Top 10 Chess players of all time

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  • UPDATE!! NOW this article is also the Top 25 of all time as numbers 11 to 25 have been added.
  • UPDATE!! International Chess Federation (FIDE) has officially recognized Chess960 (also known as FischerRandom) and has held it's first official World Championship of Chess 960 in 2019. As a result of this great development in chess, players who have performed at the top level in Chess960 are also included in this list.
Number 10 on this list; Alexandra Kosteniuk, champion in classical time controls, fast time controls and Chess960 and has won competitions where the other competitors are men. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Judit Polgar are two women that appear on this list of Top 10 and Top 25 chess players of all-time.

Chess is known as a great test of intelligence, but it is also a great test of concentration.

One of the most important teachers of Confucianism after Confucius was Mencius (372 BCE – 289 BCE), and he wrote that meditation and concentration can be more important than intelligence in board games such as chess. He argued that a person with weaker intelligence than his opponent, but with strong concentration skills, will do better than the intelligent player whose mind wanders away often.

See: The Zen of Chess and D-Chess

Listed below are the Top 25 Chess players of all-time, according to the opinion of Dhamma Wiki founder Dr. David N. Snyder and discussed at the Theravada Buddhist online forum, Dhamma Wheel.

Various methods and factors to consider

In determining the best all-time, there are many different methods and no one measure works. For example, in the past when competition was lighter, it was easier to remain champion for many years, so length in years at the top is not the best method, by itself. Also, elo chess ratings tend to get inflated over time (as do all rating systems), so that is not entirely accurate. Here are some interesting factors to consider, not as sole determining factors, but one of several things to consider:

  • Highest rating ever attained: Magnus Carlsen: 2882 (elo rating) May 2014
  • Highest rating gap ever between a number one and number two: 199 rating points Wilhelm Steinitz (April 1876 Steinitz was number one and had a rating 199 points higher than the number two)
  • Second highest rating gap between a number one and number two: 139 rating points Bobby Fischer (October 1971 Fischer was number one and had a rating 139 points higher than the number two)
  • Most years as World Champion (during era of world championship matches being held): Emanuel Lasker, 27 years
  • Most world championship matches won: 6 by three players; Lasker, Kasparov, Karpov (however, 3 undisputed for Karpov and 4 undisputed for Kasparov)
  • Players who have won a World Championship in Chess960 where opening theories are of no use since the back rows are randomly placed (see: D-Chess)
  • Best moves made according to a super chess computer program analyzing players' best 3 year chess tournament period: Bobby Fischer
  • Best moves made according to a super chess computer program analyzing players' best 15 year chess tournament period: Jose Raul Capablanca
  • Only woman to have competed in a World Championship tournament (open/men's) and to have a rating ranked in top 5 among the men: Judit Polgar

A composite of factors need to be looked at. For my version of the Top 10 all-time, I use the following factors:

  • 1. Brute strength of the player (as determined by ratings, best performances, but taking into consideration the inflation of ratings over time)
  • 2. Number of years as World Champion (if any)
  • 3. Ability of chess player to use actual chess skills, creativity and strategy and not memorization of opening theories, as evidenced by performance in Chess960 (similar to D-Chess)
  • 4. Significance of the player to the history of chess (or one of the predecessors of the current game)
  • 5. Significance of the player to the promotion of the sport/game and the image of chess

Honorable mentions, number 25 to number 11

The following chess players just miss making the Top 10 of all time, in my analysis and deserve some mention and ranking from number 25 to 11 making this article also the Top 25 Chess players of all time.

25. Max Euwe (Netherlands)

  • World Champion total of 2 years

Euwe earned a Ph.D. in mathematics.

24. Tigran Petrosian (USSR, present day Georgia)

  • World Champion total of 6 years

23. Fabiano Caruana (U.S.)

Caruana has the third highest elo rating ever attained with 2844 in October 2014. He just missed by one point making it to the World Championship match of 2016. He became a chess GM (Grandmaster) at the age of 14. In 2018 he played in the world chess championship match against Carlsen. All 12 classic time control games ended in draws and then Carlsen won during the rapid time controls. He came in 4th place at the Chess960 World Championship in year 2019.

22. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia)

  • World Champion total of 7 years (one year undisputed)

An analysis by a super chess computer program ranked Kramnik number 2 behind Capablanca as having the best moves made over a 15 year period.

21. Alexander Alekhine (Russia)

  • World Champion total of 17 years

Alekhine won 4 world championship matches.

20. Mikhail Botvinnik (Russia)

  • World Champion total of 13 years

Botvinnik won 5 world championship matches.

19. Viktor Korchnoi (former USSR, then Switzerland)

Korchnoi played in two World Championship matches and nearly won the 1978 match as he made an incredible come from behind surge against Anatoly Karpov. He is considered by most chess writers to be the best chess player who was never world champion. He was number one on the ratings charts for 8 months.

18. Ruy López de Segura (1540-1580) from Spain

A Cambodian stamp commemorating Ruy López

He was a Catholic priest, probably of Jewish descent and was generally considered World Champion from 1560-1575. He wrote manuscripts on chess openings and is most famous for the "Ruy Lopez" opening to which there are at least 30 variations. Many past world champions have used and preferred the Ruy Lopez opening.

The Ruy Lopez opening:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. Nf3 Nc6
  • 3. Bb5

17. Peter Leko (Yugoslavia, Serbia, then Hungary)

  • World Champion of Chess960 in 1996 and 2001, winning 2 championship matches in Chess960.
  • Reached a peak ranking in regular chess at number 4 in the world in 2003.

16. Wesley So (Philippines, then USA)

  • World Champion of Chess960 in 2019.
  • Reached a peak ranking in regular chess at number 2 in the world in 2017.

15. Levon Aronian (Armenia)

  • World Champion of Chess960 in 2006, 2007; winning two world championship matches in Chess960
  • Reached a peak ranking in regular chess at number 2 in the world in 2012

Aronian has a peak rating of 2830 (March 2014). He has won the world championship for Rapid chess (2009) and Blitz chess (2010). He won the Chess960 World Championship twice in years 2006 and 2007. As a Chess960 world champion, he demonstrates that he can win at chess when memorizing opening moves and theories doesn't work due to the random placement of back pieces.

14. Peter Svidler (USSR, Russia)

  • World Champion of Chess960 in years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005; winning 4 championship matches in Chess960.
  • Reached a peak ranking in regular chess at number 4 in the world in 2004.

13. Anatoly Karpov (USSR, Russia)

  • World Champion total of 16 years (10 years as undisputed champion)

He shares the record of having won 6 world championship matches. He won the World Rapid Chess Championship once in year 1988.

12. Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) from Austria / U.S.

Wilhelm Steinitz
  • World Champion from 1886 to 1894 (8 years)
  • At the top of the ratings chart for 173 months (over 14 years) from 1866 to 1890

Steinitz was born on May 17, 1836 in the Jewish ghetto of Prague (now capital of the Czech Republic; then in Bohemia, a part of the Austrian Empire). The last of a hardware retailer's thirteen sons, he learned to play chess at age 12. He began playing serious chess in his twenties, after leaving Prague to study mathematics in Vienna, at the Vienna Polytecnic.

In April 1876 he had the highest rating gap ever between a number one and number two of 199 rating points.

11. Paul Morphy (1837-1884) from the U.S.

Paul Morphy
  • World Champion from 1858-1859
  • At the top of the ratings chart for 39 months between 1858-1861

The first [known] chess prodigy, winning games and matches against top rated players at a very young age.

He earned a degree, studying mathematics and philosophy and later also a law degree at the age of only 19. Since he was not old enough to practice law, he had time to play chess, which he did very well at, beating masters easily.

There were no "official" world championship matches yet at that time, but he was generally considered to be the world's best and world champion from at least 1858-1859. Bobby Fischer considered Morphy to be the greatest chess player of all-time (but other chess commentators disagree).

Paul Morphy displays his great skill at Queen sacrifices (1857): Paulsen v. Morphy

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Bc5 5. O-O O-O 6. Nxe5 Re8 7. Nxc6 dxc6 8. Bc4 b5 9. Be2 Nxe4 10. Nxe4 Rxe4 11. Bf3 Re6 12. c3 Qd3 13. b4 Bb6 14. a4 bxa4 15. Qxa4 Bd7 16. Ra2 Rae8 17. Qa6 Qxf3 18. gxf3 Rg6+ 19. Kh1 Bh3 20. Rd1 Bg2+ 21. Kg1 Bxf3+ 22. Kf1 Bg2+ 23. Kg1 Bh3+ 24. Kh1 Bxf2 25. Qf1 Bxf1 26. Rxf1 Re2 27. Ra1 Rh6 28. d4 Be3 White (Paulsen) resigns

The Top 10 Chess players of all-time

10. Alexandra Kosteniuk (1984- ) from Russia

Alexandra Kosteniuk
A Rwanda stamp commemorating Kosteniuk
  • Women's World Chess Champion 2008-2010
  • Winner of 3 gold medals at the Women's Chess Olympiads
  • Winner of the 2013 Swiss Tournament which included the top players in the world, all men
  • Women's Chess960 champion in 2006 and 2008, the only times it has been held for women's events, so far

Kosteniuk won the 2008 Women's World Chess Championship. In the same year she won the Women's World Blitz Chess Championship. She has 3 gold medals competing with Russia in the Women's Chess Olympiads. In 2013 she won the Swiss Chess Tournament, winning against a field of all men, some of the best players in the world. She was the first woman to win the Swiss tournament. She also won the Women's World Chess960 Championship in years 2006 and 2008. Chess960 is similar to D-Chess where the pieces in the back row are randomly placed, eliminating the use of memorization of opening systems and moves. From the establishment of Chess960 in 1996 through at least year 2022 there have been only two Chess960 Women's championship events held and Kosteniuk won both of them. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Judit Polgar are two women that appear on this list of the Top 10 chess players of all-time.

She has also worked as a fashion model and for the Champions of Peace club which is a group of over 50 famous elite athletes committed to serving peace in the world through sport.

9. Sa'id bin Jubair (665-714 CE) from Africa / Persia

Sa'id bin Jubair

World Champion of Shatranj from approximately 700-714 CE

Shatranj was a precursor to the current form of chess, but very similar with some minor to medium differences, such as the Queen, which could only move one square instead of the length of the board if the player wanted to. Sa'id bin Jubair was a master of blindfold chess too. In the Suttas blindfold chess was referred to as "chess in the air" when mentioning that monks should not be playing board games, but there is no prohibition for lay people.

Sa'id bin Jubair is on this list because of the great importance and historical significance he provided to shatranj and the development of the current form of chess and clearly must have been a very powerful player since he was considered champion and played well while blindfolded.

8. Garry Kasparov (1963- ) from Russia, Azerbaijan

Garry Kasparov
  • Undisputed World Champion from 1985-1993.
  • World Champion of a 'rival' organization to FIDE from 1993-2000.
  • World Champion total of 15 years (8 years as undisputed champion)

Kasparov has had a peak rating of 2851 in July of 1999 and by many is considered the greatest of all-time. But he helped in the break-up of FIDE and many top players into two different groups and there were two sets of champions similar to boxing for several years. Currently the title is reunified, but there was a long division and Kasparov contributed to this. Although being a very strong player, in many of his early world championship matches, the outcome was very close, often just barely defeating his long rival, Anatoly Karpov.

Garry Kasparov was born Garry Weinstein (Russian: Гарри Вайнштейн) in Baku,Azerbaijan SSR, Soviet Union; now Azerbaijan, to an Armenian mother and Jewish father. He first began the serious study of chess after he came across a chess problem set up by his parents and proposed a solution. His father died of leukemia when he was seven years old. At the age of twelve, he adopted his mother's Armenian surname, Gasparyan, modifying it to a more Russified version, Kasparov.

Kasparov was the first sitting World Champion to play a match against a chess super computer. The computer programs could analyze millions of moves per second, but Kasparov could still beat the best programs the best computer engineers could produce. This perhaps shows the human potential with the power of creativity and imagination that no computer could match. Although in recent years the computers have become so strong that even the best are having difficulty beating them now.

Here is a game that Kasparov played against the Fritz Computer chess program in 2003:

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. d4 c6 5. e3 a6 6. c5 Nbd7 7. b4 a5 8. b5 e5 9. Qa4 Qc7 10. Ba3 e4 11. Nd2 Be7 12. b6 Qd8 13. h3 O-O 14. Nb3 Bd6 15. Rb1 Be7 16. Nxa5 Nb8 17. Bb4 Qd7 18. Rb2 Qe6 19. Qd1 Nfd7 20. a3 Qh6 21. Nb3 Bh4 22. Qd2 Nf6 23. Kd1 Be6 24. Kc1 Rd8 25. Rc2 Nbd7 26. Kb2 Nf8 27. a4 Ng6 28. a5 Ne7 29. a6 bxa6 30. Na5 Rdb8 31. g3 Bg5 32. Bg2 Qg6 33. Ka1 Kh8 34. Na2 Bd7 35. Bc3 Ne8 36. Nb4 Kg8 37. Rb1 Bc8 38. Ra2 Bh6 39. Bf1 Qe6 40. Qd1 Nf6 41. Qa4 Bb7 42. Nxb7 Rxb7 43. Nxa6 Qd7 44. Qc2 Kh8 45. Rb3 1-0

(Kasparov, playing white, defeats the computer, which was analyzing millions of moves and strategies per second)

Kasparaov has an I.Q. of 190 which places him in the top 10 of the most intelligent living people on the planet.

7. Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941) from Germany

Dr. Emanuel Lasker

Undisputed World Champion for 27 years 1894-1921

Dr. Emanuel Lasker is the longest reigning World Champion in modern times and when there were clear championship matches performed. He was born on December 24, 1868 at Berlinchen in Neumark (now Barlinek in Poland), the son of a Jewish cantor. At the age of eleven he was sent to Berlin to study mathematics, where he lived with his brother Berthold, eight years his senior, who taught him how to play chess. He earned a doctorate (Ph.D.) in mathematics in 1902.

After winning the world championship, he successfully defended his title 5 times, two of the times winning the match without a single loss. However, there were two 9 years periods during his reign where he did not have to defend his title, out of the total 27 years as champion.

Emanuel Lasker, playing black, defeating Wilhelm Steinitz

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. f4 d5 4. d3 Nc6 5. fxe5 Nxe5 6. d4 Ng6 7. exd5 Nxd5 8. Nxd5 Qxd5 9. Nf3 Bg4 10. Be2 O-O-O 11. c3 Bd6 12. O-O Rhe8 13. h3 Bd7 14. Ng5 Nh4 15. Nf3 Nxg2 16. Kxg2 Bxh3+ 17. Kf2 f6 18. Rg1 g5 19. Bxg5 fxg5 20. Rxg5 Qe6 21. Qd3 Bf4 22. Rh1 Bxg5 23. Nxg5 Qf6+ 24. Bf3 Bf5 25. Nxh7 Qg6 26. Qb5 c6 27. Qa5 Re7 28. Rh5 Bg4 29. Rg5 Qc2+ 30. Kg3 Bxf3 0-1

6. Hikaru Nakamura (1987- ) from the U.S.

Hikaru Nakamura
  • World Champion of Chess960 in years 2008, 2009, 2022; winning three world championship matches in Chess960
  • World Champion of Chess960 total of 11 years (through 2023) in years (2008-2018) & (2022- ) The most all-time in number of years as World Champion for Chess960
  • Ranked number one on blitz rankings when blitz time control rankings began in year 2014
  • Ranked number one on rapid rankings when rapid time control rankings began in year 2014
  • Reached a peak ranking in regular tournament chess at number 2 in the world in 2015

Nakamura was born in Japan and came to the U.S. with his parents when he was 2 years old. He has a peak rating of 2816. He won the Chess960 World Championship in years 2008, 2009, and 2022 demonstrating that he can win at chess without simply memorizing opening move systems, as is the case with some other top level chess players. At the 2022 Chess960 World Championship, he went through the qualifying rounds, Group stage, semi-finals and finals with 15 wins, 13 draws, and only 1 loss in individual games.

5. Viswanathan Anand (1969- ) from India (Tamil Nadu)

Viswanathan Anand
  • World Champion 2000-2002 (FIDE)
  • Undisputed World Champion 2007-2013
  • World Champion total of 8 years (6 years as undisputed champion)
  • Came in second place at the Chess960 World Championship, 2007

Viswanathan Anand represents a great achievement for chess, being Indian born, where the game of chess originated. It started around the first to fifth century CE in India as Chaturanga and then later most popular in the Middle East as Shatranj and then to the current form of chess as we know it. Viswanathan Anand has been a catalyst to the game for India and the rest of Asia the way Bobby Fischer elevated the popularity of chess in the U.S. starting in 1972 when he won the World Championship.

Viswanathan Anand is not at this rank position simply because he is Indian or Hindu, but because he truly is a very strong player; a World Champion with one of the highest recorded ratings. As World Champion a total of 8 years, this places him near the top of all former champions in terms of number of years reigning at the top.

He has also won the World Rapid Chess Championship once in year 2003.

2010 World Championship

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 O-O 7.e3 Ne4 8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.Rc1 c6 10.Be2 Nxc3 11.Rxc3 dxc4 12.Bxc4 Nd7 13.O-O b6 14.Bd3 c5 15.Be4 Rb8 16.Qc2 Nf6!? 17.dxc5 Nxe4 18.Qxe4 bxc5 19.Qc2 Bb7 20.Nd2 Rfd8 21.f3 Ba6 22.Rf2 Rd7 23.g3 Rbd8 24.Kg2 Bd3 25.Qc1 Ba6 26.Ra3 Bb7 27.Nb3 Rc7 28.Na5 Ba8 29.Nc4 e5 30.e4 f5! 31.exf5? e4! 32.fxe4?? Qxe4+ 33.Kh3 Rd4 34.Ne3 Qe8! 35.g4 h5 36.Kh4 g5+ 37.fxg6 Qxg6 38.Qf1 Rxg4+ 39.Kh3 Re7 40.Rf8+ Kg7 41.Nf5+ Kh7 42.Rg3 Rxg3+ 43.hxg3 Qg4+ 44.Kh2 Re2+ 45.Kg1 Rg2+ 46.Qxg2 Bxg2 47.Kxg2 Qe2+ 48.Kh3 c4 49.a4 a5 50.Rf6 Kg8 51.Nh6+ Kg7 52.Rb6 Qe4 53.Kh2 Kh7 54.Rd6 Qe5 55.Nf7 Qxb2+ 56.Kh3 Qg7 0–1

Anand playing black and winning the game and match

Anand is a Hindu and has stated that he visits temples to enjoy the tranquility and joy they symbolize. He has credited his daily prayers with helping him achieve a heightened state of mind that helps him focus better when playing chess. He keeps fit with swimming and is a vegetarian.

4. Judit Polgar (1976- ) from Hungary

Judit Polgar
  • At the top of the women's ratings chart for 312 months
  • Reached the top of the women's rating chart when she was 12 years old
  • Narrowly missed becoming world champion in 1999 in the open, men's tournament

Judit Polgár is Jewish, and from Budapest. Members of her family perished in the Holocaust, and her grandmother was a survivor of Auschwitz. She is married to Gusztáv Font, a veterinary surgeon from Budapest, whom she met through his caring for her dog.

Polgár has always preferred not playing the women's specific division events, making it clear from the beginning that she wanted to become the true World Champion of Chess regardless of gender.

Judit Polgar is without a doubt, unquestionably, indisputably, the greatest female chess player in history. No other woman comes close to matching her achievements. She played against men and regularly won matches and events where the other players were all men. In February and May of 2004 she had a chess elo rating of 2746 which placed her at number 5 in the world on the men's list. This is an incredible feat considering that about 90% of all chess players are male.

As a woman, who was within genuine reach of the World Championship on the 'open' / men's list for her entire chess career, she is largely unsung and unrecognized outside of the chess world for this significance. In virtually no other sport can women compete with the top men due to the average larger muscle mass in men. But since chess is primarily a mental / intellectual game, Polgar demonstrates that women can reach the highest levels. This could suggest that there is little to no differences in intellectual abilities between men and women, but again, unfortunately this goes largely unnoticed outside of the chess world.

If there is still anyone who questions her greatness and rank on my list here at number 4, consider the following incredible achievements:

  • In 1991 she became a chess grandmaster at the age of 15 years, 4 months which at that time broke the record of 15 years, 6 months by Bobby Fischer
  • In 1996 she defeated the Brazilian champion
  • In 1998 she defeated Anatoly Karpov in a match of Rapid chess (approximately 25 minutes per game). At the time Karpov was FIDE World Champion.
  • In 1998 she won the US Open chess tournament, which included several high rated Grandmasters
  • She has also won other tournaments in Asia and Europe
  • In the 1999 FIDE World Chess Championship in Las Vegas she made it to the quarterfinals in a tournament of the 100 top players in the world. She lost by one game to Khalifman (Russia) who eventually won, thus, potentially missing the men's / open title by only one game.
  • In 2002 she defeated former World Champion Gary Kasparov (in a single game, not a complete match, but still an impressive victory)
  • In individual games, she has defeated eleven current and former world champions including Kasparov (the highest rated player in history at the time), Karpov, Topalov, Anand and Carlsen (current highest rated player in history).
  • She has an I.Q. of 170 and is listed as one of the top 10 most intelligent living people on the planet.

Polgar–Viswanathan Anand, Dos Hermanas 1999

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e6 7.g4 e5 8.Nf5 g6 9.g5 gxf5 10.exf5 d5 11.Qf3 d4 12.0-0-0 Nbd7 13.Bd2 dxc3 14.Bxc3 Bg7 15.Rg1 0-0 16.gxf6 Qxf6 17.Qe3 Kh8 18.f4 Qb6 19.Qg3 Qh6 20.Rd6 f6 21.Bd2 e4 22.Bc4 b5 23.Be6 Ra7 24.Rc6 a5 25.Be3 Rb7 26.Bd5 Rb8 27.Rc7 b4 28.b3 Rb5 29.Bc6 Rxf5 30.Rxc8 Rxc8 31.Bxd7 Rcc5 32.Bxf5 Rxf5 33.Rd1 Kg8 34.Qg2 Kf8 1-0

(Polgar, playing white, wins in 34 moves)

3. José Raúl Capablanca (1888-1942) from Cuba

Jose Raul Capablanca
  • World Champion for 6 years 1921-1927

José Raúl Capablanca, the second surviving son of a Spanish army officer, was born in Havana, Cuba on November 19, 1888. According to Capablanca, he learned the rules of the game at the age of four by watching his father play, pointed out an illegal move by his father, and then beat his father twice. At the age of 13 he beat the Cuban national champion.

In 1905 Capablanca passed with ease the entrance examinations for Columbia University in New York City, where he wished to play for Columbia's strong baseball team, and soon was selected as shortstop on the freshman team. In the same year he joined the Manhattan Chess Club, and was soon recognized as the club's strongest player. He was particularly dominant in rapid chess, winning a tournament ahead of the reigning World Chess Champion, Emanuel Lasker, in 1906. In 1908 he left the university to concentrate on chess.

Capablanca played in numerous simultaneous exhibitions, sometimes playing hundreds of opponents at a time and usually winning 95 percent or more of the games. In one exhibition in the U.S., he played 103 simultaneous games over six hours, winning 102, drawing one, losing ZERO (99.5%). Even when he played against other Grandmasters of chess, he usually won by wide margins.

Unlike other chess champions and Grandmasters, Capablanca rarely studied his opponents’ previous games and strategies and instead relied on his natural chess talent. He is listed as the greatest natural genius at chess by the authors of the famous book, The Complete Chess Addict. Capablanca was at the number one spot on my all-time list of Greatest chess players from the beginning of this list until Magnus Carlsen won his 5th World Championship in December 2021. There are still many reasons Capablanca should be on anyone's top 3 list, including:

Capablanca playing black against Lasker wins a strategic masterpiece, Game 10 World Chess Championship, 1921
  • He was a chess prodigy, defeating his national champion at the age of 13
  • In 1918 he played in a tournament in New York where the average rating of his opponents was 2682. Capablanca won with 6 wins, zero losses, and zero draws.
  • When he won the 1921 World Championship match against Dr. Lasker, he did so by beating him with four wins, ten draws, and ZERO losses
  • From 1916 to 1924 he was undefeated, playing 64 games against Grandmasters and winning 40 and drawing 24 (+40-0=24)
  • Even Alekhine, who defeated Capablanca in 1927 to take over the World Champion title, still had a lifetime minus (more losses than wins) to Capablanca (+7-9=33)
  • A computer analysis study of the past world champions’ moves and games, showed that Capablanca had the greatest strength of all the past world champions (IGCA Journal, June 2006)
  • Capablanca successfully predicted that chess would become inundated with draws and he is the first known world champion to propose a chess variant

Capablanca was concerned that the accelerating development of chess technique and opening knowledge might cause such stagnation in 50 years' time. Hence he suggested the adoption of a 10x8 board with 2 extra pieces per side (a chancellor that moves as both a rook and knight and an archbishop that can move as a bishop and knight). He thought this would prevent technical knowledge from becoming such a dominant factor, at least for a few centuries and he is correct, that since there is still the same starting position, opening theories would eventually develop even with this variant. Unlike some other later world champions who have proposed some variants after losing the World Champion title, Capablanca proposed his chess variant while he was still world champion.

"No other master has sustained so few losses over such a long period of time. When asked how many moves he looked ahead his reply was One move, the best move, and this probably holds more than a grain of truth. Capablanca was renowned for his ability to instantly and accurately evaluate chess positions. Perhaps, of all the chess players through history only he had such an accurate evaluation function. Capablanca liked to control the position and to focus only on elements he felt were necessary to achieve victory. His endgame technique was legendary. It is often said that you can discover the true strength of a player by looking at how he handles endgames. If this is the case then Capablanca was the strongest player of all time." (from the Chyss website, where Capablanca is listed as the Greatest chess player of all-time)

As a player who defied tradition (advocated for chess variants), who was well-rounded and participated in other sports (baseball), and focused on the present with the emphasis on one move at a time; Capablanca may be the chess champion who is the most Dhamma-like. Victor Korchnoi, who was never World Champion, but came very close several times, is perhaps the most Dhamma-like Grandmaster since he practiced yoga and meditation and used it to almost make an incredible come from behind victory against Anatoly Karpov in the World Championship match of 1978.

2. Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) from the U.S.

Fischer at a tournament in 1960 at the age of only 17
  • World Champion 1972-1975
  • World Champion total of 3 years

Bobby Fischer was born to a Jewish woman of Polish descent and a German biophysicist. He was a chess prodigy, learning the game at age 6 and excelling at it at a very young age.

In 1956 at the age of only 13 he played what many have called "The Game of the Century" defeating the U.S. champion:

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. d4 O-O 5. Bf4 d5 6. Qb3 dxc4 7. Qxc4 c6 8. e4 Nbd7 9. Rd1 Nb6 10. Qc5 Bg4 11. Bg5 {11. Be2 followed by 12 O-O would have been more prudent. The bishop move played allows a sudden crescendo of tactical points to be uncovered by Fischer. -- Wade} Na4 {!} 12. Qa3 {On 12. Nxa4 Nxe4 and White faces considerable difficulties.} Nxc3 {At first glance, one might think that this move only helps White create a stronger pawn center; however, Fischer's plan is quite the opposite. By eliminating the Knight on c3, it becomes possible to sacrifice the exchange via Nxe4 and smash White's center, while the King remains trapped in the center.} 13. bxc3 Nxe4 {The natural continuation of Black's plan.} 14. Bxe7 Qb6 15. Bc4 Nxc3 16. Bc5 Rfe8+ 17. Kf1 Be6 {!! If this is the game of the century, then 17...Be6!! must be the counter of the century. Fischer offers his queen in exchange for a fierce attack with his minor pieces. Declining this offer is not so easy: 18. Bxe6 leads to a 'Philidor Mate' (smothered mate) with ...Qb5+ 19. Kg1 Ne2+ 20. Kf1 Ng3+ 21. Kg1 Qf1+ 22. Rxf1 Ne2#. Other ways to decline the queen also run into trouble: e.g., 18. Qxc3 Qxc5} 18. Bxb6 Bxc4+ 19. Kg1 Ne2+ 20. Kf1 Nxd4+ {This tactical scenario, where a king is repeatedly revealed to checks, is sometimes called a "windmill."} 21. Kg1 Ne2+ 22. Kf1 Nc3+ 23. Kg1 axb6 24. Qb4 Ra4 25. Qxb6 Nxd1 26. h3 Rxa2 27. Kh2 Nxf2 28. Re1 Rxe1 29. Qd8+ Bf8 30. Nxe1 Bd5 31. Nf3 Ne4 32. Qb8 b5 {Every piece and pawn of the black camp is defended. The white queen has nothing to do.} 33. h4 h5 34. Ne5 Kg7 35. Kg1 Bc5+ 36. Kf1 Ng3+ {Now Byrne is hopelessly entangled in Fischer's mating net.} 37. Ke1 Bb4+ 38. Kd1 Bb3+ 39. Kc1 Ne2+ 40. Kb1 Nc3+ 41. Kc1 Rc2# 0-1

Fischer playing black and winning.

In 1971 in a semi-final match to play for the World Championship, he beat Bent Larsen, a grandmaster and genuine candidate for the World title 6/6 (six straight wins).

Fischer was a great boon to chess in the U.S., igniting a huge increase in chess participation and interest in the U.S. and also in other parts of the world. In a previous edition of the Guiness Book of Records, his I.Q. was listed at 163 which is well into the genius range. Other estimates place his I.Q. some where in the range of 167 to 187.

He did have the intelligence and vision to at least see that the opening systems and memorization of opening moves was destroying the game of chess as the better performances are often won by those with the greater memories of these systems rather than those with the best chess playing skills. He did advocate for a new version of chess and even created a variant, known as Fischer Random Chess or Chess960 because there are 960 different possible starting positions (back pieces randomly placed) eliminating opening theories for the most part. Here is an interview just a few years before his death, where he states how chess has become ruined with opening theories, rote memorization of positions and what the best move is in that arrangement.

He was seen as uncooperative and having poor social skills after refusing to defend his title in 1975 when he could not agree to the terms of a title defense. However, he has more than made up for any failings in this area with the increased popularity he gave to chess at the time of his championship and beyond. Even posthumously, he is still very popular and his legacy continues with the advancement and acceptance of his chess variant, Chess960, now officially recognized by FIDE and official World Championship events being held. Fischer never got the chance to play in a championship event in the chess variant he created, Chess960. He disliked opening theories and was known to almost exclusively play 1. e4 when playing white to limit black's ability to play various opening systems. He undoubtedly would have performed very well, if he had the chance in a Chess960 championship event.

1. Magnus Carlsen (1990- ) from Norway

Magnus Carlsen
  • World Champion 2013 to 2023
  • World Champion total of 10 years (through 2023 when he was supposed to defend his title, but chose not to since his opponent was going to be Ian Nepomniachtchi who he beat decisively in the 2021 championship match)
  • Carlsen has won 5 world championship matches
  • Carlsen reached the top of the ratings chart when he was 19 years old
  • Carlsen has been at the top of the ratings chart for 150 months (as of January 2023)
  • Carlsen has 11 wins and only 2 losses (not counting draws) in World Championship match play (not counting the faster tie-break games).
  • World Champion of Chess960 in year 2018
  • 2nd place in Chess960 World Championships in year 2019
  • 3rd place in Chess960 World Championships in year 2022
  • Only sitting Classical (regular) Chess World Champion to also hold Chess960 World Champion title (2018)

Carlsen is the current world champion and current holder of the highest rating ever attained with an elo rating of 2882 in year 2014. He became a chess GM (Grandmaster) in 2004, at the age of 13 years, 148 days. This made him one of the youngest grandmasters in history. Carlsen has won the World Rapid Chess Championship twice (2014, 2015) and the World Blitz Chess Championship twice (2009, 2014). He has won 5 World Chess Championship matches. He won his third World Chess Championship Match on his 26th birthday, November 30, 2016 and his fourth championship in London, 2018. He won the unofficial World Chess960 championship in year 2018, which demonstrates he can win when opening theories are of no use and one must use real chess skills. In 2019 in the first ever officially sanctioned FIDE Chess960 World Championship, he made it to the final match, but lost to Wesley So. He came in 3rd place in the FIDE Chess960 World Championship in 2022. Carlsen won a decisive victory against Ian Nepomniachtchi at the 2021 World Chess Championship in Dubai and then moved up to the number one position on my all time list here. He won that event with 4 wins and no losses and 7 draws.

Magnus Carlsen is an avid soccer (football) fan. He keeps fit by playing basketball, tennis and is a vegetarian.

See also