10 Greatest Chess Players of All Time – The Ultimate List

Siegbert Tarrasch correctly said, “Many have become chess masters, no one has become the master of chess.” There have been many great players in the history of chess but as the title suggests, this article introduces you to the greatest chess players ever and some of their best chess games.

Image 10 Greatest Chess Players 2
Who are the greatest chess players?

As rating inflation makes it impossible to compare players of different eras by their ratings, we’ve taken a different approach. We’ve covered the 10 greatest legends who really dominated the chess kingdom during their time.

As a bonus, we’ll also dive deep into one of the best chess games from each player. So, let’s go back in time to meet them!

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is the #1 chess player in the world?

The number one chess player in the world is Magnus Carlsen, who has the highest FIDE rating anybody has ever achieved.

What was Bobby Fischer’s IQ?

When it comes to determining IQ scores, there are different tests a person can take. Bobby Fischer was reported to have scored 180-187 in 1958. Today that score would be 148-155 or 150-160, depending on the type of test taken.

Although this might seem like quite a difference, it is in keeping with a recent test score of Garry Kasparov of 135.

Why are Russians so good at chess?

The Russians are good at chess due to their dedication to chess. Chess was heavily promoted by the Russian government, with schools, chess clubs, and colleges all offering ways to excel at chess.

Being good at chess was a path to becoming more comfortable in life and a viable career option.

Did Magnus ever beat Kasparov?

No, Magnus has never beaten Kasparov. Kasparov retired from chess when Magnus was starting his chess career.
When they played in a rapid tournament in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 2004, Carlsen was only 13 years old.

Carlsen drew the first game but lost the second. Kasparov would retire from chess one year later.

Who is better, Magnus or Anand?

Magnus Carlsen is the highest-rated player in the world and won the World Chess Championship title by defeating Anand in 2013. Carlsen defended the title against Anand the following year, winning the match 6 1/2 – 4 1/2.

In terms of results, it is fair to say Magnus Carlsen is better than Anand, who remains a powerful player today.

What is the highest ranking in chess?

The highest official ranking in chess is grandmaster (GM). Sometimes players with a 2700+ Elo rating are referred to as a super-grandmaster (Super-GM), but this is not an official ranking.

The 10 Greatest Chess Players Ever

1) Garry Kasparov (1963) – Greatest of the Greats

Garry Kasparov started ruling the chess world from the age of 22 as the youngest ever undisputed World Chess Champion in 1985. He remained #1 until his retirement in 2005. But as they say, “every Chess master was once a beginner,” and the saying holds for the champion too.

Garry started his journey to become one of the best chess players of all time at the age of 10 at Mikhail Botvinnik’s chess school. In 1978, he was accidentally entered into a professional chess tournament, which he won. By 1983, he was ranked 2nd in the world.

In 1984, he challenged for the World Title but lost to Karpov in a 48-game match. The following year, however, he won the title and then successfully defended it 3 times.

10 Greatest Chess Players Of All Time - The Ultimate List

After he left FIDE in 1993, the title remained split for 13 years. Kasparov would eventually lose his title to Kramnik in 2000. In 2005, he announced his retirement after winning the prestigious Linares tournament for the ninth time. He was the #1 rated player in the world when he retired and had completely dominated the game for 20 years.

Garry Kasparov’s Best Chess Game

Garry Kasparov – Veselin Topalov, 1999.01.20, 1-0, Hoogovens Group A Round 4, Wijk aan Zee NED

2) Anatoly Karpov (1951)

Karpov was the youngest-ever Soviet National Master (age 15), World junior chess champion in 1969, defeated Korchnoi and Spassky in 1974, and challenged Bobby Fischer for the World Title. Fischer withdrew from the championship match 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 Garry Kasparov in 1985 after defending it successfully against Kasparov just the year before.

He won the 1995 Linares tournament, considered to be the strongest tournament in history. After defending his title to Gata Kamsky in 1996, he conceded his title in 1999 in protest over FIDE rule changes to the way the title was decided. This impressive record certainly qualifies him as one of the best chess players of all time.

Anatoly Karpov’s Best Chess Game

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, Evgeny Bareev – just to name a few.

Anatoly Karpov – Veselin Topalov, 1994.02.27, 1-0, Linares Round 4, Linares ESP

3) Magnus Carlsen (1990)

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 won the match after only 10 games and became the new World Chess Champion.

The following year, he successfully retained his title in a rematch against Vishy Anand and won the 2014 World Rapid Championship and World Blitz Championships.

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 for a second time, this time against the Russian Super-GM Sergey Karjakin.

What makes Magnus one of the greatest chess players of all time 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.

Magnus Carlsen’s Best Chess Game

Magnus Carlsen – Wesley So, 2015.08.27, 1-0, Sinquefield Cup Round 5, St Louis, MO USA

4) Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900)

“Austrian Morphy,” as the champion was branded, was a great contributor to modern-day chess. In 1873, he introduced a new style of positional play which was initially considered cowardly as it differed from an all-out attack style. His thoughts and writings about the game were very influential at the time and nowadays he is usually called “the father of positional play.”

Although some of his ideas may sound strange to modern eyes, they were the foundations of all the positional themes we all know now. Tarrasch and Lasker, among others, recognized Steinitz as their “teacher.”

In 1866, Steinitz defeated Adolf Andersson, the then-strongest active player in the world. Between 1873-1882, Steinitz only ended up playing one match, against Blackburne but won it with a flawless 7-0 score. He made his comeback in 1882. In 1886 he beat his bitter rival, Zuckertort, for “championship of the world.”

He continued his reign for the next 8 years, defeating Gunsberg and Chigorin but eventually lost to Emanuel Lasker in 1894. Unfortunately, the great contributor to chess died in 1900 due to poverty.

Wilhelm Steinitz’ Best Chess Games

Steinitz, William – Hirschfeld, Philipp, 1871, 1-0, Great Britain

5) Jose Raul Capablanca (1888-1942)

Capablanca was the undisputed master of blitz chess!

He began his chess career at the age of 4. At 13, he defeated the Cuban champion. At 18, he defeated the US Champion Frank Marshall with a score of 15-8. Finally, in 1921, he won the World Chess Championship and ended the reign of Lasker. The new World Chess Champion successfully defended the title for the next 6 years.

In 1922, he gave a stunning performance when he played simultaneously against 103 players, winning 102 games and drawing only 1! In 1927, he lost his title to Alexander Alekhine and his reign came to an end. He later went on to play in more chess tournaments, but never again reached his peak and eventually retired in 1931.

Jose Raul Capablanca’s Best Chess Game

Frank James Marshall – Jose Raul Capablanca, 1918.11.01, New York Round 8, New York, NY USA

6) Bobby Fischer (1943-2008)

Robert “Bobby” James Fischer began his career at the age of 14. During his career, he would win 8 US Chess Championships, become the youngest Grandmaster (at age 15), and the youngest-ever candidate for a World Chess Championship. In 1970 he won 20 consecutive matches in the “1970 Interzonal”. In 1972, he defeated Boris Spassky in a very famous match to become the World Chess Champion.

In 1975, he did not defend his title due to an inability to agree on match conditions with FIDE. Later on, he, unfortunately, got into various controversies and conflicts, but no player has ever had such a large margin of talent between themselves and their rivals. His style of play means that his name is one of the most popular among chess players of all levels.

Bobby Fischer’s Best Chess Game

Bobby Fischer played many great chess games and it’s difficult to choose a single one. Undoubtedly, one of the most important 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 Cold War being fought over 64 squares and as such, the media interest was huge. Bobby Fischer single-handedly put an end to the domination of chess by the Soviet School of chess.

Bobby Fischer – Boris Spassky, 1972, 1-0, World Championship Match Round 6, Reykjavic ICE

7) Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946)

Alexander Alekhine was already one of the greatest chess players of Russia by the age of 16 and was the strongest player in the world by 22. He began his reign by defeating Capablanca in 1927. His major objective was to snatch the title from Capablanca, which he accomplished with 6 wins, 3 losses, and 25 draws.

He held on to his title against Bogoljubov in 1929 and 1934 but lost in 1935 to Max Euwe. Interestingly, he regained it in 1937 and held the title until his death in 1946.

Alexander Alekhine’s Best Chess Game

Alexander Alekhine – Braslav Rabar, 1942, 1-0, Munich GER

8) Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995)

Mikhail Botvinnik coached the greats of Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, and Vladimir Kramnik. Not only was he a great player in his own right, but he was also a great contributor to developing the World Chess Championship.

In 1930, he became the Soviet Champion. Due to World War 2, he was unable to challenge Alekhine. In the early 1940’s he defeated a strong Soviet field for the title of “Absolute Champion of USSR.”

He began his world reign in 1948 and continued till 1963. He defended his title against David Bronstein in 1951 (the match ended in a draw) and then again in 1954 after another draw against Smyslov. Smyslov, his rival at the time, finally stole the title away in 1957, but Botvinnik regained the title in a rematch in 1958. In 1960, Mikhail Tal won the title, but Botvinnik was able to regain the title yet again in the 1961 rematch.

Finally, he lost the title in 1963 to Tigran Petrosian. Botvinnik retired in 1970 and 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 features 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.

Mikhail Botvinnik – Jose Raul Capablanca, 1938.11.22, 1-0, AVRO The Netherlands Round 11

9) Paul Morphy (1837-1884)

Paul Morphy is considered to be one of the greatest chess players in history by many people and considered to be the most gifted chess player to have ever lived. But Morphy didn’t choose chess as his main focus and 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 chess champion of the United States. In 1858, he defeated all the English Grandmasters except Staunton. Later, he moved to France and defeated Adolf Andersson (7W, 2L, 2D) and was then considered the strongest player in the world at the age of only 21. He retired from chess and only played occasionally, robbing us of seeing even more amazing games!

Here is GM Alex Delorme showing how instructive studying the games of past masters can be for your chess development.

Paul Morphy’s Best Chess Game

Paul Morphy – Duke Karl/Count Isouard, 1858, 1-0, Paris FRA

10) Vishwanathan Anand (1969)

Vishy Anand, from India, was the undisputed World Chess Champion from 2007 to 2013, and definitely can’t be missing from any proper list of the greatest chess players ever.

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.

This is evidenced by the fact he won the Rapid World Chess Championships in December 2017. 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 remains a regular member of the Top 10 rated chess players in the world.

Vishwanathan Anand’s Best Chess Game

Viswanathan Anand – Veselin Topalov, 2010, 1-0, Anand – Topalov World Championship Match Round 4, Sophia BUL

Conclusion – 10 Greatest Chess Players of All Time

Do you agree with our list of the 10 greatest chess players of all time? If not, who is in your top 10 best chess players of all time?

Every modern GM stands on the shoulders of giants. Much of their strength comes from studying and emulating the great play of their predecessors.

This is why every coach recommends a careful study of games from the greatest chess players, past and present. Fischer, for example, studied all of Steinitz’ games. Kasparov, Carlsen, and Anand have studied many of Fischer’s games.

If you want to take a journey through time and study the games from the best chess players of all time, from Steinitz to Carlsen, we’ve got the perfect deal for you.

In his Master Method course, GM Aleksandr Lenderman explores the secrets of all 16 World Chess Champions, analyzes their most important games, reveals their playing style and provides you with all the key concepts we can learn from the great masters of the past.

Don’t forget to Sign Up for our FREE Master Class here!

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51 comments on “10 Greatest Chess Players of All Time – The Ultimate List

  1. greatbobby says:

    I think the old masters were much better then current masters as the current masters rely more on computer analysis to back up their games.

    Back in 1972 when fischer spassky match took place computers were less prevalent, so i give credit to the old master for finding the best moves. Champions like Anand , Kasparov and and Carlsen rely too much on computer analysis for playing their games.

    A Mikhail Tal or a Bobby Fischer or a Botvinnik would out class these players if you take the computer factor away.

  2. Juditomorfi says:

    Certainly this list is questionnable. Specially the order given:
    I would suggest: Morphy, Fischer, Kasparov, Tahl, Alekhine, Capablanca, Carlsen,Botvinnik, Bronstein, Karpov.
    I would accept suggestions about the bottom five, not about the top five!

  3. David Copson says:

    Anatoly Karpov did not defeat Garry Kasparov in 1984 as stated above. The match was called off without a winner (Karpov was leading at the time). And when they resumed hostilities in another match a few months later Kasparov won the title. In five consecutive world championship matches between the two Karpov never won a single match.

  4. Darren Lewis says:

    Tal being left out !? Bronstein not in some lists?!! Emmanuel Lasker too. Unthinkable! And what about Leko too ?! Interesting question though isn’t it. It’s hard to top Kasparov no doubt. But I think with the wealth of talent today, then finally, the greatest chess player of all time is exhibited more collectively than individually. Before then each individual had his own particular genius and stamp of character. Now great ability is evidenced more broadly. Carlsen too has proved himself over time. Perhaps Topalov might be the greatest in my opinion, followed closely by the historical geniuses. I found Karpov’s play too sterile.
    How much is down to fitness, a team of trainers, keeping up to date with theory, and therefore shere organisational ability, rather than inspirational application, which may carry the flag more often than not !?. Certainly I find people like Grischuk impressive, and the Korchnoi’s of the world. And yet the Wesley So’s of this day are so incredible too. Maybe it will remain an indefinable quality, genius produced to demand, or on cue. Maybe it is how Spassky could or should have been. Fisher, such a strong technician. The greatest players have to know when to play bad moves too. Not everybody could play with Alekhine’s whirlwind dynamism even if they wanted to. Tal was the genius, no doubt about it. To be great at all and every aspect of the game, then it’s the collective group, with Aronian, Anand, Grischuk, and many others. Good luck to them all for the vast entertainment over the years. Judit Polgar did well, top 10.
    In the 1950’s Reshevsky and Keres and Bronstein, were the key players, but was Smyslov really that good?! I liked him, but hard to say. In Russia, you might be forced to lose! Was Botvinnik given him to play? Keres, when he had to lose, had lots of pawn islands in the ending. Lol.
    Gunsberg narrowly lost I think, to Steinitz, and Chigorin too very very nearly won.
    It’s in the great defenders I think that we have seen the greatest improvement in chess in its history. Without a massive support team, like in Russia, Ljubojevic was once third in the world, quite an achievement. But I think Fisher the technician would have beaten him, around that time! Sorry!
    Plz everybody enjoy your chess! Happy playing.

  5. Don says:

    Yes.. definitely Morphy at the time. Staunton even afraid to play him!

  6. Steve says:

    It’s quite simple. Morphy is the greatest pound for pound player all time. In his era chess theory did not yet exist. If you study his games and analyze them with modern chess engines you will see that he was playing the top moves suggested by these engines. Now can you understand that he was making these moves in blindfold simuls? These kind of displays are irrefutable that he was the greatest chess mind of all time this earth shall ever see. I also like Alekhine, Lasker, Tal. Bobby was a super solid player but I feel like his popularity overshadows his talent, I wish he had kept playing.

  7. V.S. Sherawat says:

    Tal was Supreme , why is he not in list

  8. leoVinci says:

    Chigorin one of my favorites. Master of the King’s gambit.

  9. Roderick Tanato says:

    Fischer is the best he plays as chess defines. Without any computers without any coaches sorrounds. Chess today is not more interesting unlike the time of Bobby.

  10. Mouli says:

    No tal!!

  11. H. Erich Hunt says:

    I am sorry but Topalov cannot possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, count as one of the greatest. Never forget that when when he won his FIDE title, there were many allegations that his manager was signalling him as to computer moves. That automatically takes him out of any “Best of….” lists.

  12. Tony G says:

    What about the 10 greatest players who were never World Champion – In no particular order I have, Geller, Keres, Nimzowitsch, Ivanchuk, Bronstein, Reshevsky, Rubinstein, Korchnoi, Stein and Chigorin. I have left out Morphy as he was before official World Championship and players that are still active and can still potentially become World Champion, ie Caruana, Aronian, Ding, Giri etc.

  13. marcus cicero says:

    fisher, alekhine, kasparov, tal, karpov, capablanca, bottivinik, lakser, steiniz, carlsen.

  14. ROBERT FREE says:

    Bobby Fischer best of all time and best Blitz player-check his games on youtube

    1. Roderick Tanato says:

      Yes I agree Fischer is the best.

    2. LeoVinci says:

      Best Blitz playerwas Capablanca. (Even if I don’t like his games)

  15. Evandro Castro says:

    1. Bobby Fisher
    2 to 10. Kasparov and others

  16. Sunil says:

    Anand broke dominance of Russia in this game. He is the greatest player

  17. Sunil says:

    Anand should be in top of list. He won every format of game

  18. pankaj says:

    mikhail tal missing bro.

  19. diyla L says:

    yeah! where is emanuel lasker

  20. Troy F. says:

    What about Lasker?

    1. Felix Ely Y. Turingan says:

      Yup, what about the philosopher-mathematician, the great Emmanuel Lasker, the longest reigning world champion during his era at 27 years? He, whose games are like crystal-clear water with a drop of poison in it. He, who plays his opponents not the board to his practical advantage.

    2. DrTom says:

      Yes, Yes!! Where is Lasker, a very great player and a very long time champion?

    3. LeoVinci says:

      Not having Lasker on the list makes it invalid. He was a WC for 14 years c’mon!! Respect where is deserved.

  21. mark loly says:

    The very best ever is probably paul morphy, closely followed by capablanca, closely followed by fischer….

  22. Art says:

    Basically an exercise in futility.

    As the great Isaac Newton said ‘I stand in the shoulders of giants’. My point is that current world living champions including Kasparov have learned so much from their predecessors and have modern tools like the PC that aid them in the pursuit of the championship. It’s like asking whether Einstein is greater than Newton.

  23. hsg says:


    1. Jonathan Jensen says:


  24. Krishan Sikarwar says:

    How Mikhail Tal is missing here? He too one of the greatest chess player of all time. His tactical and attacking games can’t be forgotten. Mikhail always followed a strategy which is not recommended by Chess Engines but most of the time converted that into a win.

  25. 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.

    1. Roderick Tanato says:

      I agree Fischer is the best.

    2. Bruce Schexnayder says:

      Carlsen (perhaps, but not impressive in his World Champ matches),
      Capablanca (although Alekhine defeated him).

      Botvinnik is suspect because of all the USSR’s rigged games.

  26. king says:

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

    1. Evandro Castro says:

      I liked your list. Perfect at all!

    2. ROBERT FREE says:

      great list i agree

  27. 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!

    1. ichessnet says:

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

  28. Marat Izbosarov says:

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

    1. William says:

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

    2. ichess says:

      Five chess legends without doubt!

    3. Ban44 says:

      1.Kasparov 2.Carlsen 3.Anand 4.Topalov 5.Fischer 6.Morphy 7.Topalov 8.Karpov 9.Lasker 10.Jose Capablanca

    4. Evandro Castro says:

      Good list, but I prefer Fisher as the number 1

      1. Madhu Nair says:

        Me too

        1. Ron Buchheim says:

          Me too.

      2. Do Phúc Tien says:

        me too

    5. Rodney Francis says:

      Robert Fisher
      Paul Morphy
      Jose Raoul Capablanca
      Gary Kasparov
      Magnus Carlson

    6. c says:

      kasparov lost to a computer.won won 68% bobby fischer won 72% an most of those were before 17 years old in Russia while only a boy.btw check his blitz games -he crushed Tal an all the rest.

    7. uszfagcuv says:

      tal beats bobby fisher 4 to 1

    8. Mikhail Tal

  29. 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.

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