Do you ever wonder about who are the best chess players in history? Which among the giant names on the board will come on top if we compare them side by side?
It’s an intriguing thought, and if you’re a chess buff, you’re sure to enjoy this article.
We’ve compiled a list of the top 100 chess players of all time. Let’s take you on a tour throughout the centuries of history of the world’s most popular strategic board game.
1. Magnus Carlsen
Achieving the highest ELO rating recorded for a human being, the Norwegian world chess champion of 2013, Magnus Carlsen, takes the number one spot for the best chess player in history.
2. Vladimir Kramnik
Following Carlsen is Vladimir Kramnik, peaking only six points behind in the ELO rating. He won several championships from 2000 to 2006, defeating Garry Kasparov in the process.
3. Garry Kasparov
History’s youngest World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov, dominated the chess board for 15 years. The highest-ranked Russian chess player was also the first to achieve a 2800+ ELO.
4. Viswanathan Anand
Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand is considered the top chess player from India. He vied with chess giants like Kramnik and Kasparov until earning the title of world champion in 2007.
5. Bobby Fischer
Despite the controversies surrounding him, Bobby Fischer remains one of the best chess history has to offer. The tormented genius was the first and only American to win the prestigious world chess championship title.
6. Anatoly Karpov
Anatoly Karpov reigned for ten years and was Russia’s finest chess player until Kasparov. He’s compiled one of the best tournament records in history, winning 160 first-place finishes.
7. Jose Capablanca
Known for his excellent speed and endgame plays, Jose Capablanca held the number-one title for over six years. Many deem the Cuban-born chess prodigy unbeatable during his time.
8. Mikhail Tal
Despite his short-lived title as the world chess champ, historians consider Mikhail Tal one of the most influential players of all time. His creativity and fierceness on the board were one of a kind.
9. Boris Spassky
Fischer’s arch-nemesis Boris Spassky ruled the chess world for four years. Despite losing the historic match in 1972, many consider Spassky the world’s best for decades.
10. Mikhail Botvinnik
The Soviet chess master and writer Mikhail Botvinnik held the world championship multiple times from 1948 to 1963. Historians also credit Botvinnik for his contribution to the World Chess Championship system.
11. Vasily Smyslov
Vasily Smyslov was a prominent figure in the 60s, playing high-level chess for 40 years. The Russian chess master holds the record for the most Olympiad medals won by a single player.
12. Alexander Alekhine
Alexander Alekhine was the fourth world chess champion who held the title for over 17 years. Chess players worldwide idolize Alekhine for his tactical brilliance and influence on theories.
13. Tigran Petrosian
The Soviet-Armenian Tigran Petrosian carved his name in chess history by winning the championship for six consecutive years. He’s a master of defensive tactics, earning him the nickname “Iron” Tigran.
14. Max Euwe
Machgeilis “Max” Euwe was a Dutch chess master, writer, and mathematician. He was the only player that became a world chess champion and president of FIDE.
15. Emmanuel Lasker
Emmanuel Lasker is the second world chess champion in history. But that’s not all. Lasker also holds the record for the longest person to defend the title, holding it for 20 years!
16. Rudolf Charousek
Rudolf Charousek was a young Czech chess player during Lasker’s time. Despite being only in his 20s, Charousek was considered one of the top ten players in the 1890s.
17. Gyula Makovets
Gyula Makovets was a prominent Hungarian chess player and journalist. He won tournaments against chess giants like Emmanuel Lasker and Johann Bauer in the 1890s.
18. David Janowski
David Janowski is a world-class player that invented the Janowsky Indian Defense. He outmatched masters like Steinitz, Chigorin, and Schlechter during the 1896 Nuremberg tournament.
19. Paul Morphy
Paul Charles Morphy was an American chess master. He won prestigious tournaments like the First American Chess Congress in 1857 and was dubbed the greatest player of his time.
20. Gustav Neumann
Gustav Richard Ludwig Neuman was a Polish chess master deemed one of the five strongest players of his time. He was most famous for scoring 34/34 in the Berliner Schachgesellschaft.
21. Johann Lowenthal
Speaking of top players, Johann Lowenthal was among the only three best players in the 1950s. He contributed to chess writing as an editor and dedicated his life to English chess.
22. Wilhelm Steinitz
Wilhelm Steinitz was the first to hold the title of world chess champion in history. He kept the crown for nine years and was undefeated for over 30 years!
23. Szymon Winawer
Szymon Winawer belongs to the top ten players in the 70s and 80s. The Polish grandmaster battled chess titans such as Steinitz, Lasker, Anderssen, and Paulsen.
24. James Mason
James Mason was an Irish-born chess player who invented the London System of chess openings. He ranked number one in Chessmetrics and authored the famous book, The Principles of Chess in Theory and Practice.
25. Siegbert Tarrasch
A physician by profession, Seigbert Tarrasch became a prolific chess master in the early 90s. He won several major tournaments and authored several influential books on chess theories.
26. Alexander Petrov
Starting his career as early as four, Alexander Petrov dominated chess in Russia for over 50 years. He was one of the first Russian chess masters, authoring the first Russian chess handbook in 1824.
27. Aaron Alexandre
Aaron Alexander was a Jewis-turned-French chess player from the 1820s to 1840s. He competed with notable chess players like Deschapelles and Bourdonnais before authoring the Encyclopedia of Chess in 1837.
28. Alexandre Deschapelles
Alexandre Deschapelles was once one of the best chess players from the 1820s to the 1840s. Experts estimate his EDO rating to be around 2600+, an excellent feat of the time.
29. Wilhelm Hanstein
As a member of the Berlin Pleiades, William Hanstein remains a distinguished name in chess history. He was one of the founders of the Deutsche Schachzeitung, the first German chess magazine, in 1846.
30. Louis de la Bourdonnais
Louis de la Bourbonnais was the top name on the board between 1822 to 1831. He took out and vied with Alexander Dechapelles for years before he died in 1840.
31. Jacques Mouret
The chess tutor of Louis Philippe I was among the most notable figures in chess history. With an estimated ELO rating of 2400+, Mouret successfully operated a chess automaton famous for its high-level capabilities, The Turk.
32. Howard Staunton
Howard Staunton was an influential English chess player in the Victorian era. He was the unofficial world champion between 1843 and 1851 and founded the first successful chess magazine.
33. Ludwig Bledow
Ludwig Erdman Bedlow was a German math professor and founder of “The Pleiades.” He became the strongest player in Berlin in the 1840s, becoming acquainted with talented individuals like Tassilo von der Lasa, Hanstein, and Horwitz.
34. Lionel Kieseritzky
Lionel Kiesseritzky was another math teacher who turned into a chess master. Historians laud his contributions to chess theory, though he was most famous for his match with Adolf Anderssen, called the “Immortal Game.”
35. Tassilo von der Lasa
German bibliophile and author Tassilo von der Lassa was a chess player and diplomat of Prussia. He topped the world rankings for several months between 1851 and 1852.
36. Veselin Topalov
Veselin Topalov is a Bulgarian super-grandmaster with an astounding ELO rating of 2800+. Starting his career at eight, Topalov became one of the FIDE world champions in 2005.
37. Ignatz Kolisch
Ignatz Kolisch had his resume full of being a merchant, journalist, and chess master. He championed the Cambridge Congress in 1860 and beat noteworthy names on the board, including Bernhard Horwitz and John Owen.
38. Siegbert Tarrasch
Siegbert Tarrasch was one of the five original grandmasters of chess history. He was deemed the finest in the 1890s, winning several major tournaments and besting Harry Nelson Pillsbury.
39. Samuel Reshevsky
The American chess master Samuel Rechevsky was a prodigy in the board game. He began giving exhibitions by eight and won the U.S. Open Chess Championship in 1931.
40. David Bronstein
Like Reshevsky, Bronstein was a genius in chess who learned the game at six. He won the Moscow Championships six times and faced the then-champion Mikhail Botvinnik in 1951.
41. Paul Keres
Paul Keres was a three-time Soviet champion. He played on gold-winning teams in the Chess Olympiads and was a candidate for the world championship in 1948.
42. Victor Korchnoi
Victor Korchnoi was a prolific chess grandmaster with over 70 years of experience. He was four times USSR champion, Chess Olympiad champion, and a regular in the world championships.
43. William Lewis
English player, teacher, and author William Lewis is a monumental individual best known for his Lewis Counter Gambit. He taught Alexander McDonell, operated the Turk, and wrote several influential books about chess.
44. Alexander McDonell
People of Irish descent would love to know Alexander McDonell, a young chess player in the 1820s with the strength of a grandmaster. McDonell helped found the Westminster Chess Club and contested with Louis de la Bourdonnais six times in a historical match.
45. Hyacinthe Henri Boncourt
Hyacinthe Henri Boncourt was a French chess player from the 1830s to 1840s and a leading figure. He was a Committee of the Paris Chess Club member and the second-best player in France next to De la Bourdonnais.
46. Pierre de Saint-Amant
After the passing of De la Bourdonnais, Pierre de Saint-Amant took the mantle as the strongest in France. However, he lost the match against Howard Staunton in the 1843 match.
47. Adolf Anderssen
Adolf Anderssen, a German master, was a considerable force on the board in the 1850s. He was part of several historical matches including the “Immortal Game” with Kieseritzky and the “Evergreen Game” with Dufresne.
48. Daniel Harrwitz
The German Daniel Harrwitz was among the top five players in the world in his time. He played against countless chess titans like Staunton, Horwitz, Anderssen, Morphy, and Loewenthal.
49. Louis Paulsen
Like Harrwitz, Louis Paulsen was a German chess master who dominated the sport in the 1860s and 1870s. He kept a spectacular unbeaten record and invented various chess openings.
50. George Mackenzie
George Mackenzie is the stuff of chess movies. The Scottish-born prodigy played 13 tournaments in New York, Cleveland, and Chicago, winning every event.
51. Johannes Zuckertort
A student of the great Adolf Anderssen, Johannes Zuckertort was an outstanding name in chess. He vied with heavyweights like Steinitz and Blackburne and beat Winawer in the 1978 Paris Tournament.
52. Joseph Henry Blackburne
With over 50 years of experience, Joseph Blackburne gathered a most excellent match record. He popularized the Blackburne Shilling Gambit, which he used to beat countless challengers.
53. Isidor Arthur Gunsberg
The Hungarian player Isidor Arthur Gunsberg was prominent in the 1880s and 90s. In 1885, he won the London National Tournament and the German Chess Congress the same year.
54. Johann Herman Bauer
Johann Herman Bauer was an Austrian player who won the master title as a youth. He participated in tournaments with behemoths like Emmanuel Lasker and Gyula Makovetz.
55. Mikhail Chigorin
Mikhail Chigorin was a vital figure in the development of chess in Russia. He rose to prominence in the 1870s after winning a Russian national chess tournament in 1879.
56. Harry Nelson Pillsbury
Harry Nelson Pillsbury was dubbed the “shooting star of chess” for his extraordinary skills. The Bostonian player conquered two star-studded tournaments in chess: the Hastings Tournament and the American Championship.
57. Géza Maróczy
The same year Pillsbury won the Hastings, Maróczy won the Hastings for amateurs. Maróczy then stepped into the professional scene, winning five notable international events, making him a contender for the world championship.
58. Akiba Rubinstein
Polish grandmaster Akiba Rubinstein was a remarkable player in the early 20th century. He exhibited an incredible winning streak in 1912, championing five consecutive tournaments.
59. Efim Bugoljubov
Efim Bugoljubov was among the most prolific players of the 21st century, with over 1000 recorded games. He won numerous competitions in Berlin, Kiel, Pistyan, and Stockholm.
60. Aron Nimzowitsch
Aron Nimzowitsch founded the hypermodern chess movement. He was also the number three best chess player in the world from 1925 to 1930, behind Alekhine and Capablanca.
61. Isaac Kashdan
Writer and grandmaster Isaac Kashdan founded Chess Review in 1933 with Al Horowitz. Before that, Kashdan won the U.S. Open two times and tied with Reshevsky in the U.S. Championship.
62. Salomon Flohr
Salomon Flohr was one of the first players to receive the FIDE grandmaster title. He dominated the competitive scene before the World War and was a contender for the championship crown.
63. Reuben Fine
American psychologist and professor Reuben Fine was one of the best players in U.S. history. Fine dominated the U.S. Open seven times at 17 and tied with Paul Teres in the 1938 AVRO.
64. Paul Keres
Paul Keres was an Estonian grandmaster with an excellent chess portfolio. He was a three-time USSR champion, two-time European champion, and 1938 AVRO champion with Reuben Fine.
65. Miguel Najdorf
International grandmaster Miguel Najdorf was one of the 27 individuals who received the first FIDE grandmaster title. Najdorf was a Sicilian defense master and a successful player in the Olympiad history.
66. Lev Pulogaevsk
Two-time Soviet champion Lev Pulogaevsky was an established competitor in the chess scene in the 60s and 90s. Pulogaevsky was a three-time USSR champ and a frequent participant in the world championships.
67. Lajos Portisch
Lajos Portisch is a renowned grandmaster from Hungary. He conquered the Hungarian championship in 1958 and reached number two in the world rank in 1981.
68. Ulf Andersson
Ulf Andersson is an impressive Swedish player with a peak ELO rating of 2640. He was one of the world’s top ten and garnered numerous wins, including Dortmund, Wijk Aan Zee, and Reggio Emilia.
69. Rafael Vaganian
Rafael Vaganian is one of Armenia’s finest chess competitors. After getting his GM title at 19, Vaganian began collecting over 100 wins from prestigious tournaments worldwide.
70. Alexander Beliavsky
Ukrainian Alexander Beliavsky has an impressive peak ELO record of 2700+. He became a four-time Soviet champion and a two-time winner of the Slovenian tournament.
71. Artur Yuzupov
Russian-German Artur Yuzupov belongs on top with names like Karpov and Kasparov. Yuzupov holds an almost legendary record of winning everything save for the world championship.
72. Jan Timman
The Western Europe’s finest Jan Timman is a grandmaster through and through. Aside from winning the Dutch championship nine times, Timman also carved his name in tournaments like Wijk Aan Zee and Hastings.
73. Vassily Ivanchuk
Like Beliavsky, Vasily Ivanchuk is a Ukrainian player deemed second in the world on three occasions. He participated and won in tournaments against other GMs like Anand, Radjabov, and Carlsen.
74. Gata Kamsky
Grandmaster Gata Kamsky is a former Soviet junior who learned the game when he was seven. He championed numerous competitions as a teen before migrating to the U.S. and becoming the U.S. champion five times.
75. Alexander Morozevich
Two-time Russian champion Alexander Morozevich is a grandmaster with a remarkable record. He competed in two world championships and represented his country in medal-decorated Olympiad games.
76. Peter Leko
Hungarian super grandmaster Peter Leko was once the youngest person to receive the grandmaster title. As a young GM, Leko once bested the legendary Vladimir Kramnik in Belgrade in 1995.
77. Peter Svidler
Russian chess grandmaster Peter Svidler is a decorated player. He was Russia’s champion eight times and represented the country in award-winning Olympiad tournaments multiple times.
78. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
79. Levon Aronian
As an esteemed prodigy, Levon Aronian earned his grandmaster title in his teens. He then championed the FIDE World Cup and Chess960 twice and continued to win the 2008 Rapids and 2009 Blitz championships.
80. Teimor Radjabov
Hailing from the same city as Kasparov, Teimor Radjabov proved himself as astounding a player as his predecessor. Ranked 16 as of 2023, Radjabov emerged victorious in the 2019 FIDE World Cup.
81. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Through Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the French have proven that they remain one of the top contenders in the game. Vachier-Lagrave earned the grandmaster title by 14 and has been consistently ranked among the top players of today.
82. Ding Liren
Learning the game at age four, Ding Liren is a proper genius of the board game. He is the current (2023) world champion after defeating Ian Nepomniachtchi, unseating Carlsen.
83. Fabiano Caruana
American grandmaster Fabiano Caruana is another chess prodigy to climb the peak of chess competitions. He was a U.S. champion twice and contested for the world champ title against GM Carlsen in 2018.
84. Hikaru Nakamura
Before Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura was America’s youngest grandmaster at age 15. He has five U.S. Championships, peaking at an astonishing ELO rating of 2816.
85. Alireza Firouzja
Our time has no shortage of chess geniuses, and Alireza Firouzja is one of them. Two-time Iranian champion Firouzja is the second youngest player who reached a 2700 ELO rating.
86. Wesley So
Super grandmaster Wesley So is a Filipino-American chess player making waves in the competitive scene. So got his grandmaster title at 14 and immediately crossed the 2600 ELO rating by 15.
87. Anish Giri
Four-time Dutch champ Anish Giri is a world-class player mixed with names like Carlsen, Caruana, and Nakamura. He was ranked number three worldwide after attaining an ELO rating of 2802 in 2015.
88. Ian Nepomniachtchi
Ian Nepo was a two-time Russian champion. He’s championed notable chess tours such as World Rapids and Blitz Championships, beating several titans off the game.
89. Gukesh D
Gukesh D is a rising chess star of today’s competitive scene. At 17, Gukesh D became the youngest player in history to cross the 2750 ELO mark.
90. Richard Rapport
Hungarian-Romanian grandmaster Richard Rapport is a fan-favorite player for his creative playstyle. Rapport’s recent achievements include winning the 2020 Danzhou and 2022 Belgrade FIDE Grand Prix.
91. Sergey Karjakin
Elite Russian player Sergey Karjakin was the youngest GM in 2002 at age 12. Known for his defensive techniques, Karjakin topped the World Cup, Blitz, and Rapids between 2012 and 2015.
92. Lienier Dominguez Perez
Cuban champion Lienier Perez is a consistent name in the contemporary chess world’s top 20 players. He reached a 2700 ELO rating in 2008 and beat Ivanchuk in the World Blitz Championship.
93. Le Quang Liem
Known for his speed and top-notch skills, Vietnamese Le Quang Liem is famous for winning the 2013 Blitz Championship, even beating GM Carlsen.
94. Alexander Grischuk
Alexander Grishchuk’s unrivaled performance in the Blitz arena sets him apart from others. Grishchuk secured three World Blitz Championships, a rare achievement in the chess scene.
95. Jan-Krzysztof Duda
Young grandmaster and Polish champion Jan Duda is one of the youngest GMs who reached a 2700 ELO rating. His recent success includes winning the 2021 FIDE World Cup.
96. Wei Yi
Elite tournament wins, national titles, and international medals are part of Wei Yi’s portfolio. Born in China, Yi cemented his spot in the upper echelon of the chess board.
97. Vidit Santosh Gujrathi
Vidit Gujrathi is a proud product of India’s centuries of chess tradition. The 28-year-old GM recently conquered the 2018 Tata Steel Challengers and the 2019 Biel Tournament.
98. Vincent Keymer
At age six, Vincent Keymer qualified for the German U10 Championships. Keymer most notably won the 2018 Grenke Open, beating over 49 grandmasters that participated.
99. Nikita Vitiugov
Author and grandmaster Nikita Vitiugov belongs to the current top 50 players in the world. His most remarkable achievements include winning the Grenke Open and Gibraltar Masters.
100. Abhimanyu Mishra
Unseating Kerjey Karjakin, Indian-American Abhimanyu Mishra is the newest youngest GM in history. Mishra currently has an ELO rating of 2585.
Chess has been around for 1500 years. And it sure collected numerous illustrious individuals—even geniuses—as its avid players worldwide.
So, which of the greatest chess players in history is your favorite?