Greatest Chess Players who could not become World Champions
Many can be legends, but hardly a few make the finishing line to glory.

Greatest Chess Players who could not become World Champions

IM vinniethepooh

There are a lot of top players that promised a lot and were strong beyond imagination, yet never became World Champions. Their games left behind a lot to learn, yet they never made the finishing line, the line to glory.

In this post I discuss who I feel were the three strongest players to never have become World Champions, their life, style, games etc.

#1: Viktor Korchnoi


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Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi was born on 23 March, 1931 in Leningrad, USSR. He learned to play chess from his father at an early age of five years. In 1943, he joined the chess club of the Leningrad Pioneer Palace.

Korchnoi's first notable success came in 1947, when he won the Junior Championship of the USSR.

Korchnoi was one of those players who reached his peak at a very late age, despite starting out at chess rather quickly. 

He was awarded the Grandmaster title in 1956. Korchnoi rose to prominence within the Soviet chess school system, where he competed against his contemporaries and future GM stars.

He played in his first world championship match in 1978, against Karpov, where he narrowly missed out losing 6-5 with 21 draws.

In the rematch against Karpov in World Championship 1981, Karpov convincingly defeated Korchnoi with 6-2 and 10 draws. 

Korchnoi died on 6 June 2016 at the age of 85.

Style and Contributions

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Korchnoi was comfortable playing with or without the initiative. He could attack, counterattack, play positionally, and was a master of the endgame. He became known as the master of counterattack.

Very often, Korchnoi displayed his temper after losing games by swiping all pieces off the chess board.

A few openings are named after Korchnoi.

  • Korchnoi Variation in English Opening
  • The Korchnoi Gambit against the French Defense
  • Korchnoi Defense in Sicillian Defense

Korchnoi wrote numerous books, some of them including "Chess is My Life", "My Best Games", "Practical Rook Endings" etc.

Best Games

10 Great Games played by Korchnoi

#2: Paul Keres


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Paul Keres was born on 7 January, 1916 in Narva, Estonia. Keres first learned about chess from his father and elder brother.

His playing matured after playing correspondence chess extensively while in high school. Keres had a series of successes in 1937.

He is very well known for tying for first with Fine in the 1938 AVRO tournament, ahead of chess legends Botvinnik, Euwe, Reshevesky, Capablanca, Alekhine and Flohr.

The winner of this tournament would challenge for the World Champion title against Alekhine. But the second World War broke out, and all these negotiations came to an end.

Keres later went on to play in the 1948 World Championship, though he was far from his best there. He was the runner up in four consecutive Candidates tournament, probably marking his incapability to sustain pressure. Keres died on 5 June, 1975 aged 59.

Style and Contributions

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Keres was known for his brilliant, dashing, sharp attacking style. He made some contributions as a chess organizer to Estonia.

He wrote a number of chess books, the most famous of these being Grandmaster of ChessThe Art of the Middle Game (with Alexander Kotov) and Practical Chess Endings.

He also made a lot of contributions to opening theory.

  • Keres Attack in Sicilian Schevinengen
  • Keres Variation in Closed Ruy Lopez
  • Keres Defense against Queen's Pawn
  • Keres Variation in English Opening
The Hungarian writer Egon Varnusz wrote that Keres "published 180 problems and 30 studies. One of his rook endings won first prize in 1947."

Best Games


A series of sacrifical blows

Positionally outplayed

#3: Akiba Rubinstein


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Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein was born on 1 December 1880 in Stawiski, Congress Poland. Rubinstein learned to play chess at a relatively late age of 16. In 1903 Akiba made the decision to abandon studies and devote himself entirely to chess.

It was hardly ten years since he has started chess that he was already considered one of the strongest players around 1907.

His major breakthough came in the year 1912, where he had a record string of 5 consecutive tournament victories. Rubinstein was in his peak between the years 1907-1914, before the first World War broke out.

His playing after the war never regained the same consistency as it had pre-1914, although he remained quite strong through the 1920s. He died on 14 March 1961 at the age of 80.

Style and Contributions

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Rubinstein was a strong endgame player, and he was one of the earliest players to take the endgame into account when choosing and playing the opening. He was exceptionally talented in the endgame, particularly in rook endings, where he broke new ground in knowledge.

Boris Gelfand has named Rubinstein as his favourite player and has once said, "Whatever I like in chess... comes from Akiba". Rubinstein is very known for his deep strategic play.

Many opening variations are named after him.

  • Rubinstein System against the Tarrasch Defense
  • Rubinstein Attack against the QGD
  • Rubinstein Variation in French Defense
  • Rubinstein Variation in Nimzo-Indian
  • Rubinstein Variation in Four Knights

The Rubinstein Memorial tournament in his honor has been held annually since 1963 in Polanica with a glittering list of top-flight winners.

Best Games

“A monument of magnificent precision..”

Rubinstein's Immortal

A game full of tactics and hanging pieces



Honourable Mentions:

#4: David Bronstein

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#5: Vassily Ivanchuk

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#6: Siegbert Tarrasch

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#7: Samuel Reshevesky

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#8: Efim Geller

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#9: Reuben Fine

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#10: Harry Nelson Pillsbury

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What do you think? Who were the greatest players to not become World Champions? Let me know in the Comments Section below!


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