The Strongest Chess players of all time


Have you ever wondered who are the strongest chess players of all time and how they would fare against each other. Well I have done a lot of work to compile this list. It was done as part of a project to build the card game, Chess Champs Legends - which is still in progress.

Historical ratings were based on work done by Jeff Sonas. For ratings after the year 2000, FIDE rating lists were used. All ratings were determined by calculating the average rating over a 5 year period from January - December. Then taking the peak of those averages across the time that player was active.

I have not included any player whose peak was below 2700 which is why Judit Polgar makes the list but Hou Yifan doesn't for example. Hou Yifans' peak 5-year average is currently 2651.

I have also done other work to show which players were most successful in sacrificial situations for example, but I will leave that for another time ;-)

I hope you find this list informative and insightful. If you think I have missed a player, please let me know.

Rank Player Rating
1 Magnus Carlsen 2859
2 Emanuel Lasker 2847
3 Garry Kasparov 2843
4 Mikhail Botvinnik 2843
5 Bobby Fischer 2841
6 Anatoly Karpov 2829
7 Alexander Alekhine 2827
8 Viswanathan Anand 2818
9 José Raúl Capablanca 2813
10 Vladimir Kramnik 2812
11 Levon Aronian 2807
12 Fabiano Caruana 2799
13 Vesselin Topalov 2796
14 Vassily Ivanchuk 2790
15 Viktor Korchnoi 2789
16 Wilhelm Steinitz 2789
17 Vasily Smyslov 2788
18 Hikaru Nakamura 2785
19 Tigran Petrosian 2782
20 Alexander Grischuk 2775
21 Mikhail Tal 2773
22 Harry Pillsbury 2773
23 Géza Maróczy 2772
24 Sergey Karjakin 2771
25 Samuel Reshevsky 2769
26 Paul Keres 2766
27 Siegbert Tarrasch 2766
28 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2765
29 Anish Giri 2765
30 Miguel Najdorf 2765
31 Wesley So 2762
32 Boris Spassky 2761
33 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2760
34 Teimour Radjabov 2760
35 David Bronstein 2758
36 Paul Morphy 2753
37 Gata Kamsky 2752
38 Peter Leko 2751
39 Boris Gelfand 2750
40 Valery Salov 2749
41 Liren Ding 2747
42 Alexei Shirov 2747
43 Alexander Beliavsky 2747
44 Efim Geller 2747
45 Jan Timman 2746
46 Michael Adams 2745
47 Reuben Fine 2745
48 Lev Polugaevsky 2745
49 Carl Schlechter 2743
50 Lajos Portisch 2742
51 Leonid Stein 2741
52 Leinier Dominguez Perez 2739
53 Alexander Morozevich 2738
54 Bent Larsen 2738
55 Salo Flohr 2738
56 Ruslan Ponomariov 2738
57 Evgeny Bareev 2737
58 Mikhail Chigorin 2737
59 Peter Svidler 2736
60 Isaak Boleslavsky 2736
61 Rafael Vaganian 2736
62 Johannes Zukertort 2736
63 David Janowski 2736
64 Alexander Kotov 2734
65 Dmitry Jakovenko 2733
66 Akiba Rubinstein 2733
67 Aaron Nimzowitsch 2733
68 Pentala Harikrishna 2732
69 Pavel Eljanov 2731
70 Max Euwe 2731
71 Artur Yusupov 2730
72 Nigel Short 2730
73 Gideon Ståhlberg  2729
74 Radoslaw Wojtaszek 2728
75 Nikita Vitiugov 2728
76 Mark Taimanov 2728
77 Efim Bogoljubov 2728
78 Svetozar Gligoric 2727
79 David Navara 2724
80 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2724
81 Dmitry Andreikin 2724
82 Ulf Andersson 2724
83 Chao b Li 2722
84 Evgeny Tomashevsky 2722
85 Ljubomir Ljubojevic 2721
86 Etienne Bacrot 2717
87 Robert Hübner 2716
88 Jaan Ehlvest 2715
89 Joseph Blackburne 2714
90 Mikhail Gurevich 2713
91 Jon Speelman 2712
92 Vlastimil Hort 2712
93 Yangyi Yu 2711
94 Zoltán Ribli 2711
95 Richard Teichmann 2711
96 Quang Liem Le 2710
97 Vladimir Malakhov 2710
98 Alexander Khalifman 2710
99 Andrei Sokolov 2709
100 Judit Polgar 2709
101 László Szabó 2709
102 Baadur Jobava 2708
103 Henrique Mecking 2708
104 Vladimir Makogonov 2708
105 Alexey Dreev 2707
106 Rudolf Spielmann 2707
107 Laurent Fressinet 2706
108 Oleg Romanishin 2706
109 Frank Marshall 2706
110 John Nunn 2705
111 Predrag Nikolić 2704
112 Yuri Averbakh 2704
113 Ratmir Kholmov 2703
114 Yuri Balashov 2703
115 Francisco Vallejo Pons 2702
116 Alexander Moiseenko 2702
117 Vladimir Tukmakov 2701
118 Vladimir Akopian 2701
119 Rustam Kasimdzhanov 2700
120 Leonid Yudasin 2700

Do you think he should be lower or higher? Anyway, to answer your question, it is because that is his rating performance to date. Hikaru's rating of 2785 was calculated from the period Jan 2013 - November 2017. Note this is standard time control ratings - his blitz ratings are much higher. Hikaru's highest standard rating ever achieved was October 2015 when he reached 2816 but he was only able to maintain a 2800+ rating for 4 months (July - October 2015) and he has milled around the high 2700's ever since.


Interesting list and project, but take Anand that have been 2820 once, how can his average rating over a 5 year period be 2818? or is that his average highest year?


Don't mean to critizise just wondering how you came up with the numbers


”Have you ever wondered who are the strongest chess players of all time and how they would fare against each other. Well I have done a lot of work to compile this list”

Do you mean that this is supposed to show actual playing strength? I don’t think Steinitz would be equal with players like Mamedyarov, chess has improved too much the last 150 years for that. Steinitz would be lost already in the opening against players like MVL and So. But if it’s supposed to rank the players strength wise in their own era, Steinitz would be light years ahead of Mamedyarov etc since the latter hasn’t been clear #1 for decades like Steinitz was.

Also, regardless what the list measures, I would never rank players like Gelfand, Adams, Radjabov and Leko so far ahead of Topalov. The latter was the strongest player in the world for some time and different level compared to contemporaries Gelfand, Adams, Radjabov and Leko. He won a dozen more top events than them taken together and was much higher rated, and had quite a big margin down to #2 on the rating list at some points.


Giri stronger than Spassky? He can hardly win a game...


Well, Giri was 2800+ in 2015 so not unreasonable that he would play stronger chess than someone who peaked 50 years into the past, just like Spassky played better than those 50 years before him that were greater players. I find it harder to believe that Steinitz would beat both Spassky and Giri though :-) Or that Adams and Gelfand and Radjabov have played better than Topalov :-) 


Hi guys, I thought I would explain a bit more. The ratings in the list are about the players performance at the time they played chess actively. Their ratings are calculated by taking the average over every 5-year period which they were active from Jan - Dec and then taking the peak of all those averages. Ratings weren't available in Steinitz time, so these ratings were calculated based on tournament performance analysis - work done by Jeff Sonas - see for more info.

So taking Steinitz and putting him into today's situation doesn't make sense but in terms of his performance in his day, he was at a very similar level to Spassky and Giri.

ps. I managed to miss Ruslan Ponomariov somehow. His 5-year average peak is 2738 which puts him around #55 on the list.


Fabelhaft, regarding Topalov, you are quite right! I rechecked his calculations and his peak average is 2796 which was from 2006-2010. Somehow I had miscalculated his rating. So Topalov should be #13 just a smigen below Caruana.


I think saying that Steinitz performance in his day was on a similar level as Giri today is to be too nice to the latter :-) While Giri has been hovering around #10 in the world the last years (#15 today) and briefly even been top five, Steinitz was the best player in the world for a long time. He not only won four title matches, but Chessmetrics rank him as #1 with a bigger distance to #2 at his peak than for example Fischer. Seeing him ranked below players like Giri, Karjakin, Nakamura and Grischuk feels harsh to me, when what is measured is performance against contemporaries.


Fabelhaft, you were right again about Steinitz. I have been working on the project so long I didn't check everything before I posted it. I have rechecked and found Steinitz and Alekhine weren't quite right. I have updated the list. Let me know if you notice any other anomalies.


Some dude recently shared fun animated version of his top 5 chess players of all time in this video:


Bobby Fischer for a short period was the greatest chess mind ever. His games dominated the world with new strategies never seen before. Gary Kasparov was probably second but was very tough for a longer span. Numbers do not tell everything about a player.