The Top 10 Chess Games Of The 1950s (And 80+ Honorable Mentions)

The Top 10 Chess Games Of The 1950s (And 80+ Honorable Mentions)

NM SamCopeland

The 1950s were the decade in which chess became "professional." In previous decades, isolated players such as Capablanca, Morphy, and Alekhine were celebrated for their skill, but chess largely existed on the margins. Most of those who dedicated themselves fully to the game had to support themselves with simuls, lectures, writing, and more. Most players, even players in the top 10 in the world, supported themselves with other careers. Lasker and Euwe were both successful in academia throughout their playing careers.

In the 1950s, Soviet state support of chess produced an entirely new class of chess professionals. The elite players were supported with the goal of dominating the chess landscape, but also, supporting players were supported in roles as trainers and seconds and in other roles in the chess apparatus. None could better herald this new age of professionalism than Mikhail Botvinnik. He began and ended the decade as World Champion, and throughout his career, he worked closely with the Soviet state to support the next generation of players such as world champions Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik.

1954 Soviet Chess Olympiad Team
The 1954 Soviet Chess Olympiad team: Kotov, Geller, Smyslov, Bronstein, Keres, Botvinnik, and Bondarevsky. Photo: Dutch National Archive.

Concurrently, FIDE became a true force in chess in the 1950s and supported this move to professionalism, establishing a successful world championship cycle and chess titles such as grandmaster and international master. In 1950, FIDE officially recognized the first grandmasters in chess. These 27 selected payers were Mikhail Botvinnik, Isaac Boleslavsky, Igor Bondarevsky, David Bronstein, Max Euwe, Reuben Fine, Salo Flohr, Paul Keres, Alexander Kotov, Andor Lilienthal, Miguel Najdorf, Samuel Reshevsky, Vasily Smyslov, Gideon Ståhlberg, László Szabó, Ossip Bernstein, Oldřich Duras, Ernst Grünfeld, Boris Kostić, Grigory Levenfish, Géza Maróczy, Jacques Mieses, Viacheslav Ragozin, Akiba Rubinstein, Friedrich Sämisch, Savielly Tartakower, and Milan Vidmar.

While Mikhail Botvinnik must be the defining player of the decade, world champion in all but one year, he was not dominant over the board. Bronstein drew their world championship match in 1951, and Smyslov drew their match in 1954 and won in 1957. Botvinnik won only one world championship match in the decade, his rematch against Smyslov in 1958.

In the beginning of the 1950s, there was a small group of active top players (Botvinnik, Keres, Bronstein, Euwe, Smyslov, Reshevsky) that would be thought of as among the greatest players of all time. By the end of the decade, they would be joined by many more shining lights, such as Fischer, Tal, Spassky, Petrosian, Korchnoi, Geller, and Larsen. The development of the professional chess scene and a true world championship cycle would be felt thoroughly in the decades to come.

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See also: Top 10 of the 1960s, Top 10 of the 1970s, Top 10 of the 1980s, Top 10 of the 1990s, Top 10 of the 2000s, Top 10 of the 2010s

Top 10 Games of the 1950s

#1: Polugaevsky vs. Nezhmetdinov, 1958

#2: Byrne vs. Fischer, 1956

#3: Geller vs. Euwe, 1953

#4: Bernstein vs Najdorf, 1954

#5: Bronstein vs. Rojahn, 1956

#6: Stoltz vs. Steiner, 1952

#7: Botvinnik vs. Smyslov, 1954

#8: Beilin vs. Lipnitsky, 1953

#9: Keres vs Szabo, 1955

#10: Moran vs. Franco, 1955

Honorable Mentions