There's a 12-year-old American chess player about to break a few longstanding records.

Abhimanyu Mishra learned how to play chess when he was just two-and-a-half years old. When he was seven - the age when most children are only just getting used to primary school, he claimed his first title: national expert. Two years later, he earned the title of US National Master.

He is the youngest-ever chess player to reach those milestones.

This young Master's journey into the annals of chess is all but assured, especially considering that he's set to break Sergey Karjakin's world record as the youngest chess grandmaster.

That's one way to achieve fame - and Abhimanyu has certainly earned his renown. He's put in the work and played in tournaments around the world. He just happens to be far younger than most other chess masters.

What makes his case even more remarkable was not being able to compete in recent tournaments because of COVID. It's rather hard to accrue the needed points when nobody is playing...

Few other chess grandmasters and world champions have had to contend with conditions as limiting as this pandemic. Thus, they were able to chart their rise to chess mastery along a far more conventional timeline, following the well-trodden path of other masters before them.

We don't mean the same strategies or playing styles, just the same circuit of tournaments and matches, along with a more staid pace of development as a player.

Superprof wants to lay those steps out for you. We'll talk about some of the greatest chess players to ever deploy a strategy and some of the most memorable games in recorded chess history.

Are you also curious about some of the most elite chess tournaments on the planet?

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15 of the Greatest Chess Players of All Time

As any chess aficionado would tell you, the object of their passion is centuries-old. It was played in the ancient lands of India, Persia and China. The game finally made its way to Europe where, around the 15th Century, it evolved into the game we play today.

With so many iterations and such a long history, the list of great chess players is very long. However, one player in particular stands out.

Arguably the greatest chess player of all time is the one who invented the game.

In their downtime, Knights Templar enjoyed playing chess
This tableau depicts two Knight Templar playing chess, revealing only a part of the game's long history. Source: Wikipedia Credit: Alphonse le Sage

Unfortunately, that name is lost to history. At best, we know he started out with a game called chaturanga, which evolved into the game that, today, is played the world over.

We do know who is credited as the father of modern chess, though: William Steinitz. He was the first to earn the title of World Chess Champion, which he held from 1886 to 1894.

Perhaps in Mr Steinitz's time, it might have been easy to proclaim someone a world chess champion. Qualifying events, with limited numbers of players, were tightly controlled and regulated by a single entity. Today, things are a bit more complex.

There are pre-FIDE and FIDE championships to consider, and then, there are classical world champions, undisputed world champions, women's world champions...

All of these distinctions make it hard to decide which criteria greatness should be decided on.

For instance, there's no doubt that Garry Kasparov ranks among the supreme chess players. However, some people might reject labelling him one of the greatest because of his stunning loss to Deep Blue. Others may call up his controversial re-move while playing against Judit Polgar, then just 17 years old.

As the more mature and experienced player, he should have known better than to break any game rules, right? And he stayed quiet about it, too!  

Finally, chess enthusiasts might say there is no room on the list of greatest players because he relinquished his title. He also set up a short-lived chess organisation to rival FIDE; a move some in the chess world count as a betrayal of standards.

However you feel about Garry Kasparov or any other chess player, the great ones have characteristics that make them renowned and the statistics to reinforce their position.

Why not check out our list of the 15 greatest chess players to see if you agree with our picks?

Seven of the Greatest Chess Matches Ever Played

Like proclaiming the greatest chess player of all time, we'd be hard-pressed to tout the greatest match ever played. Again, arguably the greatest chess match ever must be the very first match, played when the game was called chaturanga. Unfortunately, nobody thought to record anything about that game - or, if they did, their notes are lost to time.

Chess is not so different from chaturanga
The chessboard setup has not changed substantially from its chaturanga roots. Source: Wikipedia Credit: Yanajin33

Humans have come a long way in their recordkeeping since then, so we have many ways to determine what makes a game great. From algebraic notation to the outrageous, unexpected moves that turn a game around, there's plenty to sift through on the way to establishing the absolute greatest games.

Despite all of that, there is still one insurmountable obstacle: one person's 'great' is another's 'so what?'.

You can cruise any chess forum or website and spend hours surfing YouTube channels (Agadmator's channel is particularly good, in case you were wondering). Never will you see two 'greatest chess matches' lists that include all of the same games.

Still, a few matches make the cut. The Immortal games are a good example. The Kasparov-Topalov game and one played 140 years before, between Kieseritzky and Anderssen have both gone into the record books as immortal.

That immortal game, played in London on June 21st, 1851 during the first-ever International Tournament, saw Adolf Anderssen sacrifice both of his rooks and a bishop, to boot. Later in the game, he gave up his queen... but still managed to checkmate Lionel Kieseritzky with only his remaining bishop and two knights.

Still today, chess enthusiasts laud that game, no less because Anderssen was one of the strongest players of his day.

Does it matter that it was not a formal match? That it took place while tournament players were enjoying a break from their games?

And so, the debate continues.

You may contend that only tournament and/or official matches should count among the greatest games ever played or, if you prefer to go through every bit of chess notation you can find - some of it dating back centuries, you might establish a list of greatest games to debate at your next chess club meeting.

Meanwhile, we've done a bit of investigation of our own. Are you interested in what Superprof thinks are the greatest chess matches ever played?

Parma and Donner face off in 1963 under watchful stares
Parma/Donner face-off in the 1963 World Championship match in the Netherlands. Imagine playing under those stares! Source: Wikipedia Credit: F.N. Broers

The Most Prestigious Chess Tournaments in the World

This is this article's least ambiguous sub-header because there is a definite and decided way to determine which chess tournaments are the most prestigious.

As you likely know, chess enterprises host tournaments worldwide - at the local, regional and national levels. These organisations may be affiliated with FIDE, the International Chess Federation but plenty of chess clubs, particularly local ones, are not. However, most all of them observe FIDE rules.

That's because players in such chess clubs may go on to compete in national and international tournaments. Some - like our young American mentioned at the start of this article, have their feet solidly on the path to World greatness. In fact, he just wrapped up a major international tournament, Budapest First Saturday.

That was his third grandmaster event in just a few days and he shows no sign of flagging. Amazing, right?   

As you likely know, chess players have to rack up a certain number of points (and wins) to continue on to the pinnacle of chess achievement: playing in Wijk aan Zee, in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament.

Chess grandmasters have been setting their sights on the Netherlands since 1938, when a local steel manufacturer sponsored the first chess tournament. Later, Hoogovens Steel merged with British Steel in 1999; the tournament followed suit by rebranding itself the Corus Steel Chess Tournament.

It didn't keep that name for long. When the Tata conglomerate of India bought Corus out, the tournament was again renamed to reflect their new sponsor's name.

Today, anyone who knows anything about chess knows that the Tata Steel Chess Tournament is the chess event of the year.

Now, for an interesting bit of tournament trivia.

That tournament was established in 1938 and continued even through the Second World War. Their 1946 event was the first chess tournament after the war ended and, as per usual, a banquet followed the matches.

However, food was still scarce in the war's aftermath; there wasn't much in the larder with which to put a sumptuous banquet together. Still, tradition is important, especially in contrast to the devastation so recently visited on the world; it was decided a banquet must be held at all costs.

Participants and spectators alike were treated to pea soup. Hardly suitable fare for players of the king of games; it was more like what might be served up in the fields. Still, that was all there was and everyone ate it up.

Today, in remembrance of those hard times, Tata Steel's post-tournament banquet serves pea soup as its first course.

Pea soup may not equal prestige but doesn't that anecdote prove that the Tata Steel tournament is the greatest of them all?

Now, discover other notable chess tournaments around the world...

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