What pops up in your mind when it comes to Chess? Intelligence and concentration, of course! Chess is not only a sport or science or art but also a great test of intelligence and concentration. With the pace of time, the chess techniques continue to improve and so do the players. And if you turn over the history of this royal game, you’ll come know about some of those legends who’ve really changed the entire history of Chess. Undoubtedly, there have been many great chess players who have almost reshaped the game of Chess itself. Yes, they were the best Chess Players the world ever had no matter if they were the World Chess Champions ever. The organizations like FIDE have been actively involved and are acting as the governing body of World Chess Championships and other competitions these days. But it’s almost impossible to enlist ‘the best’ chess players as there’s not a single consistent measure for determining who’s really the ‘best’. And even the rating system becomes meaningless if you are comparing the players from different times. But, regardless of FIDE ratings and all, I am gonna list 10 of such players without whom the modern-day chess wouldn’t have taken this royal shape. Let’s know about the top 10 best chess players in the history who’ve redefined the way Chess is played.
10. Viswanathan Anand, India
Viswanathan Anand, a superb tactical player having super-fast sight of the board, is well-known for his very quick moves, confidence, and his calculations like a machine. Being a solid defender, Viswanathan plays an aggressive and attacking chess. He was a 1987 World Junior Chess Champion and won the FIDE World Cup 2000 beating Bareev 1.5 – 0.5 in final. Viswanathan was the one who won five rounds of FIDE World Qualifier without losing even a single game. In the very year 2000, he also became FIDE World Chess Champion beating Shirov 3.5 – 0.5. Anand is the chess wizard who has almost won every big trophy the Chess World has to offer. His Chessmetrics rating through January 1997 to December 1999 was 2822 while his FIDE rating as of January 2014 is 2773.
9. Mikhail Botvinnik, Russia
Mikhail Botvinnik, a disciplined and insightful player who remained the World Chess Champion for 15 years. He was a champion from 1948 to 1963 when he was finally defeated by Tigran Petrosian. Especially after the WW2, Mikhail made the significant contributions for the development of the Chess Championship itself. He was the coach of some of the great chess players including Garry Kasparov, Anotoly Karpov and Vladimir Kramnik. He was only 20 when he became the Soviet Champion in 1931 scoring 13.5/20. He could play clear positions well without being afraid of complications. If we look back at the post WW2 scene, Botvinnik seems to be the dominant figure and it was all due to his methodical and strategic mastery of playing the game. Botvinnik was proving himself amongst the great players in the world by mid 1930s finishing strongly in many tournaments. He won the “Absolute Champion of USSR” in early 1940s by defeating Alekhine. With a score of 14/20 against four of the world’s best players, he won the newly formatted title of World Championship in 1948. By 1951, he drew 24 games World Championship title match with David Bronstein and same happened with Vassily Smyslov in 1954. He was the one who developed many original opening ideas and also enriched endgame theory with thorough analyses.
8. Paul Morphy, USA
Paul Morphy had been the favorite player for many. And many have even claimed that he was the greatest chess player in the history. Had he pursued his career further in Chess, he would undoubtedly be a contender for the number one chess player of the world. Just consider that Paul played 227 competitive games winning a whopping 83%. He was way ahead of his contemporaries in his understanding of strategic concepts and was the first American player to help revolutionize this royal game by his systematic and aggressive development.
Looking back to his childhood, he taught himself the Chess by watching his family members play. And by the age of only 9, Paul proved himself one of the best players in the New Orleans. He defeated all contemporary best players of except Howard Staunton who anyhow managed to avoid playing with him. In 1857, Paul won the first American Chess Congress and then he decided to challenge the world champions from Europe. It took him only one year to defeat everyone who accepted his challenge. He returned home and retired from Chess choosing career in Law.
But unfortunately, he died of a stroke at the age of only 47 while he was taking a bath. It can be said that Morphy had a meteoric career, as he burned brightly for a very short period and then he never played again. Since he was first player to appreciate the value of development, his games are still considered the classic examples of how potent the rapid development can be.
7. Alexander Alekhine, Russia
Alexander Alekhine was the one to win his first World Championship against legendary Jose Capablanca in 1927. He was famous for his imaginative tactician and attacking moves. If it comes to the originality of thought, Alexander is truly a chess genius. As per his contemporaries, he was definitely a very difficult man to defeat. He was already one of the strongest players from Russia when he was only 16. By 22, he proved himself one of the strongest chess players in the world winning most tournaments he played. In 1927, Alekhine defeated the World Champion Capablanca with 6 wins and 3 losses, 25 being draws. It was the longest ever World Championship match until 1984. Alekhine scored 100% winning all nine games as board one for France at the Chess Olympiad at 1930. He successfully defended his Championship in 1929 & 1934 against Bogoljubov. However he lost the title in 1935 against Euwe, but was successful to regain it in 1937 in a rematch. He was the champion until his death in 1946.
6. Wilhelm Steinitz, Austria
Wilhelm Steinitz remained as the World Chess Champion for consecutive 8 years through 1886 to 1894. Not only as a World Champion, but also as a great contributor in the development of Modern Chess, Steinitz rightly deserves to be in the list of the greatest chess players the world ever had. He was the first to introduce the new style of positional play in 1873 that greatly changed the way of traditional game. Next generation chess players started to follow his style since early 1890s. As he was a professional Chess player and had played throughout the Europe, many people branded him as the Austrian Morphy. As he moved to London, he defeated all the contemporary leading players there. He took a dramatic leap when he defeated Adolf Andersson in 1866 and let people consider him as the strongest active chess player in the world after Morphy. He stayed at the top of Chess for 30 years, and this longevity is I think unparalleled to any other player. After the pause of about nine years, Steinitz returned to the competitive chess in 1882 and successfully defended his title against Gunsberg and Chigorin, though he was finally defeated by Emanuel Lasker in 1894. Very sad though, but this great champion died in poverty, in 1900.
5. Bobby Fischer, USA
Bobby Fischer is definitely another player who rightly deserves to be in this list of top 10 best chess players in the history. And had it not been for his match conditions and money in the World Championship matches, he too could have been the number one in this list. Bobby was the youngest ever Grand Master and the youngest ever candidate for the World Championship, as he was only 15 by then. Proving his dominance over his peers by the early 1970s, he won 20 successive games. And he became the World Champion in 1972 by defeating his biggest rival Boris Spassky. Bobby was a uniquely superb master strategist who wasn’t afraid of any complications. In 1975, he abdicated his title over FIDE match conditions surrendering it to Anatoly Karpov. He’d most likely to be in the number one of this list if he wouldn’t have chosen exile for 20 years until his death rather than defending his title. Anyway, some people regard him as a king of artful positioning.
4. Jose Capablanca, Cuba
Often nicknamed as the “Chess Machine”, Jose Capablanca was a natural player who always preferred the clarity of position. He used his simple and systematic method to defeat his opponents, and that’s the reason why he’s taken as the epitome of the Pure Positional player. Apart from his contributions on positional clarity, he has equally contributed for the logical and direct development of the game itself. He was only 12 when he defeated the Cuban National Champion Juan Corzo. Since 1914 over ten consecutive years, he lost only a single game. He was the most feared one among all positional players. Even the great players felt that Capablanca was just unbeatable. Capablanca won the World Chess Championship against Lasker in 1921. But Alexander Alekhine had eventually come up with the challenge for the title and defeated Capablanca. Capablanca even played more tournaments after losing the title but wasn’t successful to regain it. Finally, he slowed down and retired from serious Chess in 1931. He never could regain the title once he had lost it but Capablanca was undoubtedly one of the best chess players the world ever had.
3. Emanuel Lasker, Germany
From 1984 until 1921, Emanuel Lasker remained the World Chess Champion for incredible 27 years—longer than any other player in the history. Being one of the best tactical geniuses, Lasker was a supreme fighter that allowed him to turn many of his lost games into victories. He was a well-known defensive risk taker as well. He has greatly contributed in chess to make it a professional career. Emanuel defended his title in 1907 against Marshall. In 1908, he defeated his hated rival Tarrasch in some other Championship. Eventually, Capablanca defeated him in 1921.
2. Anatoly Karpov, Russia
Were it not for Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov would definitely get the first place in the list of the best chess players of all time. Kasparov finally eclipsed Karpov, otherwise no one would dream of leaving Karpov off the top of this list. In 1969, he won the title of World Junior Chess Champion. And in 1974, he surprised everyone by defeating Korchnoi and Spassky so that he could challenge World Champion Bobby Fischer. But he won the title of World Chess Champion by default when Fischer refused to defend his own. He was the World Champion from 1975 to 1985 and from 1993 to 1999 and he is still active for playing competitive chess matches to this date. He is considered the highly positional chess player who consistently improved his position by moves with extraordinary positioning. He is also known as the player who played without taking many risks and without making many mistakes.
1. Garry Kasparov, Russia
Garry Kasparov has become synonymous to Chess. He is known as the brilliant tactician and aggressively dynamic player. He rightly deserves to be at the top of this list as he’s contributed a lot in Chess theory and dominated the history like no other. He won the World Junior Championship in 1980 and in 1985, at the very age of 22, he became the youngest ever undisputed World Chess Champion and stayed at the pinnacle until 1993. With several titanic struggles with Anatoly, Gary was able to win the title. Two of them were the fierce combatants, and of course are considered the greatest chess rivalry in the entire history. But no other player has dominated the history of chess as strong as Garry Kasparov. Due to some disputes with FIDE, he even set up his own Chess organization and technically lost his World Champion title. But many people considered Kasparov to be the unofficial World Champion during that period as well. In this connection, he was ranked top almost continuously from 1986 until his retirement in 2005. He completely outperformed his rivals for 20 years, and on top of that, he retired on top.
The list I’ve prepared is just an attempt to categorize the greatest and 10 best chess players of all time. I know there are many worthy names that I could have added but to name the top 10 only I was compelled to include the names that I believe rightly deserve their places. While making this list, I have followed the criteria like their dominance over the contemporaries, their contributions to the game itself, and how long they have been at the top. The Chess techniques have improved a lot over centuries. Many Chess theories have been propounded that the modern professional players would easily dominate their forefathers. But, this list is more about those great players who’ve dominated the history of Chess. I still wonder how great they would be if they played today.
Arun is an IT-gradate. But writing is something he has innate passion for. He loves to explore new things, places and ideas.