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10 Greatest Chess Players of All Time

Below are the rankings of some of the greatest world champions, according to the author Jigar Raisinghani. Do you agree? If not, who are in your top 10 and by what order?

Chess: The Greatest of the Greats
Jigar Raisinghani | June 24th, 2011

Siegbert Tarrasch correctly said “Many have become chess masters, no one has become the master of chess.” The 8×8 board has been puzzling man from centuries. There have been several great players in the history of chess but as the title suggests, this article introduces you to the greatest of them. Not on the basis of ratings, this article talks about the 10 greatest legends which have dominated the chess kingdom much before world championships started. So, let us go back in time to meet them.

1) Gary Kasparov (1963-..) – GREATEST OF THE GREATS

Started ruling the chess kingdom at the age of 22, youngest ever undisputed champion in 1985, he remained #1 until his retirement in 2005. But as they say “ Every Chess master was once a beginner”, the saying holds for the champion too.

Gary started learning his training at the age of 10 at Mikhail Botvinnik’s chess school. In 1979, he accidently entered into a professional tournament which he won. Later he was ranked 2nd in 1983. In 1984, he challenged for the World Title but lost to Karpov in a 48 game match. But the following year he won the title and defended it 3 times. After he left FIDE in 1993, the title remained split for 13 years. Later he lost his title to Kramnik in 2000.In 2005, he announced his retirement after winning the prestigious Linares tournament for the ninth time. He was #1 when he retired and also dominated the arena for 20 years.

2) ANATOLY KARPOV (1951-…)

Youngest ever Soviet National Master(age 15), World junior chess champion in 1969, defeated Korchnoi and Spassky in 1974 and challenged Fischer for the World Title, Fischer resigned and Karpov became the Champion by default. Reigning from 1975-1985 and 1993-1999 but disputed, with 160 first place tournaments, 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. After defending his title to Kamsky in 1996, he conceded his title in 1999 in protest over FIDE rule changes to the way title was decided.This qualifies him to be among the greatest players in history.


The longest ever(27 years) to dominate the chess world, Emanuel Lasker began his reign in 1894 by defeating Steinitz by 10 wins, 5 losses and 4 draws to win the World Title. Later in 1907 he defended his title against Marshall and won flawless. The following year he beat Tarrasch( 8Wins,3 losses,5draws) to continue his reign. 2 years later, Schlenter and Janawski challenged Lasker but were unable to snatch the Title rather the latter couldn’t grab even a single win. Finally in 1921, he was defeated by Jose Capablanca to lose his World Title. But as a matter of fact, even after being defeated by Capablanca, he remained ahead of him in terms of ranking. He might be not a contributor but was surely a brilliant player and he would be remembered for that.

4) Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900)

“Austrian Morphy”, as the champion was branded, was a great contributor to the modern day chess. In 1873 , he introduced a new style of positional play which was considered cowardly as it differed from all out attack method.In 1866 he defeated Adolf Andersson, the then Strongest active player in the world. 1873-1882 , the period when he only ended up playing one match, against Blackburne but won it flawless 7-0. He made his come back in 1882. In 1886, he beat his bitter rival Zuckertort for “championship of the world” and successfully won it.

He continues his reign for next 8 years defeating Gunsberg and Chigorin but as mentioned earlier lost to Emanuel Lasker in 1894.Unfortunately, The great contributor to the world died in 1900 due to poverty.

5) Jose Capablanca (1888-1942)

Capablanca , undisputed master of the Blitz chess, he began his chess at the age of 4. At 13 defeated the Cuban champion, at 18, defeated the US Champion Frank Marshall 15-8 . Finally in 1921, he won the World Championship and ended the Lasker reign and set up himself as the new World Champion which he successfully defended for next 6 years. In 1922, he gave a stunning performance by playing simultaneously against 103 players, won 102 and drawn 1. But in 1927, he lost his title to Alexander Alekhine and ended his reign. Later he went on to play more tournaments but never reached the peak and retired in 1931. He wanted to make a come back as World Champion in 1934 but unfortunately did not manage to do so.

6) BOBBY FISCHER (1943-2008)

Fischer, began his career at the age of 14, winning 8 US Championships, at 15 , became the youngest Grandmaster and the youngest ever candidate for World Championship. In 1970 he won 20 consecutive matches in “1970 Interzonal”. By 1972, he defeated Boris Spassky to become the World Champion. In 1975, he did not defend his title due to an inability to agree on conditions with FIDE. Later he got into various controversies and conflicts. But no player till date has has such a large margin between themselves and the rivals. His major issue was with the playing conditions and money involved in championships.

7) Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946)

Alexander Alekhine, one of the strongest players of Russia by 16 , and strongest player in the world by 22, as mentioned earlier, began his reign by defeating Capablanca in 1927. His major objective was to snatch the Title from Capablanca which his successfully did by 6 wins, 3 losses and 25 draws. But held on to his title by defending it against Bogoljubov in 1929 and 1934 but lost in 1935 to Euwe. But he regained it in 1937 and held it until his death in 1946.

8) Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995)

Coached the greats, Kasparov, Karpov, Kramnik, he was not a great player but also a great contributor to developing World chess championship. In 1930, he became the Soviet Champion . Due to World War 2 he was unable to challenge Alekhine but he did so in early 1940’s by defeating a strong Soviet field for the title of “Absolute Champion of USSR” but it never eventuated with the death of Alekhine in 1946. He began his reign in 1948 which continued till 1963. He defended his title against David Bronstein in 1951 which ended in a draw and then in 1954 an another draw against Smyslov but finally lost to him in 1957. But he earned a rematch in 1958 to regain his title but again lost to Mikhail Tal in 1960 which he again managed to win in 1961 in a rematch to finally lose it in 1963 to Tigran Petrosian. He retired in 1970 and devoted himself to development of chess programs and training yound Soviet Players.

9) Paul Morphy (1837-1884)

Considered to be the greatest player in history by many, considered to be the most gifted chess player to have ever lived, he could have made these statements true if he would have chosen chess as a career. At the age of 9, he was the best player in New Orleans & easily defeated General Winfield Scott in 1846. At the age of 12, he defeated the Hungarian master Johann Lowenthal in 3 matches. In 1857, Morphy participated in the first American Chess Congress which he won to become the champion of United States. In 1858, he defeated all the English Grandmasters except Staunton. Later he moved onto France and defeated Adolf Andersson (7W, 2L, 2D) and was then considered the strongest player in the world at the age of only 21. But he retired from chess shortly and only played occasionally.

10) Vishwanathan Anand (1969-…)

The highest rated player in the world and World Chess Champion, he held the FIDE World Chess Championship from 2000-2002 when the title was split. He became the undisputed World Champion in 2007. He defended his title successfully against Vladimir Kraminik in 2008 and again in 2010 against Veselin Topalov. As the reigning Champion , he will face Boris Gelfand, the winner of Candidates Tournament for World Chess Championship 2012. Anand is one of the six players to cross the 2800 mark. He officially gained the #1 on November 1 , 2010. Anand is the most versatile player as he is the only one to win world championship in many formats including Knockout, Tournament, Match, Rapid and Blitz.



Rob says:

LMAO at the number 8 followed by a parenthesis turning into the sunglasses guy. Also, I think number 6 is a bit low for Fischer.

Marat Izbosarov says:

1. Kasparov
2. Fischer
3. Capablanca
4. Carlsen
5. Alekhine
The rest hard to pick. How is my six to you?

William says:

hmm man just too hard for me to make a list like that as chess has changed so much across generations

ichess says:

Five chess legends without doubt!

Steven Sturgill says:

This article is very outdated. Magnus Carlsen is now the highest rated player and current World Champion. Also saying Botvinnik wasn’t a great player is LUDICROUS! Absolutely no merit there. It is laughably bad and incorrect. Botvinnik is historically one of the strongest GMs and World Champions in the history of the game who did much top advance theory at top level!

ichessnet says:

This article is from 2011 when Carlsen was not World Champion. I agree with you with Botvinnik

king says:

my any time 5 players are
1. Bobby fischer
2. Tal
3. Alehine
4. Kasprov
5. Capablanca

Chris Vuille says:

These lists are hard to compile because as pointed out, chess style and training changed so much over the decades. Computers and databases give contemporary players gigantic advantages. I find Fischer’s 20 game streak against the best players in the world persuasive enough to give him one of the top two slots. In his last years he was playing on the internet and beating strong grandmasters like Nigel Short game after game. A head to head contest against Karpov would have been helpful in comparing him to more modern players. Karpov has a Petrosian-like game, and Fischer would have likely crushed him in 1972. 1975, out of practice, I would have given even money. The Boris Spassky match in 1990 showed he was still capable of world class chess, maybe top twenty level, but the real challenge would be sitting across the board from him. With a suitable series of warm up matches, be could have been world champion again, but that was not his goal. He preferred obscurity, nursing his wounded mind and heart.

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