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10 Greatest Chess Players in History

There is no doubt that throughout the history of chess there have been many superb players who have reshaped and redefined the way the game is played. This list is an attempt to examine and categorize the greatest of those. No doubt there are many worthy names that could be added, but here is the Top 10 who I believe have rightly earned their places as the greats. The criterion used is based upon a number of factors including dominance over contemporaries, length of career at the top, contributions to chess and individual flair and brilliance. Please note this is not a head to head of who would beat who, as most modern professional players would dominate the forefathers of yesteryear due to developments in Chess Theory, but a historical look at the greats

10) Viswanathan Anand
Viswanathan Anand
Viswanathan Anand (pronounced [ʋiɕˈʋəˌnɑːˌt̪ʰən ɑːnˌənd̪], Tamil: விசுவநாதன் ஆனந்த்) (born 11 December 1969) is an Indian chess Grandmaster and the current World Chess Champion.

Anand held the FIDE World Chess Championship from 2000 to 2002, at a time when the world title was split. He became the undisputed World Champion in 2007 and defended his title against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008. With this win, he became the first player in chess history to have won the World Championship in three different formats: Knockout, Tournament, and Match. He will next defend his title in the World Chess Championship 2009 against Veselin Topalov, the winner of a challenger match against Gata Kamsky in February 2009.

Anand is one of four players in history to break the 2800 mark on the FIDE rating list. He was at the top of the world rankings five out of six times, from April 2007 to July 2008. In October 2008, he dropped out of the world top three ranking for the first time since July 1996.

In 2007 he was awarded India's second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan. He is also the first recipient of Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 1991–92, India's highest sporting honour.

9) Paul Morphy USA (1837-1884)
Paul Morphy
Paul Charles Morphy (June 22, 1837 - July 10, 1884), "The Pride and Sorrow of Chess," was an American chess player. He is considered to have been the greatest chess master of his era and an unofficial World Chess Champion.He was also one of the first chess prodigies in the modern rules of chess era.

Many have claimed that Paul Morphy was the greatest chess player in history, and those claims could have been proven true had he actually pursued a career in chess. After teaching himself the game as a child by watching family members play, he was considered one of the best players in New Orleans by age 9. He famously played General Winfield Scott in 1846, who thought he was being made fun of when Morphy was introduced as his opponent. Morphy went on to easily defeat him in two games, the second of which was effectively over after only 6 moves. At age 12, he defeated the visiting Hungarian Master Johann Lowenthal in 3 matches, who initially viewed the match as a waste of time. In 1857, Morphy participated in the First American Chess Congress, which he won comfortably and was considered the champion of the United States. Too young to pursue his career in Law, Morphy travelled to Europe. By 1858, he had defeated all the English masters, except Staunton, who declined after seeing the young prodigy play. Next he travelled to France where he easily defeated the leading European player, Adolf Andersson, despite being very ill with intestinal influenza. He won 7, lost 2 and drew 2 and was by then considered the strongest player in the world, despite being only 21. Morphy returned home and retired from chess, only playing very occasional games. Had he pursued his career further, there is no doubt that Paul Morphy would be a contender for the number one spot. He was arguably the most gifted chess player to have ever lived, years ahead of his time in play and theory.

8) Mikhail Botvinnik Russia (1911-1995)
Mikhail Botvinnik
Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik (Russian: Михаи́л Моисе́евич Ботви́нник, pronounced [mʲixaˈiɫ̺ mʌiˈs̺ʲɛjɛvʲitʃʲ bʌt̺ˈvʲin̺n̻ʲik]) (August 17 [O.S. August 4] 1911 – May 5, 1995) was a Russian International Grandmaster and three-time World Chess Champion. Working as an electrical engineer at the same time, he was one of the very few famous chess players who achieved distinction in another career while playing top-class competitive chess. He also developed a chess-playing algorithm that tried to "think" like a top human player, but this approach has been superseded by a brute-force search strategy that exploits the rapid increase in the calculation speed of modern computers.

Botvinnik was the first world-class player to develop within the Soviet Union (Alekhine was a top player before the Russian Revolution), putting him under political pressure but also giving him considerable influence within Soviet chess. From time to time he was accused of using that influence to his own advantage, but the evidence is unclear and some suggest he resisted attempts by Soviet officials to intimidate some of his rivals.

Botvinnik 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 famous pupils include World Champions Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik.

7) Alexander Alekhine Russia (1892-1946)
Alexander Alekhine
Alexander Alexandrovich Alekhine (Russian: Алекса́ндр Алекса́ндрович Але́хин, pronounced [alʲɛkˈsandr̠ alʲɛkˈsandr̠ovʲitɕ aˈlʲɛxin](October 31, 1892 – March 24, 1946) was the fourth World Chess Champion.

By the age of twenty-two, he was already among the strongest chess players in the world. During the 1920s, he won most of the tournaments in which he played. In 1927, he became the fourth World Chess Champion by defeating Capablanca, widely considered invincible, in what would stand as the longest chess championship match held until 1985.

In the early 1930s, Alekhine dominated tournament play and won two top-class tournaments by large margins. He also played first board for France in four Chess Olympiads, winning individual prizes in each. His tournament record became more erratic from the mid-1930s onwards, and alcoholism is often blamed for his decline. Alekhine offered Capablanca a rematch on the same demanding terms that Capablanca had set for him, and negotiations dragged on for years without making much progress. Meanwhile, Alekhine defended his title with ease against Bogoljubov in 1929 and 1934. He was defeated by Euwe in 1935, but regained his crown in the 1937 rematch. His tournament record, however, remained uneven, and rising young stars like Keres, Fine, and Botvinnik threatened his title. Negotiations for a title match with Keres or Botvinnik were halted by the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939.

Alekhine stayed in Nazi-occupied Europe during the war, where he played in tournaments which were organised by the Nazis. Anti-Semitic articles appeared under his name, although he later claimed they were forged by the Nazis. Alekhine had good relationships with several Jewish chess players, and his fourth wife was Jewish. After the war, Alekhine was ostracized by players and tournament organizers because of the anti-Semitic articles. Negotiations with Mikhail Botvinnik for a world title match were proceeding in 1946 when Alekhine died in Portugal, in unclear circumstances.

Alekhine is known for his fierce and imaginative attacking style, combined with great positional and endgame skill. He produced innovations in a wide range of chess openings. Statistical rating systems differ about his strength relative to other players, giving him rankings between fourth and eighteenth in their "all-time" lists. Although Alekhine was declared an "enemy of the Soviet Union" after making anti-Bolshevik statements in 1927, in the 1950s he was posthumously rehabilitated and acclaimed as one of the founders of the "Soviet School of Chess", which dominated the game after World War II. He is highly regarded as a chess writer and theoretician, giving his name to Alekhine's Defence and several other opening variations, and also composed a few endgame studies. There is strong evidence that Alekhine "improved" the published scores of some of his games, although in one case he may not have been responsible for the misrepresentation.

6) Bobby Fischer USA (1943-2008)
Bobby Fischer
Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (March 9, 1943 – January 17, 2008) was an American chess Grandmaster, and the eleventh World Chess Champion. He is widely considered one of the greatest chess players of all time. Later in life he renounced his US citizenship and became an Icelandic citizen.

Fischer's achievements are legendary. At 13, he won a brilliancy that became known as the Game of the Century. Starting at age 14, he played in eight United States Championships, winning each by at least a point. At 15½, he became both the youngest Grandmaster and the youngest Candidate for the World Championship up until that time. He won the 1963-64 US championship 11-0, the only perfect score in the history of the tournament. In the early 1970s he became the most dominant player in modern history—winning the 1970 Interzonal by a record 3½-point margin and winning 20 consecutive games, including two unprecedented 6-0 sweeps in the Candidates Matches. In 1972, he wrested the World Championship from Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in a match held in Reykjavík, Iceland that was widely publicized as a Cold War battle.

In 1975, Fischer did not defend his title when he could not come to agreement with the international chess federation FIDE over the conditions for the match. He became more reclusive and played no more competitive chess until 1992, when he won a rematch against Spassky. The competition was held in Yugoslavia, which was then under a strict United Nations embargo.This led to a conflict with the US government, and he never returned to his native country.

In his later years, Fischer lived in Hungary, Germany, the Philippines, and Japan. During this time he made increasingly anti-American and anti-Semitic statements, despite his Jewish ancestry. When his U.S. passport was revoked he was detained by Japanese authorities for nine months in 2004 and 2005 under threat of extradition. After Iceland granted him citizenship, the Japanese authorities released him to that country, where he lived until his death in 2008

5) Jose Raúl Capablanca Cuba (1888-1942)
Jose Raúl Capablanca
José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera (November 19, 1888 – March 8, 1942) was a Cuban chess player who was world chess champion from 1921 to 1927. He is often considered one of the greatest chess players of all time, and was renowned for his exceptional end game skill and speed of play.Due to his achievements in the chess world, mastery over the board and his relatively simple style of play he was nicknamed the "Human Chess Machine"

4)Wilhelm Steinitz Austria (1836-1900)
Wilhelm Steinitz
Wilhelm (later William) Steinitz (May 17, 1836 – August 12, 1900) was an Austrian-American chess player and the first undisputed world chess champion from 1886 to 1894. Some contemporaries and later writers described him as world champion since 1866, when he won a match against Adolf Anderssen. Steinitz lost his title to Emanuel Lasker in 1894 and also lost a re-match in 1897.

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.

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 old style. His new style was controversial and some even branded it as "cowardly", but many of Steinitz's games showed that it could also provide a platform for 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' 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.

As a result of the "Ink War", traditional accounts of Steinitz' 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 co-operated with the American Chess Congress in a project to define rules for the future conduct of contests for the world championship title that he held. Steinitz was unskilled at managing money and lived in poverty all his life.

3) Emanuel Lasker Germany (1868-1941)
Emanuel Lasker
Emanuel Lasker (December 24, 1868 – January 11, 1941) was a German chess player, mathematician, and philosopher who was World Chess Champion for 27 years. In his prime Lasker was one of the most dominant champions, and he is still generally regarded as one of the strongest players ever.

It is often said that Lasker used a "psychological" approach to the game, and even that he sometimes deliberately played inferior moves to confuse opponents. However, recent analysis indicates that he was ahead of his time and used a more flexible approach than his contemporaries, which mystified many of them. While it is often said that Lasker spent little time studying the openings, he actually knew the openings well but disagreed with many contemporary analyses. Although Lasker also published chess magazines and five chess books, later players and commentators found it difficult to draw lessons from his methods.

He demanded high fees for playing matches and tournaments, which aroused criticism at the time but contributed to the development of chess as a professional career. The conditions which Lasker demanded for World Championship matches in the last ten years of his reign were controversial, and prompted attempts, particularly by his successor José Raúl Capablanca, to define agreed rules for championship matches.

Lasker was also a talented mathematician, and his Ph.D. thesis is regarded as one of the foundations of modern algebra. He was a first-class contract bridge player and wrote about this and other games, including Go and his own invention, Lasca. His attempt to produce a general theory of competitive activities had some influence on the early development of game theory, and his books about games in general presented a problem which is still considered notable in the mathematical analysis of card games. However, his philosophical works and a drama that he co-authored receive little attention today.

2) Anatoly Karpov Russia (1951-)
Anatoly Karpov
Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov (Russian: Анатолий Евгеньевич Карпов Anatolij Evgen'evič Karpov; born May 23, 1951) is a Russian chess grandmaster and former World Champion. He was undisputed world champion from 1975 to 1985, played three more matches for the title from 1986 to 1990, then was FIDE World Champion from 1993 to 1999. For his decades-long standing among the world's elite, Karpov is considered one of the greatest players of all time.

His tournament successes include over 160 first-place finishes. He had a peak Elo rating of 2780.

Since 2005, he has been a member of the Public Chamber of Russia. He has recently involved himself in several humanitarian causes, such as advocating the use of iodised salt.

1) Garry Kasparov Russia (1963-)
Garry Kasparov
Garry Kasparov (Russian: Га́рри Ки́мович Каспа́ров; Russian pronunciation: [ˈɡarʲɪ ˈkʲiməvʲɪtɕ kɐˈsparəf], born Garry Kimovich Weinstein, on 13 April 1963, in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR, Soviet Union; now Azerbaijan) is a Russian former World Chess Champion, writer, and political activist, widely regarded as one of the greatest chess players of all time.

Kasparov became the youngest ever undisputed World Chess Champion in 1985.He held the official FIDE world title until 1993, when a dispute with FIDE led him to set up a rival organization, the Professional Chess Association. He continued to hold the "Classical" World Chess Championship until his defeat by Vladimir Kramnik in 2000. He is also widely known for being the first world chess champion to lose a match to a computer, when he lost to Deep Blue in 1997.

Kasparov's ratings achievements include being rated world #1 according to Elo rating almost continuously from 1986 until his retirement in 2005 and holding the all-time highest rating of 2851. He also holds records for consecutive tournament victories and Chess Oscars.

Since 1984 Kasparov was member of Central Committee of Komsomol and CPSU member.

Kasparov announced his retirement from professional chess on 10 March 2005, to devote his time to politics and writing. He formed the United Civil Front movement, and joined as a member of The Other Russia, a coalition opposing the administration of Vladimir Putin. He was a candidate for the 2008 Russian presidential race, but later withdrew. Widely regarded in the West as a symbol of opposition to Putin, Kasparov's support in Russia is low.


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