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Top Ten Chess Players ..Ever!

Top Ten Chess Players ..Ever!

Dec 3, 2009, 9:37 PM 1

Top Ten Chess Players ... Ever.

Internet Research By: "KingsEnemy"

Below are the players we believe to be the ten greatest chess players of all time. Of course, these are debatable. If you disagree then please leave a message in our guestbook (here). We think that most of these players would make most people's top ten. Let us emphasise that any list of this kind is inevitably going to be highly subjective. We should also say that we think that playing strength is more important than practical results in judging greatness. The comments on the styles of the players listed here are, to some extent, a matter of opinion too.

1. Capablanca
                     Certainly the greatest natural talent of all time, he was sometimes extremely lazy and refused to "waste" time reading chess textbooks. However, he did make considerable contributions to opening theory so it is probable that he did spend some time on his openings. He had a score of 318 wins, 249 draws, and only 34 losses in match and tournament play between 1909 and 1939 12. No other master has sustained so few losses over such a period of time. When asked how many moves he looked ahead his reply was "One move, the best move", and this probably holds more than a grain of truth. Capablanca was renowned for his ability to instantly and accurately evaluate chess positions. Perhaps, of all the chess players through history only he had such an accurate evaluation function. Capablanca liked to control the position and to focus only on elements he felt were necessary to achieve victory. His endgame technique was legendary. It is often said that you can discover the true strength of a player by looking at how he handles endgames. If this is the case then Capablanca was the strongest player of all time.

2. Kasparov
                     World champion for 15 years and perhaps the greatest tactician of all time. He held the title of world champion from 1985 until 2000 (When he was beaten somewhat unconvincingly by Kramnik) and dominated major tournaments from the beginning of his reign (challenged only briefly by Anand) until 2001. His results do not fully reveal his talents and only by playing through some of his games can his true genius be seen. He was sometimes described as a ten eyed monster who saw everything in all positions (this quotation has been repeated with different numbers of eyes by different people - ten seems reasonable). He was exuberant and showy and had a photographic memory. He was, of all players, the most computer-like in tactical ability with incredible tactical vision and yet he possessed a profound positional understanding and had the deepest opening preparation in history.

3. Botvinik
                     The only player to hold the world title on three separate occasions, a feat unlikely to be repeated. He was a scientist and this showed through in his style of play. His style was to create closed positions characterised by flank movements and manoeuvres (as 'evidenced' by the variation of the English Opening which is named after him). His natural abilities although impressive, were enhanced significantly by his excellent preparation for games (which he himself refers to in a number of places) which involved intensive fitness regimes and extensive study, especially of endgames. The result was superb endgame technique and superb concentration which gave him the edge time and again. In addition to this Botvinik was an excellent judge of positions, probably at least partly because of his playing through and carefully analysing thousands and thousands of games. He was a practical player, more so than any before him, and this shows through in his games. His contributions to chess computing were also significant.

4. Steinitz
                     Somebody 3 once said that if you take all the pieces from the board, put them in a box, shake them around a bit and then pour them back onto the board you would have the style of Steinitz. His games include many bizarre positions and his original style of play made him an unpredictable and dynamic adversary. It has also been said that for 20 years he stood higher above his contemporaries than any other master. This overwhelming superiority demonstrated that he was well ahead of his time and his tournament record was the best up to his defeat in the world championship match in 1894 at age 59. His play could be tactical or positional as he excelled in both areas and this flexibility was arguably his greatest asset.

5. Alekhine
                     He held the world champions title twice, losing only once to Euwe but regaining it almost immediately afterwards. He lost the title eventually only because of his death. He was a drunk and a devious manipulator and would surely have lost his title to Capablanca had the match between them taken place. At first Alekhine seemed willing to play the match but after a couple of false starts he changed his mind and effectively refused to play it. He was a strong player with great determination and studied for many years to make himself "the complete player". He had an incredible combinative talent. He is Kasparovs' hero and this in itself is sufficient to make him a player worthy of imitation. Perhaps he is inimitable?

6. Karpov
                     Dull and uninspiring, Karpov takes positional play to new depths. The domination themes and willingness always to resolve tension make his games appear drab and dry. His talent however is undeniable. He was world champion for ten years and came close to retrieving it from Kasparov on several occasions. His tactical vision and positional understanding are outstanding and it is a shame he didn't put them to better use! (Note that the term 'Karpovian' is derived from Karpovs style and refers to slow and deep positional manoeuvres, thus "this is all deeply karpovian").

7. Fischer
                     A lot has been written about his chess and possibly even more about the rest of his life. The impression given by the literature (and by comments he has made in interviews) is that he's just an unpleasant person. Of course, that's not a good reason for putting him so far down the list. However, there is also something lacking in his chess. His play is often brutal and he's always forcing things. Much of his chess, though tactically brilliant and strategically powerful, lacks any kind of subtlety (not to be confused with depth or vision - the fact that Fischer's opponents didn't know what was going on does not make his play subtle, just too deep for them to appreciate). Subtlety is a sign of a player's calibre and of his positional feeling. Fischer's game relies heavily on opening preparation and I think that without it, his results would have been far less impressive. I think that this is less true of the players above him on this list (with the possible exception of Kasparov, though I still feel that Kasparov is fundamentally a stronger player than Fischer). Though Fischer shone for a short time, he did not, (arguably through no fault of his own), produce enough evidence that he deserved a higher place on this list.

8. Larsen
                     Never world champion but arguably the finest player not to be so. He would enter into positions which to others would appear ugly and yet was able to see original potential in all of them. Indeed, there is something Steinitzian about his play. Larsen never played for draws and as such his chess was extremely popular in the eyes of the public. His opening repertoire was extremely varied; the following quote from him describing it well; "I do not deliberately play openings that are obviously bad. I emphasize the surprise element and in some cases this makes me play a variation without being convinced that it is correct". A genius in his own right and a master of counter attack, drawing amazing resources from seemingly cramped and uninspiring positions Larsen's games will always be worthy of study.

9. Nezhmetdinov
                     A wildcard in this list. Almost an unknown player but a tactical genius who had a plus score against non other than Mikhail Tal (possibly the most attack oriented and exciting world champion of them all). His games vary from the tactically inspired to the totally incomprehensible. His victories were frequently incredible but he lacked the support to reach the summit of the chess world. He deserved to achieve so much more. Until you have studied his games you cannot really hope to understand quite how remarkable this man really was.

10. Lasker
                     A phenomenal talent, Lasker employed Steinitz's theories but with a greater emphasis on combinations. He thus refined Steinitz's approach by finding a different balance between tactical and positional considerations. His style was to play into dangerous and often precarious positions and then to defend with nerves of steel. He was the first player to systematically tailor his play to take advantage of his opponents psychological weaknesses, sometimes playing inferior moves confident that this particular opponent would not play the critical line. He was world champion for over 26 years, second only to Steinitz's 28, and was successful in tournament as well as in match play.

Why Isn't ...
We are often asked why Morphy does not make it onto this list. Our answer is that Morphy never defeated anyone strong enough (when he played them) to really stretch him. We cannot tell whether he was great, just as we wouldn't be able to tell if Kasparov was great if he had only ever played against IMs. It's possible that Morphy was the greatest, but there isn't enough evidence to show it to be even probable. Phenomenal playing strength can only be proved in games against phenomenal opponents. Morphy had no such opponents to hand. He was a fine attacking player with great tactical vision but the players of his time didn't really push him far enough for us to be able to be sure how good he really was.

It's all wrong.
Quite possibly. Measuring greatness over time is very difficult. Nor is it really possible to fully capture everything about a chess player in a few lines of text. The descriptions and evaluations given here are subjective: feel free to disagree with them.

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