Why Carlsen and Kasparov are the Greatest Players of all Time
There is obviously much debate about who the greatest players of all time are. Some say it is Bobby Fischer because he simply dominated an era of competitive chess. Others say it is Mikhail Botvinnik because of his ability to make a plan in any position. On some occasions people even claim that Jose Capablanca was the strongest player of all time because of his natural affinity to assess a position based off of raw talent alone. However, I strongly believe that the top spot should be shared between the greats Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov. But why? How can I even evaluate such a thing?
Well in fact, I use three justifications to supplement this answer. Some are based on personal observations of their playing styles and games, while others are based on well-known characteristics that distinguish the two players. Both of these players strongly exemplify all three of these characteristics, and you can probably improve your game by emulating these characteristics also.
1. Both of these players are well-versed in their black openings. With the white pieces, both of these players play a wide variety of opening choices, and rely on their intuition to wade through opening theory. Sometimes even with the black pieces, these players throw in some new ideas here and there. However, when the critical moments come, both of these players have a black opening to turn to against e4 and d4 (the primary opening choices) that has served them well in the past. For Kasparov, his King's Indian Defense and Sicilian Najdorf understanding are unparalleled in the chess world. For Carlsen, the Nimzo-Indian and Berlin Defense have helped him maintain a strong record with the black pieces.
2. Both of these players focused on their primary weakness at an amateur level and transformed that weakness into their primary strength at the elite level. As an amateur, Kasparov's weakness was his opening and early middle game. Several losses in Ruy Lopez style systems fostered him to focus on this area much more seriously, and he eventually began to rely on this part of the game primarily to obtain an advantage. Carlsen, surprisingly, was very booked up as an amateur chess player. He used opening weapons, such as the King's Indian Defense and the Najdorf Sicilian, to complement his aggressive opening style. However, several losses to players who had a better technical understanding of the positions arising from the openings (especially to Vishwanathan Anand) caused him to reevaluate his approach to the game. He found that he was losing a lot in the resulting endgames, and thus tailored his style to strengthen that part of the game. And we all know where that got him!
3. Both of these players were unparalleled tournament players. They both understood the psychology behind chess, and knew their opponents' playing styles and approaches to the game by the back of their hand. Kasparov and Carlsen understand the importance of well-rounded preparation and have consistently distinguished themselves at the top of very big tournaments.
These justifications may seem very generic, but I feel these two players truly define the best (as of now) on both ends of the spectrum. Kasparov is the model of dynamic chess while Carlsen is the paragon of the positional world. You may feel like you can insert names such as Bobby Fischer or Tigran Petrosian in place of these players, but I urge you to then do the following. Take Bobby Fischer, and place him next to Garry Kasparov. Who do you think played the King's Indian and the Najdorf Sicilian more effectively? Take Tigran Petrosian, and place him next to Magnus Carlsen. Who do you think played the Ruy Lopez and Nimzo-Indian more effectively? You will then understand why I chose the players I did.