The Greatest Chess Players Of All Time: Top 5

Ranking great chess players is a difficult task, as ratings are constantly fluctuating, and new players are regularly emerging onto the evolving chess scene. However, throughout history, a number of players have distinguished themselves as 'the greats'.

While it's difficult to rank in realtime, it's much easier for experts to look back at data, and decide which players have (through their ratings and years spent competing) qualified as the top 5 in the world. This retrospective look at players also allows us to understand why these players are ranked so highly, and more importantly, how they managed to achieve such spectacular ratings- particularly in the face of such fierce competition.

All of the players listed below are ranked as the greatest chess players of all time. While FIDE's annual list will not reflect the players assembled here, we've assembled a selection of the highest rated players ever. All players are, incidentally, still alive and competing.

Spot #5 Viswanathan Anand

Viswanathan Anand is currently ranked as 5th greatest chess player of all time, with an Elo rating of 2817. He has won the FIDE World Championships 5 times, and was ranked as indisputable Champion of the World for a record breaking number of months.

Anand is an Indian player, and his astounding achievements were recognized by the Indian government, who awarded him the highest ranking civilian sports honor. Anand attributes his success to his mother, and much like other chess champions, has stated that his longstanding career in chess began during his formative years.

At the age of 15, he was awarded the prestigious International Master title by FIDE, and was the youngest Indian to ever receive this title. However, according to his biography, Anand first began playing chess at the tender age of 6- after receiving lessons from his mother.

Many players have commented on Anand's success, with experts suggesting that he is a very 'versatile' player. Anand has won an extensive number of awards, and is widely regarded as one of the world's greatest players. In 2016, Anand was a participant in the Grand Chess Tour.

Spot #4 Levon Aronian

This Armenian chess player was born into a nation of chess, as the game is a compulsory element in Armenian schools, and the president of Armenia is also the president of the Armenian Chess Federation. Aronian's early exposure to chess led to him developing a distinct passion for the game, that would later evolve into an impressive and highly profitable career, and a celebrity status that is common for chess players in Armenia.

As a young boy, Aronian was homeschooled by parents who both worked in science, and who both valued intellect and logical reasoning. Aronian was quick to learn the inner workings of chess, and in time, grew to become one of the most impressive chess prodigies in Armenian history.

Aronian made history with an Elo rating of 2830, and is consistently viewed as the spearhead for the Armenian chess team, which is consistently ranked as one of the strongest teams in the world. His career was not without struggles, however, as the successful player once suggested that sponsors and fans had their doubts- and dropped him when he showed no signs of progress. In time, however, he proved everyone wrong- and grew to become 4th best player of all time.

Spot #3 Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana holds the lifelong title of Grandmaster. This Italian-American player has earned his spot as third best chess player of all time, with an Elo rating of 2844. Born in 1992, Caruana is a mere 23 years old, but his brief career has proved both inspiring and record breaking.

As Caruana holds dual citizenship, his titles were awarded on both an Italian and American basis. Therefore, when Caruana received the title of Grandmaster at the age of 14, he broke records in both Italy and America as the youngest player to ever be awarded this title.

Much like many of the players on this list, Caruana was a young child when he first discovered a passion for the game. However, his talents were spotted in after school club, and the young boy was fast tracked to success on the basis of his innate abilities.

Interestingly, Caruana's family decided to move to Europe when he was just 12 years old- in the interest of pursuing a professional career for him. For the ten years thereafter, Caruana represented the Italian team, and subsequently achieved his Grandmaster title.

Spot #2 Garry Kasparov

Russian chess sensation Garry Kasparov is a grandmaster, former World Champion of the World and activist. As arguably one of the best known players of all time, Kasparov has built a successful career on his incredible abilities, that resulted in him achieving a 2851 Elo score.

Kasparov was born in Azerbajan, and played for both Russia and the Soviet Union throughout his career. Later in life, he also acquired Croatian citizenship. Kasparov is a record breaking player, that held the honor of being the youngest ever Undisputed Champion of The World.

Kasparov was a chess child prodigy, who was first introduced to chess by his parents, who presented him with a chess problem in need of solving. As a boy, Kasparov attended chess school, and worked under the supervision of some of the greatest players in chess history. At the age of 17, Kasparov achieved the Grandmaster title, and his career continued to progress from thereon.

Spot #1 Magnus Carlsen

At the young age of 25, Magnus Carlsen is regarded as the best chess player of all time, and this is truly no easy feat. With an Elo rating of 2882, and a record as the third youngest Grandmaster of all time, Magnus outcompeted players ten or twenty years older than he was at the time. This former child prodigy is the World Chess Champion, and a record breaking player in numerous regards, particularly in regards to FIDE ratings.

Carlsen was born in Scandinavia and was raised in various nations across the European continent, including Norway- which he is native to. Carlsen always showed an aptitude for logic and, at the age of 2, displayed an intellect by solving puzzles and building complex structures. This continued throughout his childhood, and his formative years were particularly impressive, as he performed consistently above average.

Carlsen's parents were quick to note their son's undeniable abilities, and entered the young boy into numerous tournaments and championships. Carlsen was quickly discovered, and viewed as a rare talent. He was subsequently coached by some of the world's finest players, and was helped in achieving the incredible titles he holds to this day.

The great debate: is chess talent innate?

Many if not all of the world's greatest players began their chess careers at a very young age. Child prodigies are not uncommon in chess, which has led many to wonder whether being talented at chess is innate, or whether it's a skill that must be learned- as with most others.

While there is no definite answer to this question, there are ideas put forward by those who regularly question whether chess players can learn to play at a record breaking level- or whether they had to be born with the talent to do so. As chess involves logical reasoning and high intellect, many argue that certain people are born with an innately higher IQ, and are therefore naturally better at playing chess. This is particularly reasonable, as certain players exhibit their talents during very early and formative years, for example Magnus Carlsen- who first demonstrated his intelligence at the age of 2.

Others, however, argue that innate talent does not exist. Many speculate that we're are all born as blank slates, and that our parents are responsible for teaching us the skills required to become Grandmasters. In many of the examples listed above, the players were homeschooled or raised by intellectual parents who valued logic and reasoning. This suggests that they were raised in an environment was that conducive to high level chess playing.

Practice makes perfect

Regardless of whether a talent for chess is truly innate or not, most would agree that innate talents are irrelevant if they aren't nurtured. Practice is essential to ensuring that players learn techniques, become comfortable in competitive settings, and learn to play against opponents of varying abilities.

While the players listed above are the greatest chess players of all time, and hold impressive and seemingly unachievable records, there is nothing stopping amateurs and novices from pursuing their dreams of being successful chess players. All of the stars listed began their careers with curiosity, and a passion for chess. So long as you are interested, and ready to commit to the game, then it's perfectly feasible that you can achieve success- regardless of whether or not you possess an innate talent.

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