The Top Chess Players in the World

GM Gata Kamsky

Gata Kamsky
Full name
Gataulla Rustemovich Kamsky
Jun 2, 1974 (age 49)‎
Place of birth
Novokuznetsk, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
United States



Gata Kamsky is an American grandmaster. He is the former Soviet junior champion and a five-time U.S. champion. His peak world ranking was number-four, and he challenged GM Anatoly Karpov for the FIDE World Championship in 1996. Kamsky has won many international tournaments as well as the 2007 World Cup and the 2010 World Rapid Championship.

Early Career And Rise To Grandmaster

Kamsky earned his master title at the age of 12. He shared first place in the 1987 and 1988 Soviet U-20 championships before moving to the United States in 1989. After moving to America, he won the 1989 Buffalo Open. In April 1990, Kamsky defeated former World Champion GM Mikhail Tal in the New York Open (where he scored 6.5/9).

In July 1990, Kamsky shot up from an untitled player outside of the top 100 all the way up to the number-eight spot in the world shortly after his 16th birthday. He became the youngest player ever to reach the top 10.

Gata Kamsky
Kamsky playing in the 2006 Corus Tournament. Photo: Stefan64/Wikimedia, CC.

The next month Kamsky shared first place (with GM Vassily Ivanchuk) at his first major international event, the 1990 Tilburg Tournament. He scored 8.5/14, ahead of GMs Boris Gelfand, Nigel Short, Jan Timman, Ulf Andersson, Predrag Nikolic, and Yasser Seirawan. This tournament gave him his final GM norm, even though he was already rated 2650.

In 1991 Kamsky won his first U.S. Championship. This event was a 16-player knockout tournament. He defeated GM Ilya Gurevich in the first round, GM Alexander Ivanov in the quarterfinal, GM John Fedorowicz in the semifinal, and then GM Joel Benjamin in the final.

World Championship Candidate

Kamsky participated in the 1993 FIDE Interzonal tournament held in Biel. The top 10 finishers in this tournament would participate in the FIDE Championship tournament. Kamsky placed third on tiebreaks in the Interzonal tournament, qualifying him for the FIDE cycle. In the first round of the FIDE Championship tournament in 1994, he defeated GM Paul van der Sterren. 

Between the first and second rounds of the FIDE cycle, Kamsky won the 1994 Las Palmas tournament with 6.5/9. He finished ahead of GMs Karpov, Joel Lautier, Veselin Topalov, Judit Polgar, Michael Adams, Alexei Shirov, and other strong grandmasters.

Gata Kamsky
Kamsky at Aeroflot Open in 2017. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Around this time Kamsky also participated in the PCA candidates cycle, where he defeated GM Vladimir Kramnik as well as Short in individual matches—Kamsky was in good form heading into his second-round FIDE match with GM Viswanathan Anand.

After drawing their classical games, Kamsky defeated Anand in the rapid section of their 1994 FIDE match with a score of 6-4. Here is one of Kamsky's rapid wins against Anand from this match, where Kamsky plays quietly in the opening. However, Anand seeks complications, tries a little too hard to create an unbalanced position against the Torre/London pawn structure and finds himself in a losing position very early after 13. e5!

The final moves of the game are instructive, as 16. Bxd7 must be met by the recapture (or Re8# occurs), and after the final move 17. Qb5, the same checkmating theme is used. If Anand's queen moves to e7, Kamsky's e1-rook captures it; if Anand's queen moves to c7 or c8, then Qe8# happens; and if 17... Qxb5 is played, then 18. Bxd6+ is devastating! A fantastic game by Kamsky! 

This victory over Anand meant that Kamsky would advance to the semifinals (final four) of the FIDE Championship tournament against GM Valery Salov, the world number-five player at that time. In the semifinals, held in 1995, he cruised to victory against Salov 5.5-1.5. In July 1995, Kamsky reached his peak ranking of number four in the world—shortly after his 21st birthday. 

After defeating van de Sterren, Anand, Kramnik and Short (both in the PCA cycle), and Salov in matches, Kamsky had fought his way to the 1996 FIDE World Championship, where he would face Karpov.

1996 FIDE World Championship Match

Shortly after Kamsky's 22nd birthday, his match against reigning FIDE World Champion Karpov began. Kamsky was the first American player since GM Bobby Fischer to play for the FIDE World Championship, and much like Fischer in 1971, had been on a hot winning streak. The 1996 FIDE World Championship match was played as a best of 20 games format—the first player to 10.5 points would win.

The match didn't start well for Kamsky with Karpov winning game one. Kamsky came back swinging and won game two. After a normal Caro-Kann Panov-Botvinnik attack opening, an isolated queen's pawn middlegame occurs where Kamsky has more space and better piece activity in exchange for the isolated pawn. The nature of the position changes drastically when Kamsky opens the position with 18.d5 and then delivers the Greek gift, piece sacrifice with 20. Bxh7+:

After a series of exchanges, Kamsky has a queen for a rook and knight. Karpov does his best to set up a fortress, but Kamsky continues to apply pressure in the endgame until Karpov resigns in a lost position on move 65. Unfortunately for Kamsky, this win may have been the highlight of the match for him as Karpov extended his lead by +3 after the ninth game. Karpov then ended up winning the match by a score of 10.5-7.5 (six wins, three losses, nine draws) and retained his FIDE World Championship crown.

After the 1996 FIDE World Championship match, Kamsky made a very unusual decision: he effectively retired from professional chess at the age of 22. He was rated 2745 and the number-six player in the world in the July 1996 FIDE ratings list when he stepped away from the game.

Between 1996 and 2004 Kamsky played two rated games. During this eight-year span away from the game, he earned two university degrees, and then in 2004, he returned!

Return To Professional Chess

Kamsky played in the 2004 New York Masters tournament, where he tied for first place. In 2006, he placed second in the M-Tel Masters tournament half a point behind Topalov, but ahead of GMs Anand, Peter Svidler, Etienne Bacrot, and Ruslan Ponomariov. He tied for first in the 2006 New York Open and then tied for first in the 2006 World Open (winning the playoffs). 

Next Kamsky participated in the 2007 World Cup. He entered as the number-11 seed out of 128 participants. He defeated GMs Ahmed Adly, Bors Avrukh, Kiril Georgiev, and Svidler to reach the quarterfinals (top eight). In the quarterfinals, he defeated former FIDE world champion Ponomariov to reach the semifinals, which was an extremely strong collection of players left standing—with number-five seed Shirov and two rising teenage stars, GMs Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin, rounding out the final four.

Kamsky defeated Carlsen in the semifinals 1.5-0.5. Here is Kamsky's win over Carlsen from this event, where after a Petrov's defense Kamsky emerges with a small plus from the opening due to his lead in development, extra space and better control over the center in exchange for the bishop pair:

Kamsky outmaneuvers Carlsen, and after the queens are exchanged, Carlsen's rook is trapped on move 25. Kamsky handles the technical segment of the game masterfully, never giving Carlsen a chance to mix up the position. Kamsky's advantage increases again and again until Carlsen resigns on move 43, facing problems on the h-file. 

This victory over Carlsen meant that Kamsky would face the powerful tactical magician, Shirov, in the World Cup final. After a game-one draw, Kamsky drew blood with this game-two victory. After an unusual Closed Sicilian, Kamsky tried the extravagant-looking 7. Qh5?! against Shirov:

A couple of moves later, Shirov declined Kamsky's pawn sacrifice on c2 and protracted maneuvering in a closed position began. Shirov started building a kingside attack, although his development was incomplete. Kamsky traded queens and weathered some counterplay before emerging up a pawn. He gave back the first pawn on move 29, another pawn on move 30, and a third pawn on move 33 in order to coordinate his pieces. By move 35, Shirov had no answer to Kamsky's play.

The remaining games ended in draws. Kamsky won the match 2.5-1.5 and became the 2007 World Cup champion, which earned him a spot in the Challenger Match for the 2010 World Championship. This match ended being played in 2009 against Topalov for the right to face World Champion Anand in 2010. The format for the Topalov-Kamsky Challenger Match was an eight-game contest, where the first player to 4.5 points won. 

After the first four games, the score was level. Topalov won games five and seven to take the match 4.5-2.5 and then lost to Anand in the 2010 World Championship.

2010 World Rapid Champion

In 2010 Kamsky won his second U.S. Championship as well as the 2010 World Rapid Championship (Mainz) ahead of the world's best players. In 2011 he won his third U.S. Championship and his second World Open title. In 2013 he won his fourth U.S. Championship and reached his peak rating of 2763. Kamsky followed it with his fifth U.S. Championship in 2014.

Gata Kamsky
Kamsky playing against GM Maxim Matlakov in Saint Petersburg 2018. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Since his return to the game in 2004, Kamsky has often participated in large open tournaments. He has been known for his belief that ratings are inflated nowadays because the elite players mainly play other elite players almost exclusively and do not participate in many open tournaments. Kamsky sticks by his conviction, and it can be seen in the number of open tournaments he has played in as a super-grandmaster.

Kamsky won the strong 2016 Cappelle La Grande Open tournament with a field of over 500 players and 50 grandmasters. In the following great win against GM Mikhail Gurevich from this tournament, Kamsky plays his beloved London system (Kamsky has championed this opening for many years and is a living legend to any London system aficionado)—game annotations by IM Kostya Kavutskiy:

Kamsky won this difficult—yet entertaining—endgame on the back of his bishop pair and an outside passed pawn! 

In 2018 Kamsky tied for third at the Chigorin Memorial out of 154 players and scored 9.5/15 in the 2018 World Rapid Championship. Still a strong grandmaster, he tied for second place in the 2019 Biel Master Open tournament, scoring 6.5/9. He also scored 8/15 at the 2019 World Rapid Championship.

Gata Kamsky
GM Aleksandr Lenderman (left) playing Kamsky (right) in 2019. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The question for most people when Kamsky's name is mentioned remains the same: What if Kamsky had never walked away from the game?

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