The Best Chess Players of All Time

Chess board, chess, black and white

The Best Chess Players of All Time

One of the most popular and best-known games in recorded history, chess has been around for thousands of years. As a result of the game’s popularity, organized chess began to take shape in the late 19th century.

Today, a governing board known as the International Chess Federation (or FIDE) is responsible for tournaments and player rankings. Because of the game’s continuous growth around the world, some of these chess players have become household names.

Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov
Garry Kasparov is regarded as the best chess player in the history of the game.

Holding the world champion title in chess from 1985 to 2000, Garry Kasparov is considered the best chess player of all time. Reaching the number one ranking in 1984, Kasparov dominated the game for 20 years.

Kasparov’s run began when he was just 22 years old when he became the youngest world champion ever. Unfortunately, Kasparov stepped away from the game in 2005 when he retired, still rated as the number-one player.

Magnus Carlsen

What is Magnus Carlsen's IQ?
Second only to Kasparov is Magnus Carlsen as the best chess player of all time.

Born in 1990, Magnus Carlsen is the very definition of what a chess prodigy should be. The world champion from 2013 to 2023, he trails Garry Kasparov as the only person to spend more time as the highest-ranked player in the world.

Carlsen was on the radar of chess players the world over when he achieved the title of grandmaster at 13. By the time he turned 19, Carlsen was ranked number one according to the FIDE. At only 30 years of age, it’s all but assured that Magnus Carlsen will surpass Garry Kasparov’s records.

Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer
While controversial, Bobby Fischer is the best American chess player in history.

Arguably one of the best-known names in the chess world, Bobby Fischer was the last American world champion. Officially listed as the 11th world champion since FIDE’s introduction, Bobby Fischer was a chess prodigy. By the age of 14, Fischer won his first U.S. championship and would go on to win seven more.

During the “Match of the Century,” Fischer played a Chess game against Boris Spassky in 1972. Billed as a Cold War chess game, Fischer was a thorn in the side of the Soviet chess world from 1970 to 1972.

Jose Raul Capablanca

Jose Raul Capablanca
There is no question Jose Raul Capablanca is one of the greatest chess players.

In the history books as the third official chess champion, Jose Raul Capablanca is a definite favorite among the best chess players of all time. Between 1916 and 1924, Capablanca went on a run where he achieved 40 wins and 23 draws, a record that has yet to be broken. By the age of 13, Capablanca, who was of Cuban descent, defeated the reigning Cuban champion.

Fast forward to 1921 and Capablanca defeated chess legend Emanuel Lasker. Because of his incredible record, Capablanca’s endgame is widely considered the best in history. Both Fischer and Kasparov have credited Capablanca with improving their games.

Anatoly Karpov

Anatoly Karpov
Karpov held the title of World Chess Champion not once, but twice.

The 12th chess champion between 1975 and 1985, Anatoly Karpov is another chess legend. Karpov was so good that he was able to regain the title again between 1993 and 1999. His well-rounded playing style, especially his endgame, is largely considered to be among the best of all time.

While Karpov became world champion by default in 1975 after Bobby Fischer refused the match, Karpov’s elevation shouldn’t be tarnished. Over his chess tournament history, Karpov had 160 first-place finishes and spent 102 months ranked as the world number one.

Mikhail Botvinnik

Along with being a chess champion, Botvinnik instructed other future chess champions.

Known as the power behind the Soviet rise in chess players, Mikhail Botvinnik was the sixth world champion. With Botvinnik holding the title between 1948 and 1963, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t one of the world’s best players across 30 years.

However, what Botvinnik will be remembered most for is the chess school he started in Russia in 1963. Among his students are chess legends with names like Karpov, Kasparov, and Kramnik. Botvinnik also helped pioneer the growth of computer chess to train players.

Vladimir Kramnik

Kramnik Vladimir
When he was at his best, Vladimir Kramnik was unbeatable in chess matches.

Holding the title of the 14th World Chess Champion, Vladimir Kramnik is one of the best players still alive today. As the chess champion between 2000 and 2007, Kramnik retired from the game in 2019. However, before his retirement, Kramnik achieved a peak ranking of world number one in 1996.

Kramnik is well known for not having any weak spots in his game and he is often considered one of the most difficult opponents to play. His endgame, in particular, alongside his positional style makes him truly challenging for opponents of all skill levels.

Emanuel Lasker

Lasker, Emanuel
Emanuel Lasker still holds the title as the longest World Chess Champion in modern history.

The second World Chess Champion, Emanuel Lasker held the title for 27 years. This started in 1894 lasting until 1921 and is a record that still stands today. Over five decades, Lasker was a force in the chess world unlike any other. Upon defeating the first champion, Wilhelm Steinitz in 1894, Lasker defended his title at least five more times against world-class chess players.

Lasker’s chess reign came to an end in 1921 when he lost to Capablanca, but he continued to play. There is no question Emanuel Lasker is fondly remembered in the chess world. His psychological approach to the game included moves deliberately designed to throw opponents off and give them a sense of superiority.

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