The All-Time World Chess Champion Bracket: Elite 8

The All-Time World Chess Champion Bracket: Elite 8

| 169 | Fun & Trivia

Who is the strongest world chess champion ever?

As Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand battle it out for the 2014 world chess championship in Sochi, the All-Time World Chess Championship Tournament continues here on 

After an exciting first round, just eight players remain in the fight to be called the strongest chess player ever.

Before we get to round two, here's a reminder of this fictional tournament's rules.


  • Each of the 16 undisputed world chess champions is teleported to present day at the peak of his playing ability — whatever age that may have been.
  • Each player is given modern chess literature, opening books, databases, software engines, and a MacBook Pro.
  • Players have one year to study for the tournament, and a stipend of $100,000 USD for the preparation year. (This would mean a huge pay cut for Carlsen, Anand, and Kramnik, but they’ll have to make do.)
  • The world champions are free to spend that year however they see fit, whether it’s to acclimate themselves to modern life, catch up on 100 years of Ruy Lopez theory, fall in love with Meg Ryan, or spend countless hours playing bullet on


  • A single-elimination, seeded knockout tournament, each round decided by a 12-game match. 
  • Winners advance until one world champion remains. The losers of the semifinals play one extra match for third place.
  • The All-Time World Chess Championship begins Tuesday, November 10, 2015 in a sold-out stadium in Arlington, Texas, and simulcast on for millions of viewers around the world.

Match Rules:

  • The match schedule, rules, and time control are identical (with one exception) to the current world championship: best of 12 classical games, with a tiebreak round at faster time controls in the event of a 6-6 tie.
  • The exception: all 12 games will be played, regardless of match score. If we are taking the trouble to reanimate chess geniuses and send them traveling through time, we might as well play all 12 games for pride and posterity.

Bracket after Round 1:

brackets via brackets ninja

Round 2 Matches:

Here's a look at how the second round would play out. Remember, this is a fictional tournament based on opinion and speculation. 

You'll probably have different opinions about seedings and match outcomes, so please let us know in the comments or on Facebook who you think would win. 

Mikhail Tal escaped his first-round war with Tigran Petrosian by winning the blitz tiebreak.

He would be very lucky to get to the tiebreaks vs. Kasparov.

The problem for Tal is that Kasparov is simply a more complete player. While Tal has his attacking ferocity and other-worldly calculation skills, Kasparov matches both of those — and adds higher positional understanding and greater knowledge, too.

Kasparov’s revolutionary ideas about piece quality catapulted him to a peak playing strength that may be unmatched in history. (Finding that out is one of the goals of this tournament.)

Tal will put up a game fight, but Kasparov’s knowledge, skill, and preparation will ultimately propel him to the final four.

In boxing, styles make fights, and it’s similar in chess matches. Tal would have had a better chance against any of the other six players in this round. Here, he loses to a more advanced version of himself.

WINNER: Garry Kasparov, 8 to 4.

Here are two players with similar clean and positional styles.

Capablanca achieved beautiful chess via his unparalleled natural talent. Kramnik's peak is considered by many to have no obvious weaknesses, and he is also one of the greatest opening preparers ever. 

Good arguments could be made for either of these champions to win this match. Capablanca surely has the edge on talent, but transported to 2014, would he buckle down and prepare? 

Peak Kramnik would have an easier time adapting to 2014, since the world hasn't changed too much in the decade since his best play. But can he compete with Capablanca when it comes to creativity at the board?

Ultimately, it's move accuracy that determines this match. According to a computer study with modern chess engines, Capablanca was one of the most accurate players ever at his peak, with the moves played during his best year agreeing with the computer enough to make it the fifth-most-accurate year of all time.

Unfortunately, Capablanca has to play Kramnik, whose peak produced the second-most-accurate year ever. It just goes to show how accurate Kramnik was at his best, and he edges Capablanca to advance to the next round. 

WINNER: Vladimir Kramnik, 7 to 5. 

Botvinnik upset Alekhine in round one, and he took a lot of flak in the comment section for it.

But the fact is that Botvinnik was one of the most accurate chess players of all time, and his personal embrace of technology gives him a huge bonus in the format of this tournament.

He’s going to need that bonus, because in round two he runs up against Magnus Carlsen.

Carlsen’s peak was arguably May of 2014, when his rating hit 2882, the highest of all time.

Despite Botvinnik’s modern approach, Carlsen is going to have a huge edge, since he will only have to adjust to traveling six months into the future. He could probably keep his same apartment and even his iconic orange juice. 

Botvinnik’s chess will be strong, and he will use his year to prepare very well. He already out-performed his seeding by winning as a 10-seed in round one -- but it’s about to strike midnight for Cinderella.

It will be close, with a lot of draws -- but Carlsen is just too good.

WINNER: Magnus Carlsen, 6.5 to 5.5.

When round two of this tournament is televised, this is the match that will get the primetime slot.

It’s the match the world never got to see after Bobby Fischer withdrew from competitive chess rather than play the 1975 world championship match with Karpov.

After winning the 1975 title by forfeit, Karpov set out to prove he really was the best in the world. In the next few years, he dominated chess to a level not seen again until Kasparov’s peak.

Karpov won tournament after tournament, obliterating all competition. But there was one player he couldn’t beat: Fischer, who simply wouldn’t play.

Fischer at his peak was a ferocious chess machine. He won the 1963 U.S. championship with a score of 11/11, a ridiculous achievement that still is talked about today.

Even more impressive was his 20-game win streak in the early 1970s on the road to the 1972 world championship, scoring +20 =0 -0 against some of the best players in the world.

Something like that will probably never happen again in chess, even though Fabiano Caruana got people talking by starting the 2014 Sinquefield cup with seven wins in a row before drawing his next three to easily win the tournament.

Back to Fischer-Karpov, I think the result in 2014 would be pretty much the same as the outcome in 1975 had the match happened — a comfortable win for Fischer both times.

Fischer was not only naturally talented, he also prepared better than anyone, period. As pointed out in the comments section last week, Fischer learned Russian just so he could read the latest advancements the Soviet chess machine was making at a time in the United States when chess was still largely an amateur affair.

In this format, with a year to prepare using modern theory and technology, and few interests outside of chess, Fischer both outclasses and outworks the cosmopolitan Karpov.

WINNER: Bobby Fischer, 7.5 to 4.5.

Bracket After Round 2:

brackets via brackets ninja

Check back on next Monday for the last two rounds of the tournament.

Don't miss an amazing final four with Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Magnus Carlsen, and Bobby Fischer -- and the dramatic conclusion of the tournament, when we will crown the all-time champion. 

Let us know in the comments or on Facebook who you think will win the tournament. 


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