World Chess Champion Portraits

World Chess Champion Portraits

| 52 | Other

Written by Brad Ashlock

Making art is like making a chess move. An artist starts with the available resources and looks at the composition/position from the general to the specific. My resources for digital collage begins not with searching for candidate moves, but for candidate images.

I scan Google, hunting for pictures I can transform, make my own, and put together in fresh ways. In the art world, this is known as appropriation (like sampling in hip-hop). An artist using appropriation must take the image and not only alter its appearance (color, contrast, value, etc.) but its context and purpose, creating something completely new on every level.

How to watch the 2021 FIDE World Championship of Chess live
You can watch the 2021 FIDE World Championship of Chess live on and on our Twitch and YouTube channels. You can also keep up with all the details here on our live events platform.
2021 World Chess Championship

In this body of work, I strove to break away from the usual chess cliches by exploring lighthearted puns in a vibrant pop-surrealistic style. So, Fischer goes fishing (with a nod to Jaws). Iron Tigran Petrosian is made of steel. Spassky, the first universal player, is literally part of the universe. And Vishy Anand sits in a lotus with the tigers of Madras, a god of chess, ancient Indian pieces in hand.

For each portrait, I tried to capture a bit of that champion’s character, uniqueness, or history. I have encountered teenage chess masters who have never gone through a collection of Alekhine’s games. Smyslov who?

Though it may not affect playing strength much in these days of AlphaZero, this ignorance goes against our chess culture and heritage. I’m hoping these portraits, in some small way, may inspire younger players to check out the older world chess champions—at least to see them in a new light. It is upon the shoulders of their art masterpieces that the current champion stands.

1. Wilhelm Steinitz: A photo from long ago, but his ideas, shining from a hot pink third eye, live on even to this day. The visionary.


2. Emanuel Lasker: The cunning fox.


3. Jose Raul Capablanca: “The Machine”—and the lover!

The image can be viewed on my Instagram here

4. Alexander Alekhine: Famous for his “Alekhine’s Gun,” his chess was as violent as the world he lived in. We may love his games, but not all his actions during WWII. We can’t shy away from criticizing bad moves, nor bad decisions.

The image can be viewed on my Instagram here

5. GM Max Euwe: You have to be a superman to beat Alekhine! He may have resembled Clark Kent, but it would take more than kryptonite to beat him in the re-match (it would take milk).


6. GM Mikhail Botvinnik: As an artist, it was difficult to make this portrait as I never appreciated him much—he didn’t seem to fight fair, using his Soviet influence to take advantage of contenders to “his” chess throne. So, I had to push aside my opinions and try to express that he was a true Russian hero and a great teacher to many future champions.


7. GM Vasily Smyslov: An opera singer, his chess was the highest expression of harmony.


8. GM Mikhail Tal: He will lead you into a dark forest where 2+2=5. Then he’ll blast you with killer eye beams!


9. GM Tigran Petrosian: “Iron” Tigran Petrosian: the most solid player of all time who could sense a threat ten moves ahead.


10. GM Boris Spassky: The first truly universal player—he should have his own constellation!


11. GM Bobby Fischer: Who is fishing who?


12. GM Anatoly Karpov: His boa-constrictor style crushed players into resignation, often without them understanding where they had gone astray, so subtle was Karpov’s squeeze.


13. GM Garry Kasparov: “A monster with a thousand eyes who sees all” one opponent had quipped. When he’d jam a knight into an opponent’s position, the knight became an octopus. Those vivid images always stuck with me, and I tried to express them boldly.


14. GM Vladimir Kramnik: The “Ice Man.” He played with the inevitability of a glacier.


15. GM Viswanathan Anand: This was a very special portrait for me, and perhaps the most successful in terms of capturing not only the spirit of the champion, but acknowledging the history of chess with its origins in India. Notice the elephant chariot piece in his hand.


16. GM Magnus Carlsen: Magnus, ascending toward the Hall of the Gods. The ancient chess pieces known as The Lewis Chessman have Nordic origins just like our current champion. Maybe there’s something from that ancient Viking time coming full circle today in his relentless play.


If you are interested in purchasing any of these prints, contact me at The price for an individual portrait is $20. For a limited time, you can purchase the entire portrait collection for only $100. If you are a premium member, the price for all of the portraits is 50% off at $50!

What is your favorite world champion portrait? Let us know in the comments below!’s coverage of the 2021 FIDE World Championship is brought to you by Coinbase. Whether you’re looking to make your first crypto purchase or you’re an experienced trader, Coinbase has you covered. Earn crypto by learning about crypto with Coinbase Earn, power up your trading with Coinbase’s advanced features, get exclusive rewards when you spend with Coinbase Card, and much more. Learn more at