My Own Top 10


I've had plenty of people ask me, "Who is/was the best chess player ever?"

If I had to pick one person... Oh, but that is difficult! Considering modern chess and eliminating the non-chessboard-related actions of the person, my answer would probably be the man who is living in "self-imposed exile" in the United States. If you don't know who he is...

I'm pretty sure that plenty of people will recognise this:

Why do I consider Kasparov the greatest chess player ever? Sure, he was a strong player, but he was also one of the first great chess minds to work with computers and what became modern chess engines.

People say that Fischer was better, but considering his mental state and obsession with chess, as well as many unspoken yet implied truths about him, I would not put him on this list.

What I most admire about Kasparov, though, is not his extraordinary chess talent or long reign over the chess world, but his quiet little tradition of placing his watch on the table next to the chessboard before many of his games.

Second-best chess player in history?

Alexander Alekhine is probably best known for overthrowing one Mr. Capablanca, but his chess abilities went far beyond that. Unlike Fischer, Kasparov, and many others, his off-the-board activities do not cast visible shadows on his legacy as the fourth World Champion.

I would be changing my Number Three very often if it were not for the existence of its awardee:

One of my chess friemds and I recently had a conversation concerning IQ. We ended up comparing Mikhail Tal to Terrance Tao (partially due to my friend not hearing what I had said clearly enough). But Tal's style and abilities go far beyond an IQ of 230, as we all know plenty well.

Because the number four carries a large burden of superstitions in my native culture, I am reluctant to actually name someone, but when it comes down to chess players...

The first of two active players on this list, I hold Magnus Carlsen in the highest esteen (as says Daniel Naroditsky), and I suppose the story can be effortlessly finished without me telling it.

Female chess players (did that give it away?) are seldom seen in the top lists and even more seldom honored with entire towns named after them. But there is always an exception.

Not only is she admired for her perseverance in a male-dominated field, but her intimidation of Bobby Fischer also deserves some respect. She has defeated eleven world champions and handed her male colleagues a significant number of rather devastating losses.

The number six on this list has already been mentioned. As most humans are too lazy to look back...

I know Jose Raul Capablanca as The Man who Overthrew Lasker, as do many people, but even though he reigned for only six years, he is widely known as one of the greatest chess players ever. Perhaps one of the most famous pictures of him is this one:

The first time I saw it, I immediately thought, "OH! He reminds me of Winston Churchill!"

The list's seventh element is a man who recently won a rapid match against a certain Mr. Sveshnikov. Forty years ago, he won the world champion title after Fischer's refusal to face him. Today, many people doubt his chess abilities, but one has to look farther.

Perhaps one of Anatoly Karpov's most admirable traits is his own admiration and respect for his rivals. Namely, when he was defeated by Kasparov in their 1985 world championship match, he praised his opponent highly, unlike Kasparov's own rather mad reaction after he lost his own title to Kramnik in 2000.

When it comes down to the last three people on this list, I struggle slightly in my decisions.

Nonetheless, I can easily say that this list would not be complete without someone from my motherland.

Few people recognise a picture of a Chinese GM not named Wei Yi, but I figured that his recent win in Danzhou would make Wang Yue more fit for this list. He comtinues to consistently make China proud.

In my opinion, almost no list of the greatest men in chess is complete without the man who reigned longest as the game's king.

I don't particularly admire Lasker for sitting on his throne for twenty-seven years, but his was truly a genius.

And I reluctantly give away the tenth spot to one of those many lesser-known yet admirable players:

Tigran Petrosian is indeed my final addition to this list. I would have replaced him with Steinitz had I chosen, but of course, I did not.

As you can very obviously see, Steinitz, Botvinnik, Fischer, and Kramnik are not on this list. Steinitz would have been Choice No. 11, but I simply don't admire any of the other three enough. Sorry, folks.

It does seem fitting to admit that these are definitely not the ten strongest players in history, but my choices, I feel, very clearly reflect my personal opinions, as far as lists can go.

I feel obligated, as I often do, to end my list with one of chess's many memorable quotes:

Players die,
tournaments are forgotten,
but the works of great artists
are left behind them
to live on

-Mikhail Tal