Top 10 Greatest Chess Players in History

November 30, 2019

Endeavoring to compile a list of the top ten greatest players in any sport invariably leads to disagreements and (in worst-case scenarios) a falling out among friends. Chess is no exception, so in reading this list please keep in mind that it is very much subjective; meant more to inspire the next generation of champions rather than declare who could beat whom in the ultimate chess showdown. They’re listed here from oldest to youngest:

1. Paul Morphy
Morphy’s impressive combination playing style, intriguing personal life, and title as the first modern chess player have captivated lovers of the game for centuries. Like most everyone on this list, he was a child prodigy, excelling at the game from an early age. However, he also retired early too; giving up chess when he was only 22. This earned him the title of “The Pride and Sorrow of Chess”.

2. Emanuel Lasker
Mathematician, philosopher, and World Chess Champion (for 27 years!) are all titles that this German competitor proudly bore. One of the most interesting things about Laskers plying style is that he would deliberately make “bad” moves just to confuse and throw off his opponents!

3. Jose Casablanca
This Cuban born player brought a simple style to competition that earned him the nickname “The Human Chess Machine”. From 1921-27 he was World Champion and celebrated for his elegant endgame skills and speed of play.

4. Alexander Alekhine
A master tactician, this Russian born strategist held the title of Champion for 17 non-consecutive years. His attacks were said to come out of nowhere and he is responsible for creating many chess opening and endgame studies. 

5. Mikhail Botvinnik
Grandmaster and three-time World Chess Champion, Botvinnik also enjoyed an impressive career in computer science. This Russian scientist was one of the pioneers of computer chess, authoring numerous works on the topic.

6. Bobby Fischer
Fischer is to chess what Michael Jackson is to the music industry. With an enormous, undisputed talent for the game, Fischer rose to overwhelming fame at a remarkably young age. At the age of 15, he became the youngest grandmaster ever and maintained a remarkable career in competitive chess. His achievements have been overshadowed, unfortunately, by his controversial behavior in later life.

7. Anatoly Karpov
World Champion for 16 non-consecutive years, this Russian brought his endgame and then some! His keen understanding of positional chess put him at the top of his field by taking advantage of even the slightest inaccuracy in his opponents' play.

8. Garry Kasparov
From 1986 until his retirement in 2005, this Russian grandmaster was ranked as the number one player in the world. Kasparov was known for aggressive opening plays and the ability to deal with whatever his opponent threw at him. Today, his passions lie in promoting human rights across the globe.

9. Viswanathan Anand
In 1988, Anand became the first Indian grandmaster. His quick, confident playing style has won him several championships and kept him at the top for years. His congenial personality has made him a well-liked figure in the chess world, with even his former rivals coaching him for the 2010 World Chess Championship (which he won).

10. Judit Polgar
Without question, Polgar is the greatest female chess player in the history of the game. This Hungarian grandmaster gained her title in 1991 at the age of 15 years four months. This made her the youngest person to ever do so, breaking Fischer’s record. To this day she serves as an inspiration for young girls to play chess, giving them the confidence to break into what has, unofficially, been a man’s game.



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