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Who is the best chess player of all time? Who is the most interesting? Would Paul Morphy (born 1837) beat Magnus Carlsen (born 1990) if they could play each other? When it comes to chess, everyone has an opinion, and several methodologies has also been developed in an effort to compare the greatest chess players in history. Statistical methods is one way to go, but they don’t really work for comparing players from different generations that never had a chance to play each other.

For contemporary players, Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) base their ranking list on the elo rating system. This is a statistical model devised by Arpad Elo in 1960 and further elaborated by him in the 1970’s. FIDE adopted it in 1970 and uses it to calculate the relative skill levels of players. The difference in rating between two rated opponents is used as a predictor of the outcome of the match. So, two chess players with identical rating is expected to score the same number of wins. A player rated 100 points above his opponent is expected to score 64 percent. A player rated 200 points above his opponent is expected to score 76 percent.

As of August 2015, there are 99 chess players that has ever reached an elo rating of 2700. Of these 99 players, only nine have reached an elo rating of 2800. The list below display the top twenty elo-rated chess players of all time. As you can see, most of them achieved their top rating in 2005 or later. There are three exceptions: Bobby Fischer (April 1972), Anatoly Karpv (July 1994) and Garry Kasparov (July 1999).

The top 20 elo-rated chess players of all-time

Rank Rating Player When was the player’s best rating first achieved?
1 2882 Magnus Carlsen May 2014
2 2851 Garry Kasparov July 1999
3 2844 Fabiano Caruana October 2014
4 2830 Levon Aronian March 2014
5 2817 Viswanathan Anand March 2011
6 2816 Veselin Topalov July 2015
7 2814 Hikaru Nakamura July 2015
8 2811 Vladimir Kramnik May 2013
9 2810 Alexander Grischuk December 2014
10 2797 Anish Giri February 2015
11 2793 Teimour Radjabov November 2012
12 (tie) 2788 Alexander Morozevich July 2008
12 (tie) 2788 Sergey Karjakin July 2011
12 (tie) 2788 Wesley So February 2015
15 2787 Vassily Ivanchuk October 2007
16 2785 Bobby Fischer April 1972
17 2782 Ding Liren September 2015
18 2780 Anatoly Karpov July 1994
19 2777 Boris Gelfand November 2013
20 (tie) 2775 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov August 2013
20 (tie) 2775 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave February 2015

World Chess Champions

The table below show the World Chess Champions in order of championship wins. In this table, a successful defense of ones title count as a win, even if the match itself was drawn.

Between 1993 and 2006, two rivaling international chess organizations (FIDE and PCA) and both arranged World Chess Championships and crowned World Chess Champions.

Champion Total Undisputed FIDE Classical Years as Undisputed Champion Years as FIDE/Classical Champion Total reign
Emanuel Lasker 6 6 27 27
Garry Kasparov 6 4 2 8 7 15
Anatoly Karpov 6 3 3 10 6 16
Mikhail Botvinnik 5 5 13 13
Viswanathan Anand 5 4 1 6 2 8
Alexander Alekhine 4 4 17 17
Wilhelm Steinitz 4 4 8 8
Vladimir Kramnik 3 1 2 1 6 7
Tigran Petrosian 2 2 6 6
Magnus Carlsen 2 2 2 2
José Raúl Capablanca 1 1 6 6
Boris Spassky 1 1 3 3
Bobby Fischer 1 1 3 3
Max Euwe 1 1 2 2
Vasily Smyslov 1 1 1 1
Mikhail Tal 1 1 1 1
Ruslan Ponomariov 1 1 2 2
Alexander Khalifman 1 1 1 1
Rustam Kasimdzhanov 1 1 1 1
Veselin Topalov 1 1 1 1

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