The 5 Greatest Chess Players Of All Time

The subject of ‘The Greatest Chess Player Ever’ will always be a subjective one for the simple fact that there is no perfect system for comparing them.

Statistical methods of ranking chess players do exist, the most famous being the Elo system. But, they’re not perfect – ‘rating inflation’ makes it impossible to properly compare players of different eras who never had the chance to play each other.

So, with that being said, this is our list of the 5 Greatest Chess Players Of All Time, and our justification for why they should be there.

Feel free to disagree!

#5 Emanuel Lasker

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14194 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

We’re going way back now with our number 5. Emanuel Lasker was a German World Chess Champion who held the title from 1894 to 1921 – the longest reign in history – and is still considered to be one of the strongest players of all time.

Lasker was only the 2nd World Champion since the competition began in 1886 and he successfully defended his title for the next 27 years. His career lasted an astounding 5 decades until he retired in the ’30s.

His novel-at-the-time flexible approach tied with his longevity at the top makes Lasker one of the greatest.

#4 Bobby Fischer

American-born Fischer became the youngest Grandmaster in history when he won the title aged just 15 in 1958. During 1970-1971, he won 20 straight matches and in 1972, became the first American to become the World Chess Champion after defeating the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky in ‘The Match of the Century’.

The match brought about a level of publicity unknown to the chess world at the time and has been the subject of many books and movies.

Fischer gave up his title in 1975 after refusing to defend against Anatoly Karpov and apart from winning a rematch with Spassky in 1992, he lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity and controversy. He died in Reykjavík, Iceland, in 2008 after being exiled from his home country. 

Many rank Fischer as the greatest of all time with no noticeable weaknesses in his game.

#3 Magnus Carlsen

By Frans Peeters; Flikr page at -, CC BY-SA 2.0, is the current World Chess Champion and earned his first grandmaster title in 2004 at just 13 years old. In the same year, the Norwegian prodigy defeated Anatoly Karpov and drew against Garry Kasparov. 

He became the world’s number one in 2011 and hasn’t shown signs of letting it go. He’s also achieved the highest Elo rating of all time.

Despite being under thirty (at the time of writing), we consider Magnus to be among the very best thanks to his tactical style of play and his magnificent achievements. 

And he’s only just getting started!

#2 Anatoly Karpov

Whenever Garry Kasparov comes up in conversation, Anatoly Karpov is usually mentioned in the same breath. Aside from both of them being Russian, Karpov held the title of World Chess Champion for ten years before losing to Kasparov in 1985 and the two went on to have one of the most intense rivalries in chess.

He became World Champion once again in 1993 after Kasparov was stripped of the title by FIDE and won the 1994 Linares tournament – considered to be the strongest chess competition in history.  

We’ve ranked Karpov as our number two because of his solid, positional playing style and his lengthy tenure at the top of the chess world. 

#1 Garry Kasparov

By GFHund - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, any non-chess enthusiast to name a chess player and they’re likely to say, Garry Kasparov. 

Why do we think Kasparov is the best? Simple. He brimmed with confidence and his determined, aggressive playing style took the game by storm. He dominated the chess world for two decades by becoming number one in the world in 1985 and holding the accolade until his retirement in 2005.

In 1985, the Russian became the youngest ever undisputed World Chess Champion at 22 by defeating our number 2, Anatoly Karpov. He holds the record for the most consecutive professional tournament victories, coming first in 15 tournaments from 1981 to 1990.

Although he retired from serious competition in 2005, he’s still passionate about the game – writing articles and giving talks about chess. In 2017, he also emerged to play the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament as a wildcard.


Do you agree with our top 5? Who’s your greatest of all time?


Published by Mike Guy

Copywriter, writer, and sometimes comedian. From Wolverhampton, UK, but you'll probably find me somewhere in Central Europe.

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