preparations.
Chess websites and online games were invented so that the romantic era was finalized and a new technological, digitalized era began.
Magnus Carlsen – Vishy Anand, Bilbao 2012
The last game in our collection of the 7 most famous chess games features two of the greatest chess players of the present – Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand.
Indeed, no study of the classics would be complete without their games.
Vishy Anand from India was the undisputed World Champion from 2007 to 2013.
He defended his title against various challengers such as Vladimir Kramnik, Boris Gelfand, and Veselin Topalov.
In 2013, however, the young Magnus 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, Magnus Carlsen was able to defend his title in another match against Vishy Anand.
One of the greatest chess games between Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand took place one year before their first World Championship match, however. Back in 2012, both players participated in the Sao Paulo-Bilbao Master tournament.
Conclusion – Study The Classics!
All in all, this article features 7 masterpieces by some of the greatest chess players from the past and present. Of course, selecting only 7 games out of the many that have been played throughout history is not an easy task.
Whenever someone decides for a certain number of games (and against many other great chess games), the choice will always be debatable. Nonetheless, knowing these 7 games is definitely part of any classical chess education.
Studying the classics is an essential aspect to chess improvement. Magnus Carlsen, Vishy Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian – all of the great chess players today – without exception, studied the games of classic chess players of the past.
If Garry Kasparov studied Botvinnik’s games and the American chess genius Fischer studied all of Steinitz’s games – Why shouldn’t you follow in their footsteps?
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Other interesting articles for you:
- When To Exchange Pieces – Grandmaster’s Thinking with GM Davorin Kuljasevic
- Chess Tactics and Strategy with GM Vishy Anand
- Winning Chess Tactics: The Road to Tactical Mastery – GM Davorin Kuljasevic (The Chess World)
- The iChess Club is a membership that offers chess lovers like you a wide variety of premium benefits. Check it out.