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20 Most Famous Chess Grandmasters

Grandmaster

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Chess is a fascinating game and there are many stories and personalities behind the game. Many people are familiar with the name Bobby Fischer, the American Grandmaster. Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can achieve. The life of a grandmaster is difficult. Not only do they have to spend countless hours training and studying chess, they have to face reality in the form of tournaments and, of course, their rivals.

Famous Chess Grandmasters

These are the 20 most famous grandmasters; they have earned this title through hard work and have achieved what many have dreamed of achieving.

1. Grandmaster Alexander Khalifman

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Alexander Valeryevich Khalifman

(18 January 1966 – Present)

Alexander Valeryevich Khalifman is a Russian chess player and writer. Awarded the title Grandmaster by FIDE in 1990, he was FIDE World Chess Champion in 1999. Khalifman is of Jewish descent. When he was six years old, his father taught him chess.

Khalifman won the 1982 Soviet Union Youth Championship, the 1984 Soviet Union Youth Championship, the 1985 European Under-20 Championship in Groningen, the 1985 and 1987 Moscow championships, 1990 Groningen, 1993 Ter Apel, 1994 Chess Open of Eupen, 1995 Chess Open St. Petersburg, the Russian Championship in 1996, the Saint Petersburg Championship in 1996 and 1997, 1997 Chess GrandMaster Tournament St. Petersburg, 1997 Aarhus, 1997 and 1998 Bad Wiessee, 2000 Hoogeveen.

He was a member of the gold medal-winning Russian team at the Chess Olympiads in 1992, 2000 and 2002, and at the 1997 World Team Chess Championship. Khalifman gained the Grandmaster title in 1990 with one particularly good early result being his first place in the 1990 New York City Open ahead of a host of strong players. His most notable achievement was winning the FIDE World Championship in 1999, a title he held until the following year.

2. Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov

(1951- May 2022)

Born in Zlatoust in the Urals, Anatoly Karpov has compiled perhaps the best tournament record in chess history, achieving more than 160 first-place finishes. As a teenager, he won the 1967 European Junior Championship and the 1969 World Junior Championship, and was awarded grandmaster status in 1970. 

He continued to succeed in tournament play, winning Moscow’s 1971 Alekhine Memorial, sharing second place in the 1973 USSR Championship, and qualifying for the 1974 Candidates Matches. His victory in the latter competition earned him the right to challenge defending World Champion Bobby Fischer. Following Fischer’s forfeiture, Karpov was named the 12th World Chess Champion in 1975. Karpov successfully defended his title in 1978 and 1981 before losing to Garry Kasparov in 1985.

During his decade as world champion, he was a constant and dominant presence on the international tournament scene. Karpov and Kasparov would compete for the World Championship three more times, in 1986, 1987, and 1990, with Kasparov narrowly defending his title each time. However, Karpov would recapture the World Championship crown in 1993 and successfully defended in 1996 and 1998. 

Following changes to the format of FIDE competitions, he resigned the title in 1999 and has since limited his chess participation to exhibition and rapid chess events. Despite his gradual retirement from competitive play, Karpov’s impressive record remains, including a peak Elo rating of 2780 and 90 total months as the world’s top-ranked player. In recent years, Karpov has become involved in several political and humanitarian causes, both internationally and in his native Russia.

3. Grandmaster Bobby Fischer

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Robert James Fischer

(March 9, 1943 – January 17, 2008)

Robert James Fischer was an American chess grandmaster and the eleventh World Chess Champion. A chess prodigy, at age 14 he won the 1958 U.S. Championship.

In 1964, he won the same tournament with a perfect score (11 wins). Qualifying for the 1972 World Championship, Fischer swept matches with Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen by 6–0 scores. 

After another qualifying match against Tigran Petrosian, Fischer won the title match against Boris Spassky of the USSR, in Reykjavík, Iceland. Publicized as a Cold War confrontation between the US and USSR, the match attracted more worldwide interest than any chess championship before or since.

In 1975, Fischer refused to defend his title when an agreement could not be reached with FIDE, chess’s international governing body, over the match conditions. As a result, the Soviet challenger Anatoly Karpov was named World Champion by default. 

Fischer subsequently disappeared from the public eye, though occasional reports of erratic behavior emerged. In 1992, he reemerged to win an unofficial rematch against Spassky. It was held in Yugoslavia, which was under a United Nations embargo at the time. 

His participation led to a conflict with the US government, which warned Fischer that his participation in the match would violate an executive order imposing US sanctions on Yugoslavia. The US government ultimately issued a warrant for his arrest. After that, Fischer lived as an émigré. In 2004, he was arrested in Japan and held for several months for using a passport that the US government had revoked. Eventually, he was granted an Icelandic passport and citizenship by a special act of the Icelandic Althing, allowing him to live there until his death in 2008.

Fischer made numerous lasting contributions to chess. His book My 60 Memorable Games, published in 1969, is regarded as essential reading in chess literature. In the 1990s, he patented a modified chess timing system that added a time increment after each move, now a standard practice in top tournament and match play. He also invented Fischer random chess, also known as Chess960, a chess variant in which the initial position of the pieces is randomized to one of 960 possible positions.

Recommended Reading: 15 Best Chess Books For Beginners, Intermediate & Advanced Players

4. Grandmaster Boris Spassky

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Boris Spassky

(1937-Present)

Boris Spassky is most famous for his loss of the World Championship crown to Bobby Fischer at Reykjavik in 1972, in the most famous chess match of all time. Despite this dubious honor, Spassky has been considered one of the world’s best players for decades. 

World Junior Champion and a world title candidate by age 18, Spassky showed an early, hyper-aggressive brilliance that matured into seamless universality. He won the Soviet Championship twice outright, lost in playoffs twice more, and participated in seven Candidates Tournaments between 1956 and 1985, finally defeating Tigran Petrosian to become the 10th World Champion in 1969, the culmination of a decade and a half of dominance.

Even after losing the title to Fischer three years later, Spassky continued his strong play through the 1970s. His influence reached even to Hollywood, as his stunning 15th move against David Bronstein was immortalized in the film classic “From Russia with Love.” He played openings, middlegames, and endings equally brilliantly, a true universal player. 

After moving to France with his wife and becoming a citizen there in 1978, his chess play decreased somewhat in both frequency and quality. He continued to compete occasionally through the 1990s, but a series of strokes yet again hampered his play. Despite these setbacks, Spassky’s reputation remains as one of the greatest living players.

5. Grandmaster Garry Kasparov

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Garry Kasparov

(1963-Present)

The 13th World Champion, Garry Kasparov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, and by the age of seven was recognized as a chess prodigy.

While still very young, he won both top-level junior and adult events, including two first-place ties at the USSR Championship as a teenager in the early 1980s. In 1985 he became the youngest-ever world champion, defeating Karpov at the age of 22. 

He would defeat Karpov three more times between 1986 and 1990 to retain his title. After breaking with FIDE in 1993, Kasparov created the rival Professional Chess Association (PCA); this split resulted in the naming of two World Champions under two different banners, a fracture that would last 13 years.  

During this time, Kasparov played outside FIDE’s jurisdiction, including the well-publicized Deep Blue matches, in which he defeated the computer in 1996 but lost the 1997 rematch. He lost his world title to Vladimir Kramnik in the Classical World Chess Championship 2000, the successor to the PCA World Championship.

Deep Blue was a chess-playing expert system run on a unique purpose-built IBM supercomputer. It was the first computer to win a game, and the first to win a match, against a reigning world champion under regular time controls. Development began in 1985 at Carnegie Mellon University under the name ChipTest. It then moved to IBM, where it was first renamed Deep Thought, then again in 1989 to Deep Blue.

It first played world champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match in 1996, where it lost two games to four. In 1997 it was upgraded and, in a six-game re-match, it defeated Kasparov by winning three games and drawing one. Deep Blue’s victory was considered a milestone in the history of artificial intelligence and has been the subject of several books and films.

Though he won several major tournaments following the 2000 loss, Kasparov announced his formal retirement in 2005. Since that time, he has coached top-ranked Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand and written a number of books. 

Outside of the chess world, Kasparov is an activist in Russian politics, particularly in demonstrations against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Kasparov remained the top-rated player for 20 years, becoming the first to break the 2800 barrier and achieving the highest rating of all time (2851). He set records with his ten-year unbeaten streak, as well as his 15 consecutive tournament victories between 1981 and 1990. Such statistics set Kasparov apart as one of the greatest chess players of all time.

6. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura

(December 9, 1987 – Present)

Hikaru Nakamura is an American chess grandmaster and streamer. A chess prodigy, he was at the time the youngest American to earn the title of Grandmaster in 2003, aged 15 years and 79 days.

Nakamura is a five-time United States champion. He won the 2011 edition of Tata Steel Chess Tournament Group A and represented the United States at five Chess Olympiads, winning a team gold medal and two team bronze medals.

Hikaru Nakamura was born in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, Japan, to an American mother, Carolyn Merrow Nakamura, a classically trained musician and former public school teacher, and a Japanese father, Shuichi Nakamura. When he was two years old, his family moved to the United States, and, a year later in 1990, his parents divorced. He was raised in White Plains, New York. 

He began playing chess at the age of seven and was coached by his Sri Lankan stepfather, FIDE Master and chess author Sunil Weeramantry. Weeramantry began coaching the Nakamura brothers after Asuka Nakamura won the National Kindergarten Championship in 1992, which led to him developing a relationship with their mother.

At age 10, he became the youngest American to beat an International Master when he defeated Jay Bonin at the Marshall Chess Club. Also at age 10, Nakamura became the youngest player to achieve the title of chess master from the United States Chess Federation, breaking the record previously set by Vinay Bhat (Nakamura’s record stood until 2008 when Nicholas Nip achieved the master title at the age of 9 years and 11 months). 

In 1999, Nakamura won the Laura Aspis Prize, given annually to the top USCF-rated player under age 13. In 2003, at age 15 years and 79 days, Nakamura solidified his reputation as a chess prodigy, becoming the youngest American to earn the grandmaster title at the time, breaking the record of Bobby Fischer by three months.

His peak USCF rating was 2900, achieved in August 2015. In October 2015, he reached his peak FIDE rating of 2816, which ranked him second in the world, behind only Magnus Carlsen. In May 2014, when FIDE began publishing official rapid and blitz chess ratings, Nakamura ranked number one in the world on both lists; he has remained around the same rank on both lists ever since.  As of December 2021, he has won all of the last four Chess.com Speed Chess Championships.

7. Grandmaster Levon Aronian

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Levon Grigori Aronian

(6 October 1982 – Present)

Levon Grigori Aronian is an Armenian chess grandmaster, who currently plays for the United States Chess Federation. A chess prodigy, he earned the title of grandmaster in 2000, at age 17.

Aronian held the No. 2 position in the March 2014 FIDE world chess rankings with a rating of 2830, becoming the fourth-highest rated player in history.

Aronian won the FIDE World Cup in 2005 and 2017. He led the Armenian national team to the gold medals in the Chess Olympiads of 2006 (Turin), 2008 (Dresden) and 2012 (Istanbul) and at the World Team Chess Championship in Ningbo 2011. He won the FIDE Grand Prix 2008–2010, qualifying him for the Candidates Tournament for the World Chess Championship 2012. He was also world champion in Chess960 in 2006 and 2007, in rapid chess in 2009, and in blitz chess in 2010.

Aronian has been the leading Armenian chess player since the early 2000s. His popularity in Armenia has led to him being called a celebrity and a hero. He was named the best sportsman of Armenia in 2005[9] and was awarded the title of Honored Master of Sport of the Republic of Armenia in 2009. In 2012, he was awarded the Order of St. Mesrop Mashtots. In 2016, CNN called Aronian the “David Beckham of chess“.

Aronian announced his decision to transfer from the Armenian chess federation to the United States federation in late February 2021, citing a decline in government support for the sport as his motivation. The transfer was completed in December 2021.

8. Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen

Grandmaster
Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen

(30 November 1990 – Present)

Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen is a Norwegian chess grandmaster who is the reigning five-time World Chess Champion. He is also a three-time World Rapid Chess Champion and five-time World Blitz Chess Champion.

He has held the No. 1 position in the FIDE world chess rankings since 1 July 2011, and trails only Garry Kasparov in time spent as the highest rated player in the world. His peak rating of 2882 is the highest in history. He also holds the record for the longest unbeaten streak at the top level in classical chess.

A chess prodigy, Carlsen finished first in the C group of the Corus chess tournament shortly after he turned 13, and earned the title of grandmaster a few months later. At 15, he won the Norwegian Chess Championship, and at 17, finished joint first in the top group of Corus. He surpassed a rating of 2800 at 18, the youngest at the time to do so. In 2010, at 19, he reached No. 1 in the FIDE world rankings, the youngest person ever to do so.

Carlsen became World Chess Champion in 2013 by defeating Viswanathan Anand. He retained his title against Anand the following year, and won both the 2014 World Rapid Championship and World Blitz Championship, becoming the first player to hold all three titles simultaneously, a feat which he repeated in 2019. He defended his classical world title against Sergey Karjakin in 2016, against Fabiano Caruana in 2018, and against Ian Nepomniachtchi in 2021.

Known for his attacking style as a teen, Carlsen has since developed into a universal player. He uses a variety of openings to make it harder for opponents to prepare against him and reduce the utility of pre-game computer analysis. He has stated the middlegame is his favourite part of the game as it “comes down to pure chess”. His positional mastery and endgame prowess have drawn comparisons to former world champions Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, José Raúl Capablanca and Vasily Smyslov.

9. Grandmaster Max Euwe

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Grandmaster Dr. Max Euwe

(1901-1981)

Born in Amsterdam, Dr. Max Euwe was the only person to become both a world champion and president of FIDE. After earning a doctorate in mathematics in 1926, he focused his research on chess theory, publishing mathematical analyses of the game. 

Despite having a family and full-time career, Euwe won twelve Dutch championships, the 1928 World Amateur Chess Championship, and performed extremely well at the few international tournaments in which he did compete during the 1920s and mid-1930s. His crowning glory would come in 1935, however, when he defeated Alexander Alekhine in a major upset to become the 5th World Champion. 

Though he was defeated by Alekhine in the return match two years later, his strong showings at Nottingham 1936, the AVRO tournament in 1938, and Groningen 1946 testify to his abilities as a player. He would represent the Netherlands in six Olympiads, and while his success waned throughout the 1940s and 1950s, his accomplishments are compelling and impressive for a lifelong amateur.

As FIDE president from 1970 to 1978, he traveled the world popularizing chess and increasing FIDE’s membership. His actions during the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match helped to assure that contest was finished without forfeit by the erratic Fischer, and he guided the organization through various conflicts with the Soviet Union, including the defection of Grandmasters Gennadi Sosonko and Viktor Korchnoi in 1972 and 1976, and FIDE’s decision to hold the 1976 Olympiad in Israel, a country not recognized by the USSR. 

Noted for his logical approach and his opening strength, Euwe was a prolific author of more than 70 books on chess history, including The Road to Chess Mastery, Judgment and Planning in Chess, The Logical Approach to Chess, and Strategy and Tactics in Chess Play.  He is remembered for both his organizational and academic contributions to the chess world.

10. Grandmaster Miguel Quinteros

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Miguel Ángel Quinteros

(28 December 1947 – Present)

Miguel Ángel Quinteros born in Buenos Aires) is an Argentine chess player who received the FIDE title of Grandmaster (GM) in 1973.

He won the Argentine Chess Championship in 1966 at the age of 18, the youngest player to ever win that event. In 1969, he took eighth place at the Mar del Plata Zonal tournament (ZT). In 1972, he tied for second/third place at the São Paulo ZT, earning him a place at the Interzonal tournament in Leningrad the following year and finishing 11–12th. 

At Torremolinos 1973, he tied for first place with Pal Benko. The same year at Bauang he tied for second place (+6 −2 =1) after Lubomir Kavalek. He finished first (+6 −1 =6) at Lanzarote 1974. In 1975 at Orense, he tied for fourth (+7 −2 =6), and took second place at the Fortaleza ZT and qualified for the 1976 Manila Interzonal, where he managed only 14th place. He shared second place (+4 −1 =4) at London 1977. He won (+10 −1 =4) at Morón 1982, took second place (+5 −1 =5) at New York 1983, and won at Netanya 1983.

Quinteros played for Argentina six times in the Chess Olympiads of 1970, 1974, 1976, 1980, 1982 and 1984. He won an individual silver medal for his third-board performance at Haifa in 1976.

In 1987, he was barred from playing in FIDE events for three years for playing in South Africa in defiance of FIDE sanctions. Quinteros was the first grandmaster to visit South Africa since 1981 and he gave simultaneous exhibitions in Cape Town, Sun City and Johannesburg.

Quinteros was awarded the International Master (IM) title in 1970, and the GM title in 1973. He won the Konex Award in 1980 as one of the five best chess players of the decade in his country, and the Platinum Konex Award in 1990 as the most important chess player of the decade.

The rare Sicilian Defence line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Qc7 is sometimes known as the Quinteros Variation, after it was introduced into first class play by Quinteros against Henrique Mecking in 1971.

11. Grandmaster Mikhail Botvinnik

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik

(4 August 1911 – 5 May 1995)

Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik was a Soviet and Russian chess grandmaster. The sixth World Chess Champion, he also worked as an electrical engineer and computer scientist and was a pioneer in computer chess.

Botvinnik was the first world-class player to develop within the Soviet Union. He also played a major role in the organization of chess, making a significant contribution to the design of the World Chess Championship system after World War II and becoming a leading member of the coaching system that enabled the Soviet Union to dominate top-class chess during that time. His pupils include World Champions Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik.

After dominating tournament play through most of the 1940s, Mikhail Botvinnik captured the 6th World Championship title in 1948. He would attain the title twice more, regaining it from Vassily Smyslov in 1958 and Mikhail Tal in 1961. As the first in a long line of Soviet world champions, Botvinnik was a respected figure even within an already strong Russian field. He was also a central figure in the early years of intense U.S./USSR competition. Days after the end of World War II in 1945, he competed in a radio telegraphy match, defeating American champion Arnold Denker in only 25 moves.

Botvinnik’s intense training regimen distinguished him from his peers. He advocated logic, extensive theoretical research, and a strong degree of both physical and mental discipline. While these attitudes were novel at the time, his writings on the subject became legendary and eventually served as a model for a new generation of players.

His scientific style emphasized whole systems of play that extended from the opening to the endgame.  
Dubbed “Patriarch of the Soviet Chess School,” he mentored and trained numerous young Soviet players, including a young Garry Kasparov. Though he retired from competitive play in 1970, he remained active in the chess world, publishing Half a Century of Chess in 1984 and developing computer chess programs in his later years.

12. Grandmaster Ruslan Ponomariov

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Ruslan Olehovych Ponomariov

(11 October 1983 – Present)

Ruslan Olehovych Ponomariov is a Ukrainian chess grandmaster. He was FIDE World Chess Champion from 2002 to 2004. He won the Ukrainian Chess Championship in 2011.

He was runner-up in the Chess World Cup 2005 and Chess World Cup 2009, while reaching the semi-finals in 2011 and the quarterfinals in 2007.

Ponomariov was born in Horlivka in Ukraine. He was taught to play chess by his father at the age of 5. At 9 he became a first category player, and in September 1993 he moved to Kramatorsk. Here Ponomariov attended the A. V. Momot Chess School and was trained by Boris Ponomariov.

In 1994 he placed third in the World Under-12 Championship at the age of ten. In 1996 he won the European Under-18 Championship at the age of just twelve, and the following year won the World Under-18 Championship. In 1998, at the age of fourteen, he was awarded the Grandmaster title, making him the youngest ever player at that time to hold the title. In 1999, he was a member of the Ukrainian national youth team, which won the U-16 Chess Olympiad in Artek, Ukraine.

Among Ponomariov’s notable later results are first place at the Donetsk Zonal tournament in 1998, 5/7 score in the European Club Cup 2000 (including a victory over then-FIDE World Champion Alexander Khalifman), joint first with 7½/9 at Torshavn 2000, 8½/11 for Ukraine in the 2001 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, winning gold medal on board 2, and first place with 7/10 in the 2001 Governor’s Cup in Kramatorsk.

13. Grandmaster Rustam Kasimdzhanov

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Rustam Kasimdzhanov

(5 December 1979 – Present)

Rustam Kasimdzhanov is an Uzbek chess grandmaster and former FIDE World Champion (2004-05). He was Asian champion in 1998.

In addition to his tournament play, Kasimdzhanov was a longtime second to Viswanathan Anand, including during the 2008, 2010 and 2012 World Championship matches. He has also trained with World Championship candidates Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana.

His best results include first in the 1998 Asian Chess Championship, second in the World Junior Chess Championship in 1999, first at Essen 2001, first at Pamplona 2002 (winning a blitz playoff against Victor Bologan after both had finished the main tournament on 3½/6), first with 8/9 at the HZ Chess Tournament 2003 in Vlissingen, joint first with Liviu Dieter Nisipeanu with 6/9 at Pune 2005, a bronze-medal winning performance (score of 9½/12 points) on board one for his country at the 2000 Chess Olympiad and runner-up in the FIDE Chess World Cup in 2002 (losing to Viswanathan Anand in the final). 

He has played in the prestigious Wijk aan Zee tournament twice, but did not perform well either time: in 1999 he finished 11th of 14 with 5/13, in 2002 he finished 13th of 14 with 4½/13.

In the FIDE World Chess Championship 2004 in Tripoli, Libya, Kasimdzhanov unexpectedly made his way through to the final, winning mini-matches against Alejandro Ramírez, Ehsan Ghaem Maghami, Vasyl Ivanchuk, Zoltán Almási, Alexander Grischuk and Veselin Topalov to meet Michael Adams to play for the title and the right to face world number one Garry Kasparov in a match.

In the final six-game match of the Championship, both players won two games, making a tie-break of rapid games necessary. Kasimdzhanov won the first game with black, after having been in a difficult position. By drawing the second game he became the new FIDE champion.

Kasimdzhanov’s 2004 championship victory earned him an invitation to the eight-player FIDE World Chess Championship 2005, where he tied with Michael Adams for 6th–7th places.

The 2004 championship also earned him one of sixteen places in the Candidates Tournament for the FIDE World Chess Championship 2007. His first round opponent was Boris Gelfand. In their match, all six regular games were drawn. Then Gelfand won the rapid tie-break 2½–½, eliminating Kasimdzhanov from the tournament.

14. Grandmaster Tigran Petrosian

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian

(17 June 1929 – 13 August 1984)

Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian was a Soviet Armenian[1] Grandmaster, and World Chess Champion from 1963 to 1969. He was nicknamed “Iron Tigran” due to his almost-impenetrable defensive playing style, which emphasized safety above all else.

Petrosian is often credited with popularizing chess in Armenia. Petrosian was a Candidate for the World Chess Championship on eight occasions (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 1980). He won the World Championship in 1963 (against Mikhail Botvinnik), successfully defended it in 1966 (against Boris Spassky), and lost it to Spassky in 1969. Thus he was the defending World Champion or a World Championship Candidate in ten consecutive three-year cycles. He won the Soviet Championship four times (1959, 1961, 1969, and 1975).

As a young boy, Petrosian was an excellent student and enjoyed studying, as did his brother Hmayak and sister Vartoosh. He learned to play chess at the age of 8, though his illiterate father Vartan encouraged him to continue studying, as he thought chess was unlikely to bring his son any success as a career. Petrosian was orphaned during World War II and was forced to sweep streets to earn a living. Around this time, his hearing began to deteriorate, a problem that continued to affect him throughout his life. 

Petrosian used his rations to buy Chess Praxis by Danish grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch, the book which Petrosian later stated had the greatest influence on him as a chess player. He also purchased The Art of Sacrifice in Chess by Rudolf Spielmann. The other player to have had an early effect on Petrosian’s chess was José Raúl Capablanca.

At age 12, he began training at the Tiflis Palace of Pioneers under the tutelage of Archil Ebralidze. Ebralidze was a supporter of Nimzowitsch and Capablanca, and his scientific approach to chess discouraged wild tactics and dubious combinations. As a result, Petrosian developed a repertoire of solid positional openings, such as the Caro–Kann Defence. After training at the Palace of Pioneers for just one year, he defeated visiting Soviet grandmaster Salo Flohr at a simultaneous exhibition.

By 1946, Petrosian had earned the title of Candidate Master. In that year alone, he drew against Grandmaster Paul Keres at the Georgian Chess Championship, then moved to Yerevan where he won the Armenian Chess Championship and the USSR Junior Chess Championship. Petrosian earned the title of Master during the 1947 USSR Chess Championship, though he failed to qualify for the finals. He set about to improve his game by studying Nimzowitsch’s My System and by moving to Moscow to seek greater competition.

15. Grandmaster Vasily Smyslov

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Vasily Vasilyevich Smyslov

(24 March 1921 – 27 Mar 2010)

Vasily Vasilyevich Smyslov was a Soviet and Russian chess grandmaster, who was World Chess Champion from 1957 to 1958. He was a Candidate for the World Chess Championship on eight occasions (1948, 1950, 1953, 1956, 1959, 1965, 1983, and 1985). Smyslov twice tied for first place at the Soviet Championships (1949, 1955), and his total of 17 Chess Olympiad medals won is an all-time record. In five European Team Championships, Smyslov won ten gold medals.

Smyslov remained active and successful in competitive chess well after the age of sixty. Despite failing eyesight, he remained active in the occasional composition of chess problems and studies until shortly before his death in 2010. Besides chess, he was an accomplished baritone singer.

Chess was simply a hobby for young Vasily Smyslov until age 14, when appearances by Jose Capablanca and Emanuel Lasker in Moscow inspired a lifelong passion. From this point on, he improved rapidly, winning the All-Union Boys’ Championship and the Moscow City Championship in 1938. He would continue to perform strongly amidst intense competition, finishing third at both the 1940 USSR Championship and the 1941 Leningrad-Moscow match tournament, winning the 1942 Moscow City Championship, and placing second at the 1944 USSR Championship.

Smyslov first began to attract international attention when he defeated Samuel Reshevsky twice in the famous U.S.-USSR radio match of 1945. His first of eight Candidates Tournament appearances came in 1948, where he finished third. He would advance to and win the World Championship on his fourth attempt, in 1957. 

Though he held the title for only a year—losing to former champion Botvinnik in 1958—the success of his career both before and after this period testify to Smyslov’s greatness as a chess player. He would qualify as a Candidate on four more occasions, including the 1985 tournament at age 64, and his 17 Olympiad medals are an all-time record. Other impressive results include ten gold medals at five European Team Championships and the inaugural World Senior Chess Championship title in 1991. An opera singer, Smyslov also sought harmony in his chess game, ensuring that all his pieces moved in cooperation with one another.

16. Grandmaster Veselin Topalov

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Veselin Aleksandrov Topalov

(15 Mar 1975 – Present) 

Veselin Aleksandrov Topalov is a Bulgarian chess grandmaster and former FIDE World Chess Champion. His father taught him to play chess at the age of eight.

Topalov quickly established himself as a chess prodigy. At age 12, Topalov began working with Silvio Danailov, a relationship that continues today.

Topalov became FIDE World Chess Champion by winning the FIDE World Chess Championship 2005. He lost his title in the World Chess Championship 2006 against Vladimir Kramnik. He challenged Viswanathan Anand at the World Chess Championship 2010, losing 6½–5½. He won the 2005 Chess Oscar.

He was ranked world number one from April 2006 to January 2007. He regained the top ranking in October 2008 until January 2010. His peak rating was 2816 in July 2015, placing him joint-tenth on the list of highest FIDE-rated players of all time.

Topalov has competed at nine Chess Olympiads (1994-2000, 2008-2016), winning board one gold in 2014 and scoring best overall performance in 1994. He also won in Linares, Corus, Dortmund, Stavanger and Pearl Spring tournaments.

In 1989 he won the World Under-14 Championship in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and in 1990 won the silver medal at the World Under-16 Championship in Singapore. He became a Grandmaster in 1992 and won in Terrassa. He shared first at the Budapest Zonal group B in 1993 but struggled at the Biel Interzonal, scoring 5.5/13. He made his Olympiad debut in Moscow 1994, leading Bulgaria to a fourth-place, defeating Garry Kasparov on board one.

Over the next ten years Topalov ascended the world chess rankings. He played in Linares 1994 (6½/13), Linares 1995 (8/13), Amsterdam 1995. In a strong run of tournament performances in 1996 he placed third at Wijk aan Zee, tied for first at Amsterdam, Vienna and Madrid, won outright at Novgorod and shared first in Dos Hermanas.

Topalov’s loss to reigning Classical World Champion Garry Kasparov at the 1999 Corus chess tournament is generally hailed as one of the greatest games ever played. Kasparov later said, “He looked up. Perhaps there was a sign from above that Topalov would play a great game today. It takes two, you know, to do that.”

17. Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Vladimir Borisovich Kramnik

(25 June 1975 – Present)

Vladimir Borisovich Kramnik is a Russian chess grandmaster. Vladimir Kramnik was born in the town of Tuapse, on the shores of the Black Sea. His father’s birth name was Boris Sokolov, but he took his stepfather’s surname when his mother (Vladimir’s grandmother) remarried. 

As a child, Vladimir Kramnik studied in the chess school established by Mikhail Botvinnik. His first notable result in a major tournament was his gold medal win as first reserve for the Russian team in the 1992 Chess Olympiad in Manila. His selection for the team caused some controversy in Russia at the time, as he was only a FIDE Master. However, his selection was supported by Garry Kasparov. He scored eight wins, one draw, and no losses, a performance of 2958, which won a gold medal for best rating performance.

He was the Classical World Chess Champion from 2000 to 2006, and the undisputed World Chess Champion from 2006 to 2007. He has won three team gold medals and three individual medals at Chess Olympiads.

In 2000, Kramnik defeated Garry Kasparov and became the Classical World Chess Champion. He defended his title in 2004 against Peter Leko, and defeated the reigning FIDE World Champion Veselin Topalov in a unification match in 2006. As a result, Kramnik became the first undisputed World Champion, holding both the FIDE and Classical titles, since Kasparov split from FIDE in 1993.

In 2007, Kramnik lost the title to Viswanathan Anand, who won the World Chess Championship 2007 tournament ahead of Kramnik. He challenged Anand at the World Chess Championship 2008 to regain his title, but lost. Nonetheless, he remained a top player; he reached a peak rating of 2817 in October 2016, which makes him the joint-eighth highest-rated player of all time.

Kramnik publicly announced his retirement as a professional chess player in January 2019. He stated he intends to focus on projects relating to chess for children and education.

18. Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand

(11 December 1969 – Present)

Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand is an Indian chess grandmaster and a five-time world chess champion. He became the first grandmaster from India in 1988, and is one of the few players to have surpassed an Elo rating of 2800, a feat he first achieved in 2006.

Viswanathan Anand was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, where he grew up. His father, Krishnamurthy Viswanathan, a retired general manager of Southern Railways, had studied in Jamalpur, Bihar, and his mother, Sushila, was a housewife, chess aficionado and an influential socialite.

Anand started learning chess from age six from his mother, but learned the intricacies of the game in Manila where he lived with his parents from 1978 through the ’80s while his father was contracted as a consultant by the Philippine National Railways.

Anand defeated Alexei Shirov in a six-game match to win the 2000 FIDE World Chess Championship, a title he held until 2002. He became the undisputed world champion in 2007, and defended his title against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008, Veselin Topalov in 2010, and Boris Gelfand in 2012. In 2013, he lost the title to challenger Magnus Carlsen, and he lost a rematch to Carlsen in 2014 after winning the 2014 Candidates Tournament.

In April 2006, Anand became the fourth player in history to pass the 2800 Elo mark on the FIDE rating list, after Kramnik, Topalov, and Garry Kasparov.  He occupied the number one position for 21 months, the sixth-longest period on record.

Known for his rapid playing speed as a child, Anand earned the sobriquet “Lightning Kid” during his early career in the 1980s. He has since developed into a universal player, and many consider him the greatest rapid chess player of his generation. He won the FIDE World Rapid Chess Championship in 2003 and 2017, the World Blitz Cup in 2000, and numerous other top-level rapid and blitz events.

Anand was the first recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 1991–92, India’s highest sporting honour. In 2007, he was awarded India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, making him the first sportsperson to receive the award.

Anand’s rise in the Indian chess world was meteoric. National success came early for him when he won the sub-junior championship with a score of 9/9 points in 1983, at age 14. In 1984 Anand won the Asian Junior Championship in Coimbatore, earning an International Master (IM) norm in the process. Soon afterward, he participated in the 26th Chess Olympiad, in Thessaloniki, where he made his debut on the Indian national team. There, Anand scored 7½ points in 11 games, gaining his second IM norm.

In 1985 he became the youngest Indian to achieve the title of International Master, at age 15, by winning the Asian Junior Championship for the second year in a row, this time in Hong Kong.  At age 16, he became the national chess champion. He won that title two more times. He played games at blitz speed. In 1987, he became the first Indian to win the World Junior Chess Championship. 

In 1988, at age 18, he became India’s first grandmaster by winning the Shakti Finance International chess tournament held in Coimbatore, India. One of his notable successes in this tournament was his win against Russian grandmaster Efim Geller. He was awarded Padma Shri at age 18.

19. Grandmaster Mikhail Tal

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Mikhail Nekhemyevich Tal

(9 November 1936 – 28 June 1992)

Mikhail Nekhemyevich Tal was a Soviet Latvian chess player and the eighth World Chess Champion. He is considered a creative genius and one of the best players of all time.

Tal played in an attacking and daring combinatorial style. His play was known above all for improvisation and unpredictability. 

It has been said that “Every game for him was as inimitable and invaluable as a poem“. His nickname was “Misha”, a diminutive for Mikhail, and he earned the nickname “The Magician from Riga“. Both The Mammoth Book of the World’s Greatest Chess Games and Modern Chess Brilliancies include more games by Tal than any other player. He also held the record for the longest unbeaten streak in competitive chess history with 95 games (46 wins, 49 draws) between 23 October 1973 and 16 October 1974, until Ding Liren’s streak of 100 games (29 wins, 71 draws) between 9 August 2017 and 11 November 2018. In addition, Tal was a highly regarded chess writer.

The 8th World Champion, Mikhail Tal was the fiercest attacking player ever to hold the title. As a young and irresistible force, he won the Soviet Championship in 1957 and 1958. Following victories at the 1958 Interzonal Tournament and the 1959 Candidates Tournament, he became the then-youngest World Champion in 1960. Bad health and a dominant Mikhail Botvinnik would lead to his loss of the crown just a year later; however, he would continue his strong play throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 

Over the course of his career, he won the International Chess Tournament five times, the Soviet Championship a record six times, represented the Soviet Union on eight Olympiad teams—winning team gold medals each time—and was a competitor in six Candidates Tournaments. Chronic health problems hampered his career, but he continued to play in tournaments until a year before his death in 1992.

Many players were inspired by Tal’s highly creative and explosive style. Particularly during his early years, his imagination and powerful play led to complicated situations on the board, situations to which most leading grandmasters of the time eventually fell prey. 

During the 1970s, he became slightly more sedate and positionally-minded. What resulted was a successful integration of classical play and youthful imagination. Tal holds the record for the first and second longest unbeaten streaks in the history of competitive chess, and his legacy lives on in his numerous writings and in the Mikhail Tal Memorial tournament, which features many of the world’s strongest players. Tal died on 28 June 1992 in Moscow, Russia. The Mikhail Tal Memorial chess tournament has been held in Moscow annually since 2006.

20. Viktor Korchnoi

Grandmaster
Grandmaster Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi

(23 March 1931 – 6 June 2016)

Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi was a Soviet (before 1976) and Swiss (after 1980) chess grandmaster and writer. He is considered one of the strongest players never to have become World Chess Champion.

Born in Leningrad, Soviet Union, Korchnoi defected to the Netherlands in 1976, and resided in Switzerland from 1978, becoming a Swiss citizen. Korchnoi played four matches, three of which were official, against GM Anatoly Karpov. In 1974, Korchnoi lost the Candidates final to Karpov.

Karpov was declared World Champion in 1975 when GM Bobby Fischer declined to defend his title. Korchnoi then won two consecutive Candidates cycles to qualify for World Championship matches with Karpov in 1978 and 1981, but lost both. The two players also played a drawn training match of six games in 1971.

Korchnoi was a candidate for the World Championship on ten occasions (1962, 1968, 1971, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1988 and 1991). He was also four times a USSR chess champion, five times a member of Soviet teams that won the European championship, and six times a member of Soviet teams that won the Chess Olympiad.

He played competitive chess until old age. At age 75, he won the 2006 World Senior Chess Championship and became the oldest person ever to be ranked among the world’s top 100 players.

Honorary Mentions

Apart from the grandmasters discussed above, there are quite a few chess players who made contributions to make the game popular. Some of the topmost in the list are:

1. Alexander Alekhine

Grandmaster
Alexander Alekhine

(1892–1946)

Born in Moscow, Alekhine became one of the world’s first officially recognized grandmasters in 1914 and was noted for his tactical flair and brilliant attacking play. That same year, he participated in the Mannheim 1914 chess tournament, which was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. Interned in Germany during World War I and imprisoned in Odessa, Ukraine, on suspicion of spying in 1919, he eventually gained French citizenship in the 1920s.

Throughout the same period, Alekhine began to train with the goal of eventually challenging for the World Chess Championship title. His third-place finish behind the current World Champion, José Raúl Capablanca, and a former World Champion, Emanuel Lasker, in the New York 1924 tournament built both his confidence and his international reputation. Alekhine would later annotate the games played in the competition for its tournament book.

He further increased his renown through his victory at the Baden Baden 1925 chess tournament, which featured a large field of 21 players. During a 1926 exhibition tour in Argentina, Alekhine was able to secure the financial support needed to support a world championship challenge, and the following year, he defeated Capablanca to become the new World Chess Champion.

During the early 1930s, Alekhine hit the peak of his career, winning San Remo 1930, Bled 1931, London 1932, Pasadena 1932, and Zurich 1934 chess tournaments.  He successfully defended his world champion title in 1929 and 1934 before losing it to Max Euwe in 1935.

Alekhine won a rematch in 1937 and remained World Champion until his death nine years later. His final years were plagued by controversy and difficulty. Nevertheless, Alekhine inspired generations of players through his imaginative play and greatly contributed to chess literature with his deeply conceived attacks and detailed annotations, lending his name to Alekhine’s Defense and other opening variations.

2. International Master Emanuel Lasker

Grandmaster
International Master Emanuel Lasker

(December 24, 1868 – January 11, 1941)

Emanuel Lasker was a German chess player, mathematician, and philosopher who was World Chess Champion for 27 years, from 1894 to 1921, the longest reign of any officially recognised World Chess Champion in history.

In his prime, Lasker was one of the most dominant champions, and he is still generally regarded as one of the strongest players in history.

His contemporaries used to say that Lasker used a “psychological” approach to the game, and even that he sometimes deliberately played inferior moves to confuse opponents. Recent analysis, however, indicates that he was ahead of his time and used a more flexible approach than his contemporaries, which mystified many of them. 

Lasker knew contemporary analyses of openings well but disagreed with many of them. He published chess magazines and five chess books, but later players and commentators found it difficult to draw lessons from his methods.

Lasker made contributions to the development of other games. He was a first-class contract bridge player and wrote about bridge, Go, and his own invention, Lasca. His books about games presented a problem that is still considered notable in the mathematical analysis of card games. 

Lasker was a research mathematician who was known for his contributions to commutative algebra, which included proving the primary decomposition of the ideals of polynomial rings. His philosophical works and a drama that he co-wrote, however, received little attention.

3. Wilhelm Steinitz

Grandmaster
Wilhelm Steinitz

(14 May 1836 – 12 August 1900)

William Steinitz (born Wilhelm Steinitz) was an Austrian and later American chess player, and the first official World Chess Champion, from 1886 to 1894. He was also a highly influential writer and chess theoretician.

Born in Austria, William Steinitz was one of the most influential players, writers, and theoreticians in the history of the game. After beginning to play competitively in his 20s, he would win every serious match he played between 1862 and 1892, including victories against Adolf Anderssen and Johannes Zukertort. 

In the early 1880s he came to the U.S. and settled in New York City shortly thereafter. He became the first official World Champion in 1886, following victory in a match against Johannes Zukertort played in New York, Saint Louis and New Orleans. He would hold the title until 1894, when he lost to Emanuel Lasker. His presence was a major factor in the development of chess in this country.

When discussing chess history from the 1850s onwards, commentators have debated whether Steinitz could be effectively considered the champion from an earlier time, perhaps as early as 1866. Steinitz lost his title to Emanuel Lasker in 1894, and lost a rematch in 1896–97.

Statistical rating systems give Steinitz a rather low ranking among world champions, mainly because he took several long breaks from competitive play. However, an analysis based on one of these rating systems shows that he was one of the most dominant players in the history of the game. Steinitz was unbeaten in match play for 32 years, from 1862 to 1894.

Although Steinitz became “world number one” by winning in the all-out attacking style that was common in the 1860s, he unveiled in 1873 a new positional style of play, and demonstrated that it was superior to the previous style. His new style was controversial and some even branded it as “cowardly”, but many of Steinitz’s games showed that it could also set up attacks as ferocious as those of the old school.

Steinitz was also a prolific writer on chess, and defended his new ideas vigorously. The debate was so bitter and sometimes abusive that it became known as the “Ink War”. By the early 1890s, Steinitz’s approach was widely accepted, and the next generation of top players acknowledged their debt to him, most notably his successor as world champion, Emanuel Lasker.

Traditional accounts of Steinitz’s character depict him as ill-tempered and aggressive, but more recent research shows that he had long and friendly relationships with some players and chess organizations. Most notably from 1888 to 1889 he cooperated with the American Chess Congress in a project to define rules governing the conduct of future world championships. Steinitz was unskilled at managing money, and lived in poverty all his life.

Steinitz’s contributions to chess theory were just as valuable to the game as his playing talent. Giving up an early reliance on attacking at all costs, he explained in a logical and specific way why methods of sound development and strategic planning were the keys to correct play.

The theories of Steinitz, along with those of his contemporary Paul Morphy, are widely regarded as having laid the foundation for the beginning of modern chess. Indeed, his early observations and theories are still quoted as the foundations and basic principles of chess mastery.

4. Paul Morphy

Grandmaster
Paul Morphy

(1837-1884)

Born in New Orleans of Creole descent, Paul Morphy learned chess at 8 and by 13 was one of the best players in the country. He won the First American Chess Congress in 1857, becoming the second official U.S. Champion.

In 1858, having passed the Louisiana bar exam at an age too young to practice law, he moved to Europe, where he proved his superiority by defeating some of the continent’s best players. 

During his time across the Atlantic, he was hailed as the world chess champion, though no formal competition yet existed to determine the title. He returned home in 1859 an acclaimed national hero, with baseball clubs and cigars being named after him. Inexplicably, however, Morphy did not play serious chess again. 

At a time when chess was considered an amateur activity rather than a professional career, he turned his attention to his ultimately unsuccessful law practice, then lived off his family fortune until his death in 1884. His mental state deteriorated dramatically during his years in seclusion; decades later, Morphy’s incredible talent and eventual downfall would be mirrored in the life of Bobby Fischer.

Morphy was a revolutionary player, being the first to understand and demonstrate the value of long-term strategic development rather than premature attacks and traps.

Nevertheless, he often won by spectacular piece sacrifices that continue to entertain and amaze admiring players to this day. Although his title as first chess world champion is unofficial, his dominance of his contemporaries leaves no doubt of his place in chess history. Despite eschewing the game for most of his life, he is still revered around the world as one of the game’s most brilliant players.

5. Leonard Barden

Grandmaster
Leonard William Barden

(20 August 1929 – Present)

Leonard William Barden born in Croydon, London) is an English chess master, writer, broadcaster, organizer and promoter. The son of a dustman, he was educated at Whitgift School, South Croydon, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read modern history. He is regarded as the grandmaster of newspaper chess columns.

He learned to play chess at age 13 while in a school shelter during a World War II German air raid. Within a few years he became one of the country’s leading juniors. He represented England in four Chess Olympiads. Barden played a major role in the rise of English chess from the 1970s. 

In 1946, Barden won the British Junior Correspondence Chess Championship, and tied for first place in the London Boys’ Championship. The following year he tied for first with Jonathan Penrose in the British Boys’ Championship, but lost the playoff.

He captained the Oxfordshire team which won the English Counties championship in 1951 and 1952. In the latter year he captained the University of Oxford team which won the National Club Championship, and he represented the university in the annual team match against the University of Cambridge during his years there.

In 1953, he won the individual British Lightning Championship (ten seconds a move). The following year, he tied for first with the Belgian grandmaster Albéric O’Kelly de Galway at Bognor Regis, was joint British champion, with Alan Phillips, and won the Southern Counties Championship

He finished fourth at Hastings 1957–58, ranked by Chessmetrics as his best statistical performance. In the 1958 British Chess Championship, Barden again tied for first, but lost the playoff match to Penrose 1½–3½.

Barden represented England in the Chess Olympiads at Helsinki 1952 (playing fourth board, scoring 2 wins, 5 draws, and 4 losses), Amsterdam 1954 (playing first reserve, scoring 1 win, 2 draws, and 4 losses), Leipzig 1960 (first reserve; 4 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses) and Varna 1962 (first reserve; 7 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses). The latter was his best performance by far.

In 1964, Barden gave up competitive chess to devote his time to chess organization, broadcasting, and writing about the game. He has made invaluable contributions to English chess as a populariser, writer, organizer, fundraiser, and broadcaster.

He was controller of the British Chess Federation Grand Prix for many years, having found its first sponsor, Cutty Sark whisky. He was a regular contributor to the BBC’s Network Three weekly radio chess programme from 1958 to 1963. His best-known contribution was a consultation game, recorded in 1960 and broadcast in 1961, where he partnered Bobby Fischer against the English masters Jonathan Penrose and Peter Clarke.

This was the only recorded consultation game of Fischer’s career. The game, unfinished after eight hours of play, was adjudicated a draw by former world champion Max Euwe. Barden gave BBC television commentaries on all the games in the 1972 world championship. From 1973 to 1978 he was co-presenter of BBC2’s annual Master Game televised programme.

As of October 2019, his weekly columns have been published in The Guardian for 63 years and in The Financial Times for 44 years. A typical Barden column not only contains a readable tournament report, but is geared toward promoting the game.

He has about 20 books on chess. Some of these are A Guide to Chess Openings (1957), How Good Is Your Chess? (1957), Chess (1959), Introduction to Chess Moves and Tactics Simply Explained (1959), Modern Chess Miniatures (with Wolfgang Heidenfeld, 1960), Erevan 1962 (1963), The Ruy Lopez (1963), The Guardian Chess Book (1967), An Introduction to Chess (1967).

6. National Master Irving Chernev

CodingHero - 20 Most Famous Chess Grandmasters Irving Chernev
Irving Chernev

(1900-1981)

Irving Chernev is best remembered as one of the greatest chess writers of all time. Born in Pryluky, Ukraine, at the dawn of the 20th century, he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1920. His father taught him chess at the age of 12, and a lifelong love affair with the game followed.  

He would eventually reach National Master status and compete in the 1942 and 1944 U.S. Championships. However, his true passion lay in teaching chess through the written word. His 20 books, published between 1933 and 1989, were responsible for attracting many Americans to the game.  

An Invitation to Chess, co-authored with Kenneth Harkness, sold more than 100,000 copies. Even more popular was Logical Chess: Move by Move, which analyzes 33 famous games from 1889-1952 and is still used to explain master thought to aspiring players.

His deep love for the game was obvious and infectious, and this passion shines in his writing, which attracts generation after generation of readers. He passed away at his home in San Francisco in 1981, but his words and wisdom live on in his writing. Along with Fred Reinfeld and Al Horowitz, also honored in the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, he completes the triumvirate of America’s most influential chess writers.

7. José Raul Capablanca

Grandmaster
José Raúl Capablanca

(1888-1942)

Nicknamed “The Human Chess Machine”, José Raúl Capablanca was born in Havana, Cuba. A true prodigy, he learned chess at age four and defeated Cuban champion Juan Corzo at 13. While attending Columbia University, he joined the Manhattan Chess Club and soon became its strongest player. He had a particular talent for rapid chess, defeating World Champion Emanuel Lasker in 1906. He eventually withdrew from Columbia to focus on chess.

His skill in rapid chess lent itself to simultaneous exhibitions. On a nationwide tour of 27 cities in 1909, he achieved a winning score of 96.9% over 607 games. He qualified for the 1911 World Chess Championship against Lasker, but he was unsatisfied with the terms of the match and did not compete. In 1913, Capablanca’s chess skills got him a job as an informal ambassador with the Cuban Foreign Office, representing Cuba at international events. 

He held exhibitions in London, Paris, and Berlin before his ultimate destination of Saint Petersburg in 1914, where he played and narrowly lost to Lasker. World War I halted international competition, but Capablanca continued to compete and dominate, losing only one game between 1914 and 1924. In 1921, Capablanca and Lasker competed in the 3rd World Chess Championship, where Lasker resigned after losing four straight games. Capablanca held the title until 1927, when he lost to Alexander Alekhine. 

He played in several tournaments attempting to regain his title, but despite performing well, he could never match his former greatness. He retired briefly in 1931 before returning later in the 1930s. International competition again was halted during World War II, and it was during this hiatus that he passed away in 1942.

Perhaps the greatest natural player ever, “Capa” often defeated world-famous opponents with apparent ease. He was a master of positional play, but could also play great tactical chess. Handsome and elegant, he is one of the most beloved and admired champions.

Conclusion

We love chess, and we love inspiring stories. In our list of the 20 most famous grandmasters, we focused on the stories of some of the best players in the world. We take a look at their lives, their accomplishments, and their personalities. We hope you enjoy it!

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