Who are the top 10 famous chess players of all time?
Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen, Judit Polgar, and Hikaru Nakamura are a few of the most popular grandmasters to date. They have a huge following in the community because of their achievements.
In addition to these grandmasters, some celebrities and presidents are also excellent at playing chess.
Today, we’ll talk about well-known grandmasters and reveal a couple of famous non-professional chess players. We’re sure you won’t expect some of the people on this list!
Top 10 Famous Grandmasters of All Time
Here are the top ten chess grandmasters of all time!
1. Bobby Fischer – The Troubled GM
Born in 1943 in Chicago Illinois, Bobby Fischer started playing chess at six years old. He gained international attention soon after. In 1956, he won against Donald Byrne by sacrificing his queen in the “Game of the Century.”
Two years later, Bobby Fischer became a grandmaster at 15 years old. Because of his success, he dropped out of college at 16 to focus on chess.
In 1972, Fischer beat the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky in a highly publicized competition. Since the Soviets dominated chess during the time, it became a small victory in the Cold War. The event led to the boom in chess in the 1970s!
This famous chess player wrote the books Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess in 1966 and My 60 Memorable Games in 1969. In 1994, the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer got nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography!
Living in Exile
At the end of his career, Bobby Fischer lived in seclusion. He stopped playing chess, lost money, and renounced his American citizenship.
In 1992, he came out to have a rematch with Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia. Sadly, he broke American laws by doing this and became a wanted man.
Finally, Bobby Fisher got arrested in Japan in 2004 for boarding a plane with an invalid passport. He passed away in 2008 in Iceland due to kidney failure.
2. Magnus Carlsen – The Sexiest Chess Player
Magnus Carlsen is a Norwegian chess player born in 1990.
From an early age, Magnus Carlsen used his exceptional memory to learn various chess openings.
At 13, he beat world champion Anatoly Karpov and made a draw against Garry Kasparov in a blitz tournament. He became a grandmaster only a month after this.
FIDE named Magnus Carlsen as one of the top players in the world in 2010. He’s currently at the number one spot in FIDE’s ranking, with a 2835 Elo rating!
In a surprising twist, the clothing company G-Star signed Carlsen as one of its models. He represented the brand at the New York Fashion Week along with Liv Tyler.
During the ad campaign, G-Star organized a chess match between the young model and players across the world. Of course, Carlsen won!
3. Garry Kasparov – The First to Lose to AI
Garry Kasparov is a legend when it comes to the world of chess. Many consider him the greatest chess master of all time!
He won his first international tournament in 1979 at age 16. He trained with Mikhail Botvinnik from 1973 to 1978 and earned the grandmaster title two years later.
In 1993, Kasparov left the FIDE to establish the Professional Chess Association. He’s the first person to reach an Elo rating of 2800!
Aside from his chess achievements, Garry Kasparov is a famous Russian Activist.
He started the United Civil Front in 2005 to fight against Vladimir Putin. He was arrested in 2007 after organizing protests. He narrowly missed becoming a presidential candidate for Russia as well!
On top of this, he wrote several books and became a contributing editor at The Wall Street Journal.
On Battling AI
In 1996, Garry Kasparov won a chess match against IBM’s artificial intelligence named Deep Blue. However, the programmers upgraded the AI, and Kasparov lost the following year.
This incident marked the first time a machine won against a human champion. It made some people worried about artificial intelligence, while others saw it as an advancement in science.
4. Hikaru Nakamura – The Famed Streamer
Hikaru Nakamura was born in Japan in 1987, and his family moved to the United States in 1989.
He earned national recognition as a chess player at 11 years old and became a grandmaster in 2003. A decade later, he reached the coveted 2800 Elo rating at a tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk.
In 2020, Hikaru Nakamura became the top blitz player in the world. He has a 2900 FIDE rating for rapid chess. The same year, he started gaining traction as a Twitch streamer.
GM Hikamaru’s claim to fame lies in his streaming activities. As of August 2023, he has 1.9 million followers on Twitch and 2.05 million subscribers on YouTube!
The Richest Chess Player?
In 2002, El Pais wrote an article stating that Hikaru Nakamura is the world’s wealthiest chess player. The Spanish newspaper claimed they spoke directly to the grandmaster in an interview.
Yet, Nakamura refutes this in his YouTube channel, saying many of the statements in the write-up are false. He further explains he’s not the richest chess player.
5. Judit Polgar – The Top Women’s Chess Player
Judit Polgar started her career as one of the top-ranked female players at the young age of 12. When she turned 15, she broke Bobby Fisher’s record of being the youngest grandmaster.
She beat Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen, two of the best grandmasters in history. Moreover, Judit Polgar is the only woman to make it to the top 10 chess players of the world and reach an Elo rating of 2700!
Over the years, Judit authored many books to pass her knowledge to the next generation. She was the best woman chess player until her retirement in 2015.
Changing Gender Stereotypes
Even after her retirement, Judit Polgar continued her work of breaking the gender barrier in chess. She collaborated with the United Nations to empower women as a Planet 50-50 Champion.
She also started a foundation to teach young girls to play chess and frequents events to give online commentaries.
Finally, she got inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2022!
6. Anatoly Karpov – The Endurance Player
Russian-born Anatoly Karpov began studying chess at four years old. He became a grandmaster in 1969 at age 19.
Throughout his career, Anatoly uses his endurance to his advantage during chess.
One of his most popular games is his match against Garry Kasparov. The two tied for 48 games straight before FIDE stopped the tournament since both parties were tired.
He got into politics as he got older as well.
In 2006, he became the Chairman of Environmental Protection in Russia. He’s a member of the Ministry of Defence and is one of Putin’s avid supporters.
In 2022, Anatoly took a literal fall near the Russian Parliament building and ended up in an induced coma.
The incident sparked controversy. That’s because many Russian elites met unfortunate fates after Putin declared war on Ukraine.
7. Alexandra Kosteniuk – Actress and Fashion Model
Alexandria Kosteniuk is one of the world’s top 10 female chess players. She became a European champion at 10, and a woman grandmaster at 14 years old.
In 2004, Kosteniuk won the European Women’s Chess Championship and she received the men’s grandmaster title. Note that only ten women in history have this position!
She later topped the Women’s World Chess Championship in 2008 and continues to win gold medals in various tournaments.
Alexandria Kosteniuk is an author, streamer, and podcast host. What’s more, she’s an accomplished fashion model!
She’s appeared in Vogue and Marie Claire magazines. In 2003, she played a role in the Russian film titled Bless the Woman.
8. Boris Spassky – Mastered Chess in Time of War
Borris Spassky was born in 1937 in Russia. Two years later, World War II broke out and he got transferred to a children’s home. This is where Spassky learned how to play chess!
He became an international master in his teenage years and held the world champion title from 1969 to 1972.
On Losing to Bobby Fischer
In 1972, Borris Spassky became internationally known after he lost his world title to Bobby Fischer. To add to this, in his last major chess event in 1992, he lost again during their rematch.
People remember Spassky the most for these two losses. Yet it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a talented world champion!
9. Jose Raul Capablanca – Kept an Eight-Year Winning Streak
Born in 1888 in Havana, Cuba, Jose Raul Capablanca learned to play chess from his father at four years old. In his early adult years, he became a Cuban diplomat, which allowed him to travel and learn more about chess.
Eventually, people started calling him the Human Chess Machine. He then defeated Emanuel Lasker in 1906 and became the third World Chess Champion in history.
Capablanca is popular for never losing a single match from 1916 to 1924, a total of eight years!
Inspiring the Future Generation
Jose Capablanca died of a stroke in 1942, but his legacy continued. World champions like Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Boris Spassy, and Vladimir Kramnik used his games as study material.
Capablanca’s matches are often analyzed and used as references in chess books!
10. Vladimir Kramnik – The Wild Card
Vladimir Kramnik started learning the sport in a household without any serious chess players. At five years old, his parents brought him to a Soviet youth organization where he could take lessons.
He became a local champion at seven, and he got invited into Mikhail Botvinnik’s prestigious chess school. There, he met Garry Kasparov who gave him lectures.
In 2001, Kramnik became the second person in history to reach the 2800 Elo rating!
Vladimir Kramnik’s first introduction to a professional tournament was at the 1992 Chess Olympiad. Garry Kasparov, the head of the Russian team, shocked the community by adding him to the group.
At this time, Kramnik was only 16 and had yet to achieve the grandmaster title. There were also plenty of Russian grandmasters who could have played.
However, the young champion proved his worth by winning eight out of nine games!
Famous Personalities Who Play Chess
Aside from these grandmasters, there are also famous non-professional players worth mentioning!
Chess was one of this former US president’s favorite games. He collected chess books and chess sets.
He often competed against Benjamin Franklin, and the two would write to each other about their chess exploits.
George R. R. Martin
You may know George R. R. Martin as the author of Game of Thrones, but did you know he credits chess for his success?
When his books didn’t sell well, he survived by working as a director for a national chess organization.
He was also the captain of the chess team in college, and his rank is just shy of being a master.
In an interview with The Sun Newspaper, Lady Gaga says she loves playing chess. She further explains she prefers men who know how to play it as well.
To summarize, the top 10 famous chess players of all time all have incredible contributions to the community.
Some of them, like Magnus Carlsen, Jose Capablanca, and Alexandra Kosteniuk dabbled in the film and fashion industry.
Others, like Garry Kasparov, Judit Polgar, and Anatoly Karpov are politicians and activists. Yet, plenty of grandmasters become popular simply because of their achievements.
Lastly, many non-professional famous personalities enjoy chess. It goes to show that chess is an inclusive sport anyone can play!