Who Is the Greatest Chess Player?

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July 9 2014 12:33 PM

Who Is the Greatest Chess Player?

Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov marks down a move during the final match against chess supercomputer Deep Junior in the the Man vs. Machine chess championship in 2003 in New York City.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by John Fernandez, 2133 FIDE, @jfernandez:


We can't answer Magnus Carlsen—not yet. His future is still ahead of him. We also can't answer Paul Morphy—in his day no one else was very good, and he got through everyone like a hot knife through butter. I present to you five options:

  • Player A scored 77 percent with white and 69 percent with black. Won the World Championship.
  • Player B scored 67 percent with white and 68 percent with black. Won the World Championship.
  • Player C scored 80 percent with white and 64 percent with black. Won the World Championship.
  • Player D scored 72 percent with white and 63 percent with black. Won the World Championship.
  • Player E scored 72 percent with white and 56 percent with black. Won the World Championship.

You'd agree Player A and Player C jump out at you as the best, right?

Player B is José Raúl Capablanca, Player D is Mikhail Botvinnik, and Player E is Anatoly Karpov.

Player A and Player C? You probably guessed it. Bobby Fischer is Player A, and Garry Kasparov is Player C.

Now, yes, maybe winning percentage is an imperfect way of calculating this, but strength means wins. In terms of raw percentages, Kasparov seems the most impressive, until you look at:

  • Garry Kasparov: 2,532 games, was World Champion for 15 years (eight if you believe FIDE, which you shouldn't)
  • Bobby Fischer: 954 games, was World Champion for three years

Case closed. It's Garry Kasparov—unless some young Norwegian talent outdoes him.

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