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The 10 Best

This is a page that I thought of creating YEARS ago, but only got around to gathering material for it in a notebook in 2003.  (First posted, March, 2004.)  

This is a page that will be dedicated to the list of the  "Ten Best"  players ... in virtually ever conceivable category. The best opening players, the best middle-game players, the ten-best attackers, the ten best end-game players, etc, etc, etc. I may also further sub-divide the players into categories like the best "King's Indian Players," the best R+P endgame players, etc. 

This is a page NOT to learn from, but one to have fun with!! It is also for the fan of lists out there, and my experience with my web site has shown there is considerable enthusiasm for this subject. Naturally, you don't have to agree with my list ... or even like them!  (Just read them.)

The Ten Greatest Opening Players of all time.

I am almost clueless here. Do I consider players who only have won the World Championships? (I don't think so.) Do I only consider strong players, or do I simply judge players ONLY based on the merit and size of their contributions to opening theory? 

  1. GM Robert J. ("Bobby") Fischer - Perhaps unpopular today because of his anti-Semitic views and the horrible statements (that he made) in the wake of the 9-11 tragedy. But without doubt few players ever studied the opening more than Bobby Fischer did. One GM told me he had ideas in ALL openings, not just the ones that he played. Too bad he never wrote a book on the openings, I am sure it would have been filled with many great ideas. He is also one of the most creative players of all time. (Soltis and Kavalek rate Fischer as being in the "Ten Greatest" King-Pawn players as well.) 

  2. GM Akiba Rubinstein - Maybe the player who contributed the most to the opening phase of the game, the number of systems that bear his name are almost too great to count!!! Truly a creative player. 

  3. Wilhem Steinitz - A true chess genius, Lasker referred to this player as, "The greatest chess thinker of all time ... worthy of any Professor's seat in a top University."  Almost every major opening system has a variation in it that can be traced directly to Steinitz!  

  4. Garry Kasparov - Easily one of the best players of all time. His team had his openings researched in a manner - and so deeply - that most of us cannot appreciate how much of his victories were due to his opening preparation. 

  5. Next? 


The Ten Greatest Middle-Game Players of all time.

The guys who were the greatest or best in the middle-game. 

  1. GM Alexander A. Alekhine - Without question, one of the most creative players of the middle-game who ever lived. And I am not talking about just attacks, but his ideas were on a grand scale few can match. 

  2. GM Mikhail Botvinnik - It is not commonly known, but he was an extremely creative thinker as well. His ability to make a plan for almost any type of position has no equal or parallel. 

  3. GM Robert J. Fischer - He knew when to attack, when to squeeze you, and when to take you into the endgame. His instincts were simply superb. 

  4. GM Garry Kasparov - Many list him as the greatest player of all time. Certainly his ability to plan and his ability to calculate were as good as almost any other player who ever lived. I have studied his games ever since he first appeared on the chess scene, and without doubt, he is one of the most interesting and creative players of all time. 

  5. Next? 

The Ten Greatest Attacking Players of all time.

I am not talking about middle-games here ... JUST the ability to attack. And who was best at it? 

  1. GM Garry K. Kasparov - Without question, his ability to breath life into a dull position or create something out of nothing makes him possibly the greatest attacker of all time. Another aspect of Garry's play that is NOT widely appreciated, is his ability to time his attack. They generally reach their crescendo just as the first time control is looming. Further - Garry has an almost mystical way of luring his opponent's pieces to one side of the board, and then suddenly striking on the other. 

  2. GM Mikhail Tal - No question in my mind, he is both one of the greatest attackers who ever lived, and maybe the finest pure tactician to ever grace the chess board. His combinations will please fans as long as chess is appreciated. 

  3. GM Robert J. Fischer - Having deeply annotated many of his best games, I can safely say that he is one of the best attackers of all times. He won too many games, too many tournaments, and enough brilliancy prizes to more than earn his way onto this list. Some of his games still have no modern parallel. 

  4. GM Alexander A. Alekhine - No argument here, simply one of the best. 
    Some of his attacks are still the models for certain positions. Truly a great one. 

  5. Paul Morphy - This player would probably not - completely - understand chess today, but he remains one of the most feared and virulent attackers that the game has ever known. In open positions, he had few equals ... and NO superiors!!! 

  6. Adolph Anderssen - One of the most feared attackers of the 19th Century, one has only to study his "Immortal Game" or "The Evergreen Partie" to understand here was a player who knew how to attack. He was also one of the finest natural tacticians who ever lived, probably only second to the great Latvian, M. Tal. 

  7. IM Rashid Nezhmetdinov - This player might not have ever won the World's  Championship, but he had a plus score against a few of the players who did! He also has to be one of the greatest and most feared attackers of all time. One only has to study his masterpiece of attack vs. Polugaeyevsky or his other great game vs. Chernikov to understand what a great player he really was. Within the last five years I have acquired like 3-4 different books on this player. Having carefully studied his games, I can honestly say he was one of the most electric and energetic attackers who ever played. (His one really great weakness was that he often attacked when a game clearly called for other measures.) 

  8. GM Boris Spassky - I don't know if it is real or not, but I recently received an e-mail from a Japanese fellow who claimed to be in communication with Bobby Fischer. (Nov. '04) He told me that Fischer said I needed to include Boris Spassky in my list. Spassky was one of the best attackers of all time, he was also a player who was hailed by many as on of the greatest UNIVERSAL players, i.e., he could play virtually any opening - or any position - with equal élan and enthusiasm. 

  9. Next? 

The Ten Greatest End-game Players of all time.

This list comes from  GM Andy Soltis's  book:  "THE Book of Chess Lists,"  Second Edition. And while the original inspiration comes from Soltis's book, I have felt free to change this list as I saw fit. By the way, the list was originally compiled for Soltis by GM Pal Benko. (Benko has played in many National Championships. He was twice a Candidate for the World's Championship. And he is probably the greatest living judge AND composer of endgame problems today!!) 

  1. GM Akiba Rubinstein - Without question one of the greatest chess masters of all time, and also one of the greatest endgame players who ever lived. His R+P endings still have no peers, even today. 
    (One tournament book opined that if Rubinstein had won this particular R+P ending 100 years before, he would have been burned at the stake for using witchcraft!!)

  2. GM Jose R. Capablanca - Without question, one of the finest end-game players who ever lived. Chernev wrote a whole book on the best endings that Capa played. I studied these deeply before I was a teenager, and without question this is at least one of the reasons that I eventually became a Master. (Fischer disputed Capa's mastery of the end-game, but I think he was completely out of his tree on this one.) 

  3. GM Vassily Smyslov - I have several books on this player and I have deeply studied many of his games. Without question - for nearly 25 years - this player may have been easily the finest end-game player on the planet. His endings are still studied and part of the basic technique of most masters today ... even if they do not know it. Smyslov also contributed heavily to the theory of the endings, having written dozens of fine articles and co-authored at least one landmark book on this subject. He also composed many beautiful end-game problems. 
    (Honorable mention: GM Mikhail Botvinnik.) 

  4. GM Bobby Fischer - Bobby was soooo good, in his prime, if he got a favorable position against you (in the endgame); you were just toast. 

  5. GM Geza Maroczy - A great player, at one time he was ranked #2 in the world by statistician, Jeff Sonas. He also won several of the strongest tournaments held around the turn of the 20th Century. Benko sites his endings, especially his  Q+P end-games,  as of being of special note. (This player also contributed greatly to other areas of the game. Ever hear of ... "The MAROCZY BIND" ... in the Sicilian?) He also wrote extensively on the ending for many different magazines. 

  6. GM Sammy Reshevsky - No big surprise to me ... I have studied many of his games, once having a small book of his games as a boy. Reshevsky - in the mid-1950's - was probably also the strongest and best chess player on the planet. (Fischer ranked him in the ten greatest players of all time.)  Benko - having played Reshevsky close to fifty times in serious tournament play  -  would be very capable of judging Sammy's abilities in the final phase of a chess game. 

  7. GM Emanuel Lasker - A former World Champion, the Russians rated his ability as second to none in the end-game! 

  8. GM Richard Reti - According to Benko, he was a great player ... but belongs here mostly because of the absolute beauty of his many composed end-games. They are true masterpieces in this field! 

  9. GM Reuben Fine  and  GM Yuri Averbakh - Both players, while never having won the World's Championship, were extremely strong players in their own right. (Fine was the co-winner of A.V.R.O. 1938, which was supposed to determine a challenger to Alekhine. Averbakh won one of the strongest Soviet Championships of all time ... with a score that most modern players only dream of attaining.) But they belong here - on this list - by virtue of their WRITINGS, their research and analysis, and their (many) books on this subject!! (Benko) 

  10. GM Tigran Petrosian - While not a widely appreciated facet of the great master of defense, this  {former}  World Champion was also superb in the ending. Few players could test him in this aspect! 

  11. GM Pal Benko - A very strong player ... at one time he was EASILY in the "Top Five" in the world. (Early 1960's.)  He also has written about the ending for "Chess Life" for as long as I can remember. He also has composed and judged more endings than anyone else who has ever lived. Without question, IMOHO, this player belongs on this list. 

 ---> Honorable Mention: GM Bobby Fischer ... who played a few himself. 

  More lists coming ... so stay tuned!!!  

 The Ten Greatest Tournament Players of all time 

  1. Emanuel Lasker  - No  player participated in more of the greatest chess tournaments ever played. (Hastings, 1895; The great Moscow tournaments; Nottingham, 1936; etc.) No one player ever won more of his fair share of these epic events. (St. Petersburg 4-way Match Tournament, 1895-95; Nuremburg, 1896; London, 1899; Paris, 1900; St. Petersburg, 1914; New York, 1924; etc.)  No wonder many of the older writers call him: "The greatest tournament player who ever lived." Is he the greatest tournament player who ever lived?  This is possibly so!! 

  2. Garry Kasparov  - Easily one of the greatest (and highest-rated) players of all time ... I think he belongs on anyone's "Top Ten" list. But Kasparov's tournament performances ... having won many times more of the "Super Tournaments" tournaments of the last 25 years than any other player ... is probably the best tournament player of the last 50-75 years. Consider: For nearly a decade, Garry won or tied for first in EVERY MAJOR TOURNAMENT THAT HE PLAYED IN!!! (A record that may NEVER be equaled!)   He also won 10 "Super-Tournaments" (Category 16 or higher) in a row. Need I say more? (This is maybe the only player I can place on the list that I do no not feel compelled to list a few of his tournament wins!)  

  3. Robert J. ("Bobby") Fischer - At the peak and height of his power, few could stand before him. He also won quite a few  VERY  strong tournaments. He is also the only player who can say that he won his National Championship Tournament ...  every single time that he competed in it. (This feat will probably NEVER be equaled!!) 

  4. Next? 

"No less an authority than Aaron Nimzovich once said that there were six great defensive players in (chess) history: Wilhelm Steinitz, Louis Paulsen, Emanuel Lasker, Amos Burn, Odrich Duras, --- and Ossip Bernstein." 
 - GM Andrew Soltis. (His book,  "The 100 Best,"  Game # 61; page # 167.)  

Several other players were known for being very good at defense, at least in their day. Both Sammy Reshevsky and M. Botvinnik come to mind for the period of the 1950's. (Others?)  

  The Ten Greatest Defensive Players ... of all time.   

  1. {former} World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz - Without question, one of the greatest players of all time. In fact, he is the Grand-father of all defenses ...  and defensive players who have ever lived. (He formulated most - or all - of the concepts behind the defense that we know and use today!!)

  2.  {former} World Champion, Tigran Petrosian - No other player played the defense like he did, in fact defense became the hallmark of his style. Great attackers would throw themselves wildly at him, pound away for 20-30 moves ... and then lose (in) the end-game! (There is also a direct connection between Petrosian and Nimzovich. Petrosian said he had studied Nimzo's games - and also his book, "My System" - and that this was one of the greatest influences on his career as a whole.) 

  3. {former} World Champion, Emanuel Lasker - Not only was he a great defensive player ... not only was he one of the greatest at pure calculation of tactics ... not only was he legendary for being nearly impossible to defeat even in the worst of positions ... he played MANY {grossly} inferior positions to a win!! IN this area, he was second to none!!  Q.E.D. 

  4. A player  not  mentioned by  Aaron Nimzovich ... or GM Andy Soltis ...  could very well be  ...  Howard Staunton.  
    The other night (Late April, 2004.) someone e-mailed me a chess game. (Not one of Staunton's.) At first I thought it was a fake, but I had to dig through several chess books to verify it. On one of the pages next to the game I was looking for was a game of Staunton's, I was VERY impressed with his conduct of the defence. (Maybe it was games like this that caused Fischer to rate this player so highly?) In any case, I would have to say that if this player played all of his games in this fashion, he was definitely ahead of his time. (He was also considered to be one of the best players in the world after defeating the leading French player of that time.) 

  5. Without question another player that DEFINITELY belongs on this list would have to be the one and only, the great  (GM)  Viktor Korchnoi. What other player has taken the risks he has? Who else would dare to capture some of the (so-called) "Poisoned Pawns" that this player has taken? And  many have rated him as one of the greatest players who have ever lived. (He has an admirable style. Since I first wrote this, Korchnoi won clear first at a very strong tournament. This guy just refuses to grow old!! I hope he keeps it up!) 

  6. Next? 

<<Message; Thursday, October 20, 2011 9:31 AM

I think that perhaps a top 10 list for "best technical ability" would be an interesting addition. Some of the obvious names would be Kramnik, Karpov, Fischer, and Botvinnik, just off the top of my head. I also noticed that there was no list for the greatest positional/strategic players of all time. A lot of the names for such a list would also be fairly obvious, such as Petrosian, Smyslov, Capablanca, and Rubinstein, along with everyone I mentioned already on the Technical list (the two skill-sets are of coarse closely related), but I think you might come up with names that would surprise some people (an example being the addition of Rashid Nezhmetdinov on the greatest-attackers list). I think this is part of what makes lists like these fun and helpful to Chess-players: they draw attention to great players that are often overlooked. Here are two quotes about players I would nominate for the Best-Technique list: Tal commenting on Fischer: "I consider Fischer's most characteristic feature to be his technical ability, which has reached that of automaton. On no account can you allow Fischer a position in which he has an advantage "for free." Fischer plays such positions like no one else, with an almost 100% guarantee of converting this advantage into a win." From Garry Kasparov's "My Great Predecessors," Vol. 4., page 491 Yasser Seirawan relating a story about Botvinnik: "Garry Kasparov once told me a story which went like this: he had an adjourned ending in which he had pawn and Bishop for the exchange and was worried whether he could hold the position. He telephoned Botvinnik and after explaining the material imbalance got a question in return. "Does your Bishop have a square on which it is firmly anchored?" asked Botvinnik. "No," Garry told him. "Then you are lost." This discussion took place before Garry had given him the actual position. Indeed, further analysis by Garry proved Botvinnik to be correct. "Yasser, it was extraordinary. He immediately put his finger on the very heart of the position. I've never forgotten." From Yasser Seirawan's "Chess Duels", page 50. I would like to add that in my opinion, Technique can be spoken of in both the middle-game and the end-game. Botvinnik's mastery of the IQP tabia also points to his vast technical knowledge relative to other great players of his time. I believe it was Lasker who was first quoted as saying that one of the hardest things to do in Chess is to win a "won" game, which makes any examples or discussion of good technique very important to anyone who wants to improve their Chess. I might try to define what Technique in Chess is something like this: Knowledge and comprehension of previously studied end-game positions and middle-game tabias, combined with the ability to translate such understanding into meaningful, concrete variations at the board. After all, it is one thing to have knowledge, it is quite another to actually be able to use it in practical situations, and I think of good Technique in Chess as being the synergistic effect that results from the combination of those two elements. Maybe a simpler way to say it is "How well can a given player make use of their theoretical knowledge in practical, over-the-board situations?" My e-mail is ___________ if you have any thoughts to share :)

This e-mail was so interesting that I decided to share it in its entirety! (Friday / October 28th, 2011.) 

Chris B. sent me an e-mail this past week... suggesting Karpov as one of the great all-time defenders. I will only respond by saying that he was one of the greatest all-time players AND a World Champion. In order to become World Champion ... and having won many top tournaments ... I know what Karpov was great in all areas of the game. However, I am not sure if defense was really his main focus or if this is what he was known for. (March 28th, 2012) 


Of course, if you don't like my lists ... feel free to create your own!! 

PLEASE!!!!   Send me  your ideas and suggestions! (But stick to famous players.)  

Several readers have asked me to come up with a "Ten Worst" list. (I am open to ideas here.)  

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