The Grandmaster on his ten greatest chess players
I begin with Bobby Fischer. His accomplishment of becoming the first non-Soviet world
champion is remarkable. Chess was not very popular in the United States before Bobby Fischer came along. He didn't get the kind of support athletes and other sportspersons in the US received. Yet, he managed to take on the whole State and defeat a lot of players.
I must say a lot of those players he defeated were his contemporaries from the Soviet Union who were all-time greats. He also won over the best of the best. Just for those two years, he would be in my list. And, of course, the rating performance he achieved at that point is pretty unique.
Another player from the century that I like very much is Paul Morphy. He too was an
American and was caught in very similar circumstances. He just appeared from nowhere and it was only thirty or forty years later that people understood why he was so dominant. His understanding of chess at the point was at least forty years ahead of the rest of the world. For the era in which he lived the kind of chess he played was unbelievable.
I would include Emmanuel Lasker for his long reign. Lasker took over from Wilhelm Steinitz and he
continued his reign for well over two decades. That is quite remarkable. With Lasker, I cannot pinpoint one or two accomplishments. All I can say is that he managed to keep his style for such a long period. He remained World Champion well into the age nowadays people retire as chess players.
I would definitely include Jose Raul Capablanca. He was someone with natural talent. Capablanca
tended not to work very hard. I would say the myth of him not working at all is just a myth. He certainly worked hard on his chess but worked much less than his contemporaries. His record of staying undefeated for six years or so was pretty amazing.
Also Wilhelm Steinitz. I wouldn't say he was one of the greatest chess
players. But he was the first one who actually developed an understanding of chess and formally
formulated a whole bunch of clear rules for chess. It became like principles, which could then be developed. He
started the scientific study of chess.
Many people attribute the title of the official World Champion to
him. Morphy was the World Champion when the title did not exist. He was just the best player in
the world. Steinitz was the first one to become World Champion.
Mikhail Tal will definitely feature in my list for his pure chess results. He was certainly a great
player but his results don't match up to many of the other World Champions. But his tactical style of playing was really remarkable. He opened up a new way of looking at chess. People at that time did not realise how rich a game chess was. It was very scientific and technical and he suddenly showed that they could just ignore all those rules and enjoy the game.
Victor Korchnoi is someone who managed his career spans from the forties to the early fifties to
the present. He is still active. He never became World Champion but I think he should have rightfully won in 1978. Certainly Karpov crushed him in 1981 but in 1978 Korchnoi deserved to win the World Championship. He was just unlucky that he had defected from the Soviet Union. So, he had to fight the
might of the whole USSR.
In the same breath, I would include Paul Keres. He is a player who is really well known because he
never became World Champion. But he challenged the world title all the way from the 1940s, in
fact you can say his career started a little bit earlier than people think because he lost many years
during the Second World War when there was no World Championship. He played for the title in
1948 -- a decade or so later. He was playing for the world title well into the 60s. Korchnoi
and Keres are two people whom I would include despite the fact that they were not World
Finally I would have to include Karpov and Kasparov. Kasparov has broken so many ratings. But
his career is not finished. I would include Karpov for his tournament record. For the fact that he was
a World Champion for ten years. It is a little bit tricky because he has been accused of receiving a
lot of help. May be you can say, it is not clear whether he has asked for help. So, we should not hold it
As told to Shobha Warrier
Tell us what do you think of this list?