Who are the 50 Greatest Chess Players of All Time?

Grandmasters and Magnus Carlsen trainers Jan Gustafsson and Peter Heine Nielsen got together for the impossible task of creating a list of the 50 best players ever. Neither considers himself a big expert on chess history, so what could go wrong? 50 players, 50 videos!

Who are the greatest chess players in history? That eternal question has been a never-ending subject for debate among chess fans for decades and something there never seems be a consensus on.

Magnus Carlsen’s own World Championship seconds Jan Gustafsson and Peter Heine Nielsen have taken on the nearly impossible project of ranking the 50 best players ever.

In a new video-series on chess24, that is available free for Premium members, the duo will be releasing their own Hall of Fame discussing each and every player on the list and ranking them among the greats.


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Whether World Championship greats such as Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen have made it to the very top will be known in the coming weeks as new episodes are released in parts. For now, the countdown has started from the 50th best player:

  • 46 Gata Kamsky
  • 47 Lev Polugaevsky
  • 48 Lajos Portisch
  • 49 Sergey Karjakin
  • 50 Aron Nimzowitsch 

Peter Heine Nielsen shed some light on the project:

Jan says in the introduction:

I’ve been dodging these debates because obviously for such a list, if you do it of all time, you have to do some cross-era comparisons and I’ve always argued you can’t really compare people from different generations. The new generation is always standing on the shoulders of the previous generation, so to say this guy is greater than that guy, I’ve struggled with. What’s the argument against that?

With Peter responding:

I fully agree with you, I actually spoke about this with one of the persons who will be in the top 50, Bent Larsen. And he was saying that you can only compare people to their time, and you have to compare how they did in that respect. To do that, we are using the statistics by Jeff Sonas, who has created a site called Chessmetrics where he does an incredible historical analysis of all tournaments and tried to create world rankings and performance rankings and actual rankings of all the players for a really huge part of history. And like that he is trying to get some kind of objective numbers in order to compare players, not in the quality of their game, but how they did towards others of their time. It’s a very interesting project. Obviously you can debate a lot of things in it, but it does actually manage to get some quantifiable numbers where you can compare persons of very decent periods. 

Have a look at the following video for a sneak peak:

How would your list of the best 50 players in the world look like? Feel free to share it in the comments below!

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