Famous 20th Century Chess Players

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer
5
Famous As: Chess Grandmaster
Birthdate: March 9, 1943
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died: January 17, 2008

Bobby Fischer began as a chess prodigy in his teens and went on to become the youngest "grandmaster," at 15. His participation in a politically controversial match in Yugoslavia led to the revocation of his U.S. passport and his arrest. He spent the final years of his life in Iceland.

 2 Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen
8
Famous As: World Chess Champion
Birthdate: November 30, 1990
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Tønsberg

At 13, chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen became the youngest grandmaster. His rating of 2,872 was the highest ever in history. He also recorded the longest unbeaten run in chess. Named one of Cosmopolitan’s “sexiest men of 2013,”he  has also modeled for G-Star Raw, owns a chess-app company, and loves football.

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 3 Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov
6
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: April 13, 1963
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Baku

Garry Kasparov is a Russian chess player. A grandmaster, Kasparov is a former World Chess Champion who was ranked No. 1 for 255 months during his career that spanned 21 years. After his retirement, Garry Kasparov focused on writing and politics; he founded a social movement called the United Civil Front, which is part of an opposition coalition in Moscow.

 4 Viswanathan Anand

Viswanathan Anand
4
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: December 11, 1969
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Madras, Tamil Nadu, India

Viswanathan Anand is an Indian chess player and former world champion. The first grandmaster from India, Anand is also one of the few chess players to have gone past an Elo rating of 2800, only the fourth player in history to do so. Renowned for his quick moves, Anand is widely regarded as the greatest rapid player of our time.

 5 Anatoly Karpov

Anatoly Karpov
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Famous As: Former World Chess Champion
Birthdate: May 23, 1951
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Zlatoust, Russia

Russian chess grandmaster, Anatoly Karpov, was the official world champion from 1975 to 1985, before finally being defeated by Garry Kasparov. With over 160 first-place finishes, Karpov is widely considered one of the greatest players in history. Since his retirement, he has involved himself in several humanitarian causes. He has an extensive stamp collection.

 6 Mikhail Tal

Mikhail Tal
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Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: November 9, 1936
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Riga
Died: June 28, 1992

Mikhail Tal was a Soviet Latvian chess player. Widely regarded as one of the best attacking players and a creative genius, Tal was renowned for his unpredictability and improvisation. He was also known as the magician from Riga for his daring, combinatorial playing style. Since 2006, the Mikhail Tal Memorial has been annually held in Moscow to honor Tal's memory.

 7 Boris Spassky

Boris Spassky
4
Famous As: Chess Grandmaster
Birthdate: January 30, 1937
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Boris Spassky is a Russian chess player who held the World Chess Championship title from 1969 to 1972. He was part of the famous World Chess Championship match in 1972 where he lost his championship title to Bobby Fischer of the United States. In Bobby Fischer's 2014 biopic Pawn Sacrifice, Boris Spassky is portrayed by American actor Isaac Liev Schreiber.

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 8 Samuel Reshevsky

Samuel Reshevsky
5
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: November 26, 1911
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Ozorków, Poland
Died: April 4, 1992

 9 Alexander Alekhine

Alexander Alekhine
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Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: October 31, 1892
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
Died: March 24, 1946

Alexander Alekhine was a French and Russian chess player renowned for his imaginative and fierce attacking style. He also possessed great positional and endgame skill, which he used effectively to reign as the World Chess Champion from 1927 to 1935 and then from 1937 to 1946. Also a theoretician, Alexander Alekhine innovated several opening variations, including the Alekhine's Defence.

 10 Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian
4
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: October 6, 1982
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Yerevan, Armenia

 11 Mikhail Botvinnik

Mikhail Botvinnik
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: August 17, 1911
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Repino, Russia
Died: May 5, 1995

Soviet chess player Mikhail Botvinnik was a three-time World Champion. At 14, he defeated the reigning world champion José Raúl Capablanca in an exhibition match. He was also a skilled computer engineer. He adopted a scientific approach to chess and penned several books on chess, too.

 12 Viktor Korchnoi

Viktor Korchnoi
4
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: March 23, 1931
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: June 6, 2016

Viktor Korchnoi was a writer and chess grandmaster. He is widely regarded as one of the best players never to have achieved the World Chess Championship title. He played chess until old age and became the oldest player to be ranked in the top 100 players list when he won the World Senior Chess Championship in 2006 at age 75.

 13 Emanuel Lasker

Emanuel Lasker
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Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: December 24, 1868
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Barlinek, Poland
Died: January 11, 1941

 14 Veselin Topalov

Veselin Topalov
3
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: March 15, 1975
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Ruse, Bulgaria

 15 Tigran Petrosian

Tigran Petrosian
3
Famous As: Chess player, Writer
Birthdate: June 17, 1929
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Tbilisi, Georgia
Died: August 13, 1984

 16 Alexander Grischuk

Alexander Grischuk
3
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: October 31, 1983
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia

Russian super grandmaster Alexander Grischuk is also a three-time World Blitz winner and one of two people to have earned multiple blitz world titles. He has also won four World Team Chess Championship gold medals, including an individual medal, and two Olympiad gold medals. He is married to grandmaster Kateryna Lagno.

 17 Peter Svidler

Peter Svidler
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: June 17, 1976
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg

Russian grandmaster Peter Svidler had started playing chess at age 6. Initially mentored by Andrey Lukin, he later grew up to win the Russian Chess Championship eight times. However, in spite of competing in three World Championship tournaments, he never won the world title. He now appears as a chess commentator.

 18 Vasily Smyslov

Vasily Smyslov
3
Famous As: Chess grandmaster
Birthdate: March 24, 1921
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Moscow, Soviet Union
Died: March 27, 2010

While he created a record with his 17 Chess Olympiad medals, Russian grandmaster Vasily Smyslov has also been a World Chess Champion. He had begun playing chess at age 6, inspired by his chess player father. Initially an opera singer, he stepped into professional chess after being rejected in an audition.

 19 Boris Gelfand

Boris Gelfand
3
Famous As: Chess player, Non-fiction writer
Birthdate: June 24, 1968
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Minsk

Legendary Soviet chess player Boris Gelfand is known for being part of the world’s top 20 players for most of his life. His accomplishments include two Belarusian national titles and a Chess World Cup. An author, too, he has co-written books such as Positional Decision Making in Chess.

 20 Aron Nimzowitsch

Aron Nimzowitsch
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: November 7, 1886
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Riga, Latvia
Died: March 16, 1935

Latvian-born Aron Nimzowitsch escaped to Berlin and then to Copenhagen to avoid being drafted into the army during the Russian Revolution. He is best known for his cult classic book My System, which promotes the Hypermodern school of chess. In spite of repeated attempts, he failed to secure a world title.

 21 Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp
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Famous As: Artist
Birthdate: July 28, 1887
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Blainville-Crevon, France
Died: October 2, 1968
French-American painter and sculptor Marcel Duchamp is remembered for his association with movements such as Cubism and Dadaism. A significant figure in conceptual art, he was against art that was meant to just cater to the eyes. He was also a skilled chess player and carved his own chess set.

 22 Max Euwe

Max Euwe
3
Famous As: Chess player, Mathematician
Birthdate: May 20, 1901
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died: November 26, 1981

 23 Joshua Waitzkin

Joshua Waitzkin
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Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: December 4, 1976
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States

Apart from being an International Master in chess, Joshua Waitzkin has also won several medals in the martial art Taiji and is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His life inspired the book Searching for Bobby Fischer and the movie of the same name. He has also penned two books.

 24 Hou Yifan

Hou Yifan
4
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: February 27, 1994
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Xinghua, China

 25 Bent Larsen

Bent Larsen
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: March 4, 1935
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Thisted, Denmark
Died: September 9, 2010

 26 Demis Hassabis

Demis Hassabis
4
Famous As: Engineer, Chess player
Birthdate: July 27, 1976
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London

Demis Hassabis is a British neuroscientist, artificial intelligence (AI) researcher, entrepreneur, and video game designer. He is credited with co-founding DeepMind for which he is currently serving as the chief executive officer. Over the years, he has won several prestigious awards, such as the Mullard Award. In 2017, he was named among the 100 most influential people in Time 100.

 27 Judit Polgár

Judit Polgár
6
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: July 23, 1976
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary

 28 Alexei Shirov

Alexei Shirov
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: July 4, 1972
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Riga, Latvia

 29 Siegbert Tarrasch

Siegbert Tarrasch
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: March 5, 1862
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Wrocław, Poland
Died: February 17, 1934

 30 Maurice Ashley

Maurice Ashley
4
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: March 6, 1966
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Saint Andrew, Jamaica

 31 Ding Liren

Ding Liren
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: October 24, 1992
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Wenzhou, China

 32 José Raúl Capablanca

José Raúl Capablanca
4
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: November 19, 1888
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Havana, Cuba
Died: March 8, 1942

 33 Richard Farleigh

Richard Farleigh
3
Famous As: Chess player, Investor, Businessperson
Birthdate: November 9, 1960
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Kyabram

Richard Farleigh is an Australian reality television personality and private investor. Apart from investing in major companies like Wolfson Microelectronics and Evolution Group, Farleigh is also credited with setting up an advisory firm called H2O Markets which he launched in 2010. A former chess player, Richard Farleigh has represented Bermuda and Monaco in the 31st and 34th Chess Olympiad respectively.

 34 Lyudmila Rudenko

Lyudmila Rudenko
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: July 27, 1904
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Lubny, Ukraine
Died: February 28, 1986

Ukrainian chess player Lyudmila Rudenko made history by becoming the second world women’s chess champion. Though she had begun playing chess as a child, she took it up seriously while on an economic planning meeting in Moscow. She also evacuated countless children during the Siege of Leningrad.

 35 Yasser Seirawan

Yasser Seirawan
3
Famous As: Chess player, Non-fiction writer
Birthdate: March 24, 1960
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Damascus

 36 Vladimir Kramnik

Vladimir Kramnik
4
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: June 25, 1975
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Tuapse, Russia

Vladimir Kramnik is a Russian chess player who was honored with the prestigious Grandmaster title in 1992. From 2000 to 2006, Kramnik held the Classical World Chess Championship title. From 2006 to 2007, he held the undisputed World Chess Championship title. He has also won three individual medals and three team gold medals at Chess Olympiads.

 37 Nona Gaprindashvili

Nona Gaprindashvili
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: May 3, 1941
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Zugdidi, Georgia

 38 Arpad Elo

Arpad Elo
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: August 25, 1903
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Egyházaskesző, Hungary
Died: November 5, 1992

 39 Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
3
Famous As: Businessperson, Politician, Journalist, Chess official, Chess player
Birthdate: April 5, 1962
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Elista

Russian businessman Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, an ethnic Kalymk, has served as the President of Kalmykia, apart from presiding over the chess governing body FIDE. He also established the publishing house Novy Vzglyad. He once stated that he was briefly abducted by aliens in a spaceship and then returned back to Earth.

 40 Alexandra Kosteniuk

Alexandra Kosteniuk
3
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: April 23, 1984
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Perm, Russia

Alexandra Kosteniuk earned the grandmaster title at 20, thus becoming the 10th woman to achieve the feat. She has won several contests, such as the Russian and European women’s championship. She has also appeared in a film and promotes chess through streams and as a chess ambassador.

 41 Noam Elkies

Noam Elkies
3
Famous As: Mathematician, Chess composer, University teacher, Chess player
Birthdate: August 25, 1966
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York City

 42 Gata Kamsky

Gata Kamsky
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: June 2, 1974
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Novokuznetsk, Russia

 43 Rashid Nezhmetdinov

Rashid Nezhmetdinov
3
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: December 15, 1912
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Aktiubinsk, Russia
Died: June 3, 1974

Though initially equally good in chess and draughts, Rashid Nezhmetdinov later chose chess as his career. He had also been part of the military during World War II. He is remembered for his attacking style and for his iconic game against Polugaevsky in Sochi in 1958.

 44 Pia Cramling

Pia Cramling
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: April 23, 1963
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden

 45 Miguel Najdorf

Miguel Najdorf
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: April 15, 1910
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Poland
Died: July 4, 1997

 46 Ruslan Ponomariov

Ruslan Ponomariov
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: October 11, 1983
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Horlivka, Ukraine

 47 Sofia Polgar

Sofia Polgar
3
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: November 2, 1974
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary

 48 Rustam Kasimdzhanov

Rustam Kasimdzhanov
2
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: December 5, 1979
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Tashkent, Uzbekistan

 49 Donald Byrne

Donald Byrne
2
Famous As: Chess player
Birthdate: June 12, 1930
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: April 8, 1976

 50 Johan van Hulst

Johan van Hulst
2
Famous As: Teacher, University teacher, Politician, Chess player
Birthdate: January 28, 1911
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Amsterdam