Top 5 Greatest Chess Players Of All Time: Unbiased Review

Reviews / By Andrew Hercules
top 5 greatest chess players of all time

People always like to debate who is the best chess player of all time. Well, in this article, I’m going to reveal to you the top 5 greatest players in chess history. Everyone’s top list is different and opinions play a large part. Therefore, to be as less partial as possible, I will be ranking them based on three important factors:

  1. Tournament wins: This is the most obvious evidence of proving one’s skills.
  2. Dominance over contemporaries: In chess, it is possible to avoid matches against certain players. For example, Grandmaster Alekhine once defeated the former world champion Capablanca but then he later dodged him twice by not playing in the same tournament. Alekhine never really gave Capablanca a chance to play a rematch.
  3. Longevity: This simply means how long the player has remained at the top level.

Please note that this is my personal 5 best chess players, which means that there will be many world champions and legends left behind.

Here are the top 5 greatest chess players of all time:

  1. Garry Kasparov
  2. Anatoly Karpov
  3. Magnus Carlsen
  4. Bobby Fischer
  5. Emanuel Lasker

Top 5 Greatest Chess players

#5 Emanuel Lasker

emanuel lasker

His contemporaries used to say that Lasker used a psychological approach to the game of chess and that he sometimes deliberately play inferior moves to confuse the opponent. He was the longest World Chess Champion for 27 years as he dominated the chess world!

Before Emanuel Lasker became champion, he had to defeat Wilhelm Steinitz in a series of matches. Steinitz was the first ever World Chess Champion. Below is a table showing Emanuel Lasker’s wins and losses against his strongest contemporaries.

Emanuel Lasker’s Achievements


Opponent Emanuel Wins Emanuel Loss
Steinitiz 10 5
Steinitz (rematch) 10 2
Marshall 8 0
Tarrasch 8 3
Schlechter 1 1
Janowski 8 0

As you can see, Lasker had an impressive match record. In 1897, he defended his title against Marshall and won a flawless match with a result of 8 wins and 0 losses. The following year he beat Tarrasch and Schlechter which was the hardest successful defense of his title.

Because Emanuel Lasker was the reigning champion for 27 years and defended his title 5 times, he certainly deserves to go down on this list as one of the top 5 greatest chess players of all time.

#4 Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer

Yes, I know some of you would put him right at the top. Bobby Fischer is arguably the most dominant player to ever play the game of chess in his prime. After having a 20 game winning streak in the early 1970’s, Fischer once again made chess history in 1972 with the defeat of the soviet union Boris Spassky at Iceland’s World Chess Championships.

It was the first time an American chess player had won the title. Fischer’s defeat of a soviet opponent which was known as the “match of the century “took on iconic proportions in the middle of the cold war and was seen as a symbolic victory of democracy over communism. Fischer’s victory made chess even more popular in the United States as he crushed Grandmaster Larsen by a score of 6-0 which were shocking results.

However, Fischer’s tournament record was not impressive at all. Besides winning U.S.A championships which were not the strongest events in the world by any means, Fischer only got 8 tournament wins during the dominant years from 1967 to 1972.  This means that Bobby Fischer only dominated the world of chess for 5 years. After defeating Spassky with a result of 7 wins and 3 losses, Fischer refused to play young Anatoly Karpov who also defeated Spassky with a result of 4 wins and 1 loss.

Spassky on the left vs young Anatoly Karpov on the right

Recommended book by Bobby Fischer: Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess

Summarizing Bobby Fischer’s achievements

  • Reigned for three years as world champion
  • First American to win title
  • Defeated Spassky +7 3L

Why he didn’t make my number #1

  • Only dominated the world of chess for 5 years.
  • Refused to play young Karpov who also crushed Spassky 4-1 the next year.
  • Overrated and idolized as what he represented. (“One guy from the west fighting against a whole soviet machine”).

#3 Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen

 This young chess genius is world champion since 2013. In the May of 2014 rankings, Magnus Carlsen achieved an all time high record of 2882 elo points. He has not only dominated the classical time control, but he’s also number one in speed chess known as blitz and rapid.

In 2014, Magnus Carlsen went onto to claim the World Blitz Championship and the first player to ever hold titles in all three FIDE rated time controls. Starting from 2010 to 2018, he was clearly the best tournament player in the world.

Carlsen’s head to head scores proves that he is dominating in the world of chess. Out of 43 chess grandmasters with elo rating of 2700+, only two of them had positive scores against Magnus Carlsen.

Summarizing Magnus Carlsen’s Current Achievements

  • World Champion since 2013
  • Had highest rating of all time (2882 elo points)
  • In 2014 he was the first ever to be a world champion in all time controls
  • Out of 2700+ grandmasters, only 3 have positive results against him, 2 out of them have 3 wins combined.

Although Magnus is the best for 8 years now, I don’t think that’s enough to be greater than the last two on my list.

#2 Anatoly Karpov

Anatoly Karpov

In my opinion, Anatoly Karpov is the most underrated World Chess Champion in history. His stats against the almighty Kasparov was 21 wins, 28 losses and 121 draws. Therefore, he was as close as one could possibly be. Anatoly Karpov won the world championship title without the final match.

Unlike Fischer who felt that he had been handed the title, Karpov wanted to prove that he is worthy of it. In the next decade, Karpov entered every major tournament and won the majority of them. To illustrate Karpov’s dominance over his peers as champion, his scores were as follows:

Opponent Win Loss Draw
Spassky 11 2
Hubner 5
Andersson 6 1
Smyslov 3 1
Tal 1 16
Jubo jevic 10 2

Note: Anatloy Karpov was a world champion for 10 years!

 Before we go to the first place, I would like to show you some of my honorable mentions who did not get to make the top 5.


Honorable Mentions

Wilhelm Steinitz

Jose Raul Capablanca

Alexandar Alekhine

Max Euwe

Mikhail Tal

Tigran Petrosian

Boris Spassky

Paul Morphy

Vladimir Kramnik

Vishwanathan Anand

Victor Korcnoi


#1 Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov was the greatest to ever touch the pieces. He was a killer at the board because of his aggressive style and energy. He was the most dominating force in chess for almost 20 years. An undisputed #1 who broke numerous records.

In the span between 1981 to 1990, he took the first place in 15 consecutive tournament. Don’t forget that during that period he also played 5 matches against Anatoly Karpov. From 1998 to 2001, he won 10 consecutive super tournament. In the Olympiads he has won 5 individual gold medals, and Russia won the chess Olympiad all eight times when Kasparov played for the team.

Garry Kasparov was the number one rated player in the world for 2 decades. His domination started in 1985 and ended virtually with his retirement in 2005.

Although retired, Garry has managed to create his own masterclass to help chess players of all level around the world get better at chess. After beating Bobby Fischer’s peak rating and outranking his fiercest competitors for over twenty years, Garry is now ready to share the chess strategy that made him a six-time world champion. Through detailed lessons, including his favorite openings and advanced tactics, you will develop the instincts and philosophy to become a stronger player. Click this link to join his Masterclass today!

So there you have it, the 5 best chess players of all time. It was so hard to make this list because there are hundreds of legendary grandmasters who I might have missed. Let me know in the comments who are your top 5 favorite chess players. Cheers 🙂

Post you may like: How to think like a grandmaster

Andrew Hercules

Hercules Chess, launched in 2020, is a website that teaches you about chess. We started as a chess blog and became a chess training platform in early 2022.

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