Most Important Players in Chess History
The first person to correctly identify the game in the background gets a shoutout in my next blog.

Most Important Players in Chess History

| 68

In virtually every sport or game, there is a debate about who is the greatest of all time, and which has been so far the best contest. So is the case with the royal game of chess. Thousands of articles, blogs, forums, and vlogs have been posted on this debate, but there hasn't been a clear answer yet. And the debate could go on if you like. 

The evolution of chess theory and analysis has so far been a fascinating journey. From early developments (6th to 15th century), the birth of modern chess, the romantic era, Steinitz and positional chess, the Hypermodern era, the Soviet school of chess, the computer era, to the modern opening theory, this board of 64 squares has seen it all.

The internet, engines, and computers are having an increasing impact on both disseminating chess information and providing a playing forum. The game will undoubtedly see changes in the years to come, and it will be another evolutionary step in the long and rich heritage of chess. 

If interested, click on this image which will take you to a blog written by @Mugiwara.

This blog is not gonna be one of those typical articles where people discuss the GOATs or the evolution of chess and chess theory but about the players and some of those forgotten legends to whom chess would be thankful for their contributions. Yes, today I will be talking about the most "important" players in chess history, or simply the players who shaped the game. 

Last month, I created a forum to know people's opinions on the topic. Based on their suggestions, opinions, and my own research, I have finally come up with this blog. 

Ranking the most important players in chess history ain't that easy and is dependent upon many factors, including their contributions to the game, their impact on chess theory and culture, their overall successes in tournaments and competitive play, and their contributions to chess literature. Of course, not everyone is gonna agree with my following list of most important players in chess history, but I am gonna try my best. Before any further ado, let's get started!


Viswanathan Anand

Vishy during a blitz tournament.

Viswanathan "Vishy" Anand was born in southern India in 1969. He learned chess at the age of six from his mother and joined a chess club a year later. Showing excellent progress, he won the Asian Junior Championship in 1984 and in 1985 gained the international master title and scored his first win against a grandmaster. His real breakthrough came in the year 1987 when he won the World Junior Championship and completed his requirements for the grandmaster title. He qualified for the Candidates cycle in 1990 but lost to Karpov narrowly in 1991. 

Putting Anand among the most important players in chess history may sound a bit biased, but in my opinion, he deserves his place here due to his contributions and popularizing chess in India. He won FIDE's version of the World Championship in 2000, and in 2007 claimed the undisputed title when it was contested in tournament format. He lost his title to Magnus Carlsen in 2013. Today, he trains those young generations and future chess stars from India, a powerhouse of young and brilliant chess talent. 

At the elite level, Anand is known for his "complete" play. Though a natural attacking player, he is resourceful and resilient in defense and rarely gets flustered under pressure. Away from the board, he is modest, greatly popular, and well-respected by his GM opponents and his peers. 

If revenge motivates you, go for it! But the main thing is to set your game in order. 

- Vishy Anand

Machgielis "Max" Euwe

Max Euwe (left), the first Dutch chess grandmaster.

Max Euwe (1901-81) had a long involvement with chess and was an important and historically significant chess player. Though his main profession was a mathematics teacher, he made his first mark on the international chess scene in the early 1920s, but it was only ten years later that he advanced to the top with a succession of great tournament results.

This led to a match for the World Championship between him and Alekhine where he snatched away the title of world champion from the first Soviet chess champion in 1935, which is known as one of the greatest underdog triumphs in chess history. However, the gentleman Euwe immediately offered Alekhine the chance to regain his title in 1937. He popularized chess in Holland insanely on his own. 

Euwe's chess was curtailed during the Second World War, but he continued to play chess at the highest level. He was a prolific and successful author, with The Middle Game (1965) being perhaps the most notable of them all. He became the president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) in 1970, a post which he held for eight years. He was also a chess ambassador, his contributions to chess education, literature, and administration have left a lasting impact on the chess world. There was hardly one area of chess activity in which he did not have his influence. 

Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation. 

- Max Euwe 

Other honorable mentions that weren't included in the blog: Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Botvinnikand Jose Raul Capablanca. 

While there are many other players whose contributions to chess culture cannot be forgotten and have left an unerasable mark on the chess world, now it's time to move on to the 7 most important players in chess history. 

#7: Robert James Fischer 

Bobby Fischer, the troubled genius of chess.

Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) is probably the most famous player of all time, and in many people's view, he is also the greatest. He certainly did more to popularize chess than any other player before or since. 

At the age of six Fischer got hold of a chess set and was immediately absorbed in the game. At the age of seven, he played his first tournament. But the break came in the year 1956 when the thirteen-year-old Bobby Fischer sacrificed his queen against a top international master before launching a brutal mating attack on the White king, which was later dubbed the "Game of the Century". At the age of fourteen, he caused the first of many sensations by winning the US championship and earned his GM title the year later at the age of fifteen in 1958. 

During this meteoric rise to the top of his game, he found in himself a burning ambition to break apart the Soviet domination of the World Championship and single-handedly took on the might of the Soviet Chess Machine, a state-sponsored juggernaut that had been ruling international chess for more than two and a half decades. However, he was too inexperienced in his first attempts in 1959 and 1962. 

Fischer was all set to challenge for the world title, but after a shocking withdrawal from the 1967 Sousse Interzonal, he was forced to wait for three more years, but this time there were no disputes. He destroyed the rest of the field in the 1970 Palma Interzonal. The rest, as they say, is history. Unbelievable 6-0 wins over top grandmasters like Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen followed by another convincing victory over Petrosian and finally his success in 1972. His celebrated 1972 World Championship Match in Reykjavik, Iceland was headline news in most countries. 

Apart from his incredible tournament successes, Fischer was also a cultural icon and a chess legend and is known for his contributions to opening theory. I am not gonna talk about the post-1975 events associated with Fischer, because that would just put a shadow on him as one of the most important players in chess history. He died of kidney failure in 2008 at the age of 64, the number of squares on a chess board. 

Chess is a matter of delicate judgement, knowing when to punch and when to duck. 

- Robert James Fischer

#6: Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov providing his thoughts on machines in chess.

No list of players is complete without the name of Kasparov, whether the list of GOATs or the list of most important chess players. Born in 1963 in Baku, Azerbaijan, it was clear from an early age that he was a gifted child. He learned to read and add when he was very young and apparently solved a chess problem when he was six without ever having been taught how to play the game. His early trainers were astonished by his memory and ability to concentrate. He showed rapid progress and by the age of nine, he was already an advanced player. 

In 1973, he was invited to the Botvinnik Chess School, where Botvinnik helped Garry bring more discipline to his play. In 1976, he became the youngest-ever USSR Junior Champion at the age of thirteen. 1978 saw more impressive steps forward. In his first international tournament, he finished with a whopping score of 13/17. He then qualified for the finals of the USSR championship, in which he achieved a 50% score. in 1980, he achieved his grandmaster title. 

Over the next few years, Kasparov established himself as an arch-rival to Karpov. They fought for the world title several times, but he finally succeeded in taking away the title in 1985. He defended it successfully against several players including Karpov in the second half of the 1980s and 1990s, until he lost it to Vladimir Kramnik in 2000, one of the longest reigns someone had as a world champion. 

Garry Kasparov's chess was a synthesis of raw talent, scientific research, and grim determination. Opponents found his physical presence at the board intimidating. Even after losing the world title in 2000, he firmly remained at the top spot in FIDE rankings until his retirement in 2005. He made significant contributions to chess theory and computer chess and is still involved in chess as a writer and trainer. He also made a significant contribution to game analysis in the Netflix hit Queen's Gambit

If you wish to succeed, you must brave the risk of failure. 

- Garry Kasparov. 

#5: Paul Morphy 

A cartoon on Paul Morphy (left) during the opera game. The Chess Journal, 2022.

Paul Charles Morphy (1837-1884) was an American chess prodigy who is widely regarded as the greatest chess player of his era. He was born to a wealthy family in New Orleans. His father and uncle both were chess enthusiasts, and he learned how to play the game simply on his own by watching other people play. Glimpses of a legend in making were seen in him from a very young age when he surprised both his father and uncle and some other chess players with his analysis.

By the age of nine, Morphy had become one of the best players in New Orleans. He swiftly beat General Winfield Scott, who considered himself a formidable player, on his visit to the city. By 1848 and 1849, Morphy was already playing some of the leading players in New Orleans. In 1850, chess master Johann Lowenthal accepted an invitation to play against Paul. But the play of the twelve-year-old prodigy made Lowenthal realize that he was up against a formidable opponent. 

After winning the first American Chess Congress in 1857, he eventually went to Europe to find quality opponents. He made numerous attempts to set up a match against Staunton but did not succeed in any of them. The next year, aged 21,  he reached Paris, where he suffered from a sort of infectious diarrhea. He was treated with leeches which resulted in a significant amount of blood loss. Despite this, he comfortably defeated Adolf Anderssen, Europe's leading player. 

Morphy was called "The Pride and Sorrow of Chess" because he had a brilliant chess career but retired from the game still very young, at the age of 21. He made significant contributions to chess in the form of his playing style (aggressive and dynamic), his contributions to chess theory and openings, and his deep understanding of complex endgame positions that set up future endgame theories and practices. Apart from this, he set up the template for modern chess by showcasing the importance of piece activity and had an influence on many future grandmasters. 

Paul Morphy, undoubtedly one of the most influential and important players in chess history, died of a stroke in 1884, aged 47. 

Chess is not the most delightful and scientific, but the most moral of amusements. 

- Paul Morphy. 

#4: Siegbert Tarrasch 

Mikhail Chigorin and Siegbert Tarrasch, 1893.

Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934), another all-time great, was one of the best players in the world for two decades. Born in Breslau (the German name for the city of Wroclaw), Poland, he spent most of his life in Nuremberg, Germany where he was a practicing doctor of medicine. Tarrasch had an unusually long chess career. He gained the German master title in 1883 and in the period 1888-94 won a number of strong tournaments. In 1903 he challenged Lasker for the world title and the terms were agreed upon, but the match collapsed after Tarrasch asked for a postponement. 

Further tournament successes followed, but it was not until 1908 that he finally played a World Championship match against Lasker. However, by now Tarrasch was perhaps slightly past his prime, and he lost decisively. Tarrasch continued to play for another two decades and represented Germany in the 1927 London Olympiad

Like Nimzowitsch, Tarrasch had a considerable influence on the opening play, and his name is attached to the Tarrassch Defense to the Queen's Gambit and Tarrasch Variation of the French Defense. He was a great chess teacher and had the ability to reduce complex ideas to simple, easily remembered rules. 

While Tarrasch may not have been a World Chess Champion, his contributions to chess theory, opening principles, literature, and chess education were significant. He is considered to be one of the most influential theoreticians of the late 19th century and early 20th century, and his ideas continue to influence chess players and educators today. 

Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy. 

- Siegbert Tarrasch

#3: Aron Nimzowitsch 

Aron Nimzowitsch (left) against Alexander Alekhine (right), 1929.

We have already met this influential player in one of my previous blogs. Known as the "Father of the Hypermodern School of Chess", Aron Nimzowitsch was one of the most significant figures of hypermodernism. Nimzowitsch came from a wealthy family and learned how to play chess from his father. He was born in Riga but attained the Danish citizenship in 1922. He went to Berlin in 1904 to study philosophy but he found his studies being pushed aside by his passion for the game of chess. 

He made his first remarkable victory in Munich in 1906, from then he got into chess even more seriously and won the 1914 All-Russian tournament. He resumed his international career after the First World War and quickly became a world elite and later became a contender for the world title. He was at the peak of his career in the second half of the 1920s, and his challenge for the World Championship was accepted by Capablanca in 1926. But as we have known before, he failed to raise money for the event. 

Although Nimzowitsch continued to be an active chess competitor until 1931, he couldn't keep up with this play and was no longer a contender for the world title. He died of pneumonia in 1934. 

Nimzowitsch is considered to be one of the most important players and writers in chess history. Two of his books, My System (1925) and Chess Praxis (1929) are regarded as classics of chess literature. His innovative chess ideas and theories had a lasting imprint on the chess world, influencing players like Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. He is celebrated for his contributions to the intellectual richness of the game and is regarded as an important figure in the history of the game. 

The threat is stronger than the execution. 

- Aron Nimzowitsch

#2: Emanuel Lasker 

Emanuel Lasker, World Chess Hall of Fame.

Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941) is one of the most famous chess players of all time, and definitely one of the greatest. As a youngster, Lasker showed incredible talent at both chess and mathematics and fulfilled his potential in both fields. Born in the Neumark territory of Germany, in modern-day Poland, he learned chess from his older brother and quickly rose to the world elite, and by the 1890s, he was among the world's top ten players. Lasker defeated Steinitz to become World Champion in 1894, a title he was to hold for twenty-seven years, longer than anyone else in history. 

Lasker, however, was still improving. In 1896 he proved his worth by winning without doubt by winning four successive major events, including the St Petersburg tournament. He continued to have excellent results, before beating Steinitz in a return match in 1896/7. During his chess career, he still found time to pursue his mathematical studies, and in 1900 he was awarded his doctorate at Erlangen University. In chess Lasker was an exceptional tactician, but more than anything a resourceful fighter. 

Erlangen University, Nuremberg, Germany.

Emanuel Lasker brought a scientific approach to chess. On countless occasions, he was able to turn inferior positions to his advantage and his defensive qualities were without equal. He introduced new ideas that influenced the development of chess theory. He wrote extensively on chess philosophy, which has been helpful in shaping how chess is understood and taught. 

He also made notable contributions to opening theory. He introduced new ideas and concepts in various openings, and his game featured creative and innovative approaches to established lines. He was also engaged in promoting chess as an ambassador of the game. 

Without error there is no brilliancy. 

- Emanuel Lasker 

#1: Wilhelm Steinitz 

An AI-enhanced rare image of Andersson-Steinitz, 1866. I had to enhance it because I could still feel the pain its blurriness gave to my eyes.

Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) was the first official World Champion, a title which he received after defeating Zukertort in New Orleans in 1886. Born in the city of Prague in the Austrian Empire (present-day Czech Republic), he learned to play chess at the age of twelve and began playing serious chess in his twenties, after leaving Prague to study mathematics in Vienna. Despite actually being one year older than Paul Morphy, Steinitz really belonged to the next generation of chess players.

Steinitz's chess saw rapid growth in the 1850s. He ended in third position in the 1859 Vienna City championship and first position in 1861 with a tremendous score of 30/31, which gave him the nickname of "the Austrian Morphy". By the time Steinitz was beginning to dedicate himself seriously to the game, in 1862, Morphy's career was already finished. After living a few years in Vienna, he came to England, and it was there that he developed his positional style, which contrasted with Anderssen's wholly combinative play.

In 1866, Steinitz narrowly defeated Anderssen in a match by 8-6 and received the title of unofficial World Chess Champion. Many successes followed and his tournament results gradually improved. However, until 1872, all of Steinitz's successes were achieved by the "Romantic" play symbolized by Anderssen. But in the Vienna 1883 chess tournament, he unveiled a new "positional" style of play which was to become the basis of modern chess. 

Steinitz's importance was not just as a player of the game. He was also a profound thinker and teacher and became the most prolific writer of the nineteenth century. His articles and books, such as "The Modern Chess Instructor" and "International Chess Magazine", were influential in disseminating his ideas and shaping the understanding of chess. 

Unlike Philidor, who also advocated a positional approach to chess, Steinitz was able to persuade the world of its absolute importance. He was undoubtedly helped in this respect by his excellent results using his deep concepts on positional play: pawn structures, space, outposts, the advantage of the two bishops, etc. He was a leading figure in the development of chess theory and his ideas laid the groundwork for what would later become the fundamental principles of modern chess strategy. He is known as the "Father of Chess" for his contributions to the royal game. 

Wilhelm Steinitz, the most important player in chess history, died of a heart attack on 12 August 1900. 

Unfortunately, many regard the critic as an enemy, instead of seeing him as a guide to the truth. 

- Wilhelm Steinitz


So, here was my pity try at ranking the most important players in chess history. Of course, the truth is that ranking the most important players in an order is impossible because a ton of players contributed to the game in many different ways. However, I hope you enjoyed the blog and learned something new today. I am open to all types of feedback, whether positive or negative, so do share them if you have some. 

Wikipedia was the major source for this blog, with many other websites like

And, kudos to @Fire and @JkCheeseChess for being the first few people to identify the problems in the thumbnail of my previous blog, and as promised, they get a shoutout! 

This will be the end of this blog, thanks for reading. If you are reading my blogs for the first time, welcome, and do press the follow button to get notifications for my upcoming works. Thanks for reading once again, and until next time, I am outta here.