The 12 Most Interesting Chess Players Ever

The 12 Most Interesting Chess Players Ever

| 369 | Fun & Trivia

Who are the most interesting chess players of all time?

It’s an interesting question.

Are we talking about the best players ever? Even that’s a tricky thing to define. Are the best players the most accomplished? We could go by super-tournament victories or years holding the world championship, or simply by highest ratings.

The best players could be the grandmasters who played, objectively, the strongest chess, regardless of their historical era and competition. Or you could speculate as to who would play the strongest chess with access to modern theory and technology — something we have already covered extensively in our All-Time World Chess Champion Bracket.

Compelling chess players are not solely defined by strength. After all, if we were to use chess-playing ability alone, the 100 most interesting chess players would all be computer programs, and clearly that’s not what we mean.

Personality, charisma, and popularity are also important factors. Is it fun to watch them play? How passionately do fans follow their careers? Do their games, behavior, or personality inspire intense debate?

It comes down to a combination of chess skill, influence, popularity in their time, lasting legacy, controversial events and successes. Weighing all those factors, here are the 12 most interesting chess players in history. 

Let us know your most interesting chess players on Facebook and in the comments.

Honorable mention:

Vladimir Kramnik

all images via Wikipedia

Kramnik is by all reasonable estimates one of the 10 strongest chess players of all time, and his 2000 world championship win against Kasparov ranks with the greatest upsets in all of sports. 

Anatoly Karpov

Karpov played highly accurate chess and dominated the era of chess between Fischer and Kasparov.

The Most Interesting Chess Players Ever:

12. Mikhail Botvinnik

Perhaps no one has a chess legacy bigger than Botvinnik, whose scientific approach to chess inspired a new school of chess education. 

11. Fabiano Caruana

Maybe it's a shock to see Caruana here among all these legendary names. But there's no denying Caruana is already one of the strongest and most compelling chess players in history. His 7-0 start at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup ranks near the top of all-time chess accomplishments, and he poses the biggest threat to unseat Magnus Carlsen as world champion. 

10. Judit Polgar

Polgar is more than just the best female player ever. At her peak strength, she was one of the best players in the world, period. Her career and achievements have inspired thousands of female chess players, and she retains a massive following even in retirement. 

9. Alexander Alekhine

Alekhine's proclivity for complex attacking positions took the chess world like a wrecking ball in his heyday. Many consider Alekhine decades ahead of his time, and his attacking spirit lives on in the best chess of today. 

8. Mikhail Tal

Tal was easily the most brilliant and creative attacking player ever. He found elegant combinations out of thin air, in positions many grandmasters wouldn't even look for a winning blow.

Check out FM Alisa Melekhina's video on Tal's best queen sacs below. 
7. Hikaru Nakamura

Even though Carlsen has dominated the modern era of chess, Nakamura has developed a strong following of his own by embracing blitz and bullet chess online, which is where the vast majority of today's chess fans interact with the game. Nakamura is easily the greatest online player in history, and his classical chops are no joke either. He is a strong contender to play for the world championship in the next few years. 

6. Viswanathan Anand

Anand has held multiple world championships and has lived near the top of the rating list for decades. His status as the undisputed chess king of India gives him one of the largest fan bases in chess history, as millions of Indian players root for their countryman. 

5. Jose Raul Capablanca

Capablanca's intuitive approach to chess seemed other-worldly during his reign as world champion, when he absolutely destroyed his contemporaries seemingly without much effort. Computer analysis has confirmed he is one of the most objectively strong chess players ever, and he is a favorite of many chess fans to this day. 

4. Paul Morphy

Morphy was decades if not centuries ahead of his time in terms of chess understanding and intuition. His devotion to development and activity over material has been confirmed by the best modern play. He is also the author of arguably the most famous chess game in history:

3. Magnus Carlsen

By the time his career is done, Magnus might be number one on this list. Although it seems like he has been atop the modern chess world forever, Carlsen is just 24 years old and could conceivably remain world champion for decades to come. Given Carlsen's access to modern theory and computers, along with his gargantuan natural talent, I think it's safe to say he is the strongest chess player in human history. 

2. Garry Kasparov

Kasparov remains one of the most influential and famous chess players even today, a full 10 years after his retirement from professional chess. His reign as world champion is easily the most impressive of anyone on or off this list. He played better chess longer than anyone in history. Kasparov's deep understanding of piece quality and time in chess continues to influence the top human players and computers today. 

1. Bobby Fischer

Everyone else on this list is a famous chess player. Fischer was famous on a level beyond chess, a level not approached by any other chess player. Fischer's battle against the Soviet chess machine, culminating in the 1972 world championship, remains the iconic chess event in the history of the game. Bobby Fischer captivated his entire nation, legitimizing our favorite game in mainstream culture and launching the careers of countless American players. His obsessive and idiosyncratic personality, frequent disappearances, and mercurial behavior made him the most controversial and probably the most discussed chess player ever.

Oh, and let's not forget about how strong he was. Numerous computer analyses have determined that Fischer played among the best chess of all time, and he was also the winner of our fictional All-Time World Chess Championship Bracket.

Today, 43 years since he beat Spassky for the world title and seven years since his death, Fischer remains a global topic of interest, and his story once again will be told by a major upcoming Hollywood movie

Who's on your list of most interesting chess players? Let us know in the comment section. 

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