General May 7, 2021 | 9:59 AMby Colin McGourty

Magnus Carlsen ranks the World Chess Champions

How does Magnus Carlsen rate his great predecessors as World Chess Champions on genius, entertainment, influence and sanity? We got to find out in a series of videos made for the New in Chess Classic, in which he assessed the 11th to the 16th World Champions, i.e. Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand and himself! He also looked at arguably the two greatest female players of all time, Judit Polgar and Hou Yifan, and rated the top player in each category going back to the likes of Jose Capablanca and Mikhail Tal.

Magnus Carlsen talked individually about all the World Champions from Bobby Fischer onwards

In case you missed them during the New in Chess Classic, we’ve gathered together all of Magnus Carlsen’s videos talking about the World Chess Champions. It began with one general video where Magnus picked the top champion of all time in each category.

Genius: A lot of people would say Fischer, I guess. Not so sure about that. I think I will go with Capablanca, though. He’s somebody who came out of nowhere and just played very clear, simple and yet brilliant chess, and that is something that I would characterise as genius-like. 

Entertainment: When it comes to entertaining it starts and ends with Tal, and I don’t really see any great competition there, both really on and off the board. 

Influence: As a modern player I will say that probably I will have to say Garry Kasparov, because he really has influenced all the best players today. 

Sanity: I think somebody who definitely stands out as extremely sane and level-headed and just a wonderful person to be around in every way is Anand, so that’s the one I will go with. 

Magnus then filmed six videos looking at the last six World Champions, himself included!

Bobby Fischer (World Champion from 1972-1975)

Genius: I don’t consider him to be that big a genius, but still there was some Capablanca-like quality in the way that he made chess look very simple, so I’m going to give him a 7 out of 10. 

Entertainment: Fischer was certainly… everything about him was entertaining, all that was around. His games in themselves were entertaining because he always played for a win, even though they weren’t always most exciting in terms of new ideas and everything, but considering the whole package, I think he gets an 8 here. 

Influence: I would say he scores very highly both in terms of opening ideas, general ideas about the game, and obviously everything that’s around Fischer, he’s influenced chess greatly, so I think he’s going to get a 9 here. 

Sanity: In terms of sanity, I think we are judging Fischer as a World Champion, and while he was World Champion I think he was still reasonably well-rounded, so he gets a 4 here, which is not a great score, but certainly later it could have potentially been even worse.


Anatoly Karpov (1975-1985)

Karpov, the one that succeeded Fischer. Obviously we never got to see a match between them in 1975, since Fischer did not show up for that match, they never agreed on terms.

Genius: I would say in terms of genius Karpov does have that Fischer and Capablanca-like quality of making chess look simple. Certainly he was extremely gifted, and I think I will give him an 8 here, as one of the most naturally talented players I’ve ever seen. 

Entertainment: I think Karpov in himself was not that entertaining, he was always more of the pragmatic type. Obviously his matches with Garry were entertaining, but that was probably more a product of the match in itself, not necessarily Karpov. So I think Karpov probably only gets a 6 here. 

Influence: He certainly has influenced modern players and culture, probably to a lesser degree than Fischer and Kasparov, but still pretty highly, so I’m giving him an 8 here as well. 

Sanity: In terms of sanity there were some strange episodes obviously in his World Championship matches. I think in general Karpov has held up fine and he gets a score of 7 here.


Garry Kasparov (1985-2000)

Garry Kasparov - in my opinion the greatest player there’s ever been. 

Genius: Garry was certainly a hard worker, but he had this very, very special kind of talent for the game as well, that you could see already at a very early age, and he could find ideas that nobody else could, so I think Garry gets a perfect 10. 

Entertainment: In terms of entertaining there were quite a lot of short draws in the World Championship matches. Generally everything about Garry was entertaining, but he would have gotten a 10 except for his tendencies to offer a bit too many draws for my liking, so that’s going to be a 9. 

Influence: In terms of influence I would say on the modern generation that’s a pretty good 10 as well. 

Sanity: In terms of sanity he gets the same mark as Karpov, which is a 7. There certainly have been episodes with Garry as well, but personally at the very least I’ve found him very interesting to be around and not a problem at all. 


Vladimir Kramnik (2000-2007)

The man who... the only one to have beaten Garry Kasparov in a World Championship match, and that is Vladimir Kramnik. 

Genius: In terms of genius I would say he was - he’s retired I guess now from classical chess, so I can say was - extremely gifted, and I will give him an 8 on the genius scale. 

Entertainment: I would say he was very entertaining at least in parts of his career. There was a part where he made a bit too many draws, but I would say in his youth and also last years of his career certainly his games were among the most entertaining to follow, so he gets an 8 here. 

Influence: In influence I would say Kramnik has great, great influence on the new generation. He has not singlehandedly, but he’s the one who popularised the Berlin Defence and many other openings as well. He has had great influence so he’s going to get a very strong 9 here. 

Sanity: And in terms of sanity, I think Kramnik is relatively well-rounded. He does have some interesting ideas, but he will get a weak 8 on this one. 


Vishy Anand (2007-2013)

Genius: I think he scores very high there, certainly somebody who also came out of nowhere - he was the first grandmaster from India. He has an unbelievable natural understanding of the game, so I’m going to give him a 9 here. 

Entertainment: Anand definitely can be entertaining, both as a chess player and as a person, but I feel like he doesn’t quite reach the levels of some of the others, so he’s going to get a 7 here. 

Influence: In terms of influence chess-wise there has been a bit of an influence from Anand, but I think people used to say about him that he would always be the second person to play a very good idea. He would always pick up on great ideas from others. He was extremely, or still is, extremely adaptable, but he wouldn’t necessarily always come up with them himself. But on the other hand, he has influenced an entire country to go from being nobodies at chess to arguably the greatest chess country behind Russia, so I will give him an 8 here. 

Sanity: In terms of sanity I think this is going to be a perfect 10 from Anand. 


Magnus Carlsen (2013-present)

I really, really thought we were done! Apparently we weren’t because there’s one more World Champion to consider after Anand, and that is, unfortunately, yours truly!

Genius: In terms of genius, though, I don’t consider myself a genius in general. I think in chess terms I should score fairly highly, because I believe I’m quite naturally talented, so I’m going to give an 8 here. 

Entertainment: In terms of being entertaining, obviously I’m an extremely entertaining person, like my jokes are drier than wood, and I have some things going for me. I think in terms of entertaining on the chessboard I’m open to trying new ideas, I’m always fighting towards the very end, but I also understand that my style is still slightly geared towards longer games and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But I think still an 8 is pretty fair here.

Influence: I’m probably more on the Anand side here of not necessarily coming up with the ideas myself and being more of a follower than a creator. There has obviously been a bit of a chess boom in Norway, so that helps, but I think influence is not my greatest strength, so I’m going to go with a 7 here. 

Sanity: In terms of sanity, you know, I have my moments, good and bad. Overall I think I’m somebody who can certainly be very upset after games. Usually it doesn’t last, and there haven’t been any too egregious moments so far, so I’m going to give myself the highest grade that I get on any of these on sanity, and it’s going to be a very subjective 9.  

As a bonus, Magnus then looked at the players he considers the two greatest female players of all time, Judit Polgar and Hou Yifan. Hou Yifan is a 4-time Women’s World Champion while Judit could have become Women’s Champion at any moment, but decided to focus on open competitions, where she reached as high as world no. 8. 

Judit Polgar

Genius: I think Judit, in terms of genius, I feel like she’s more of a product of… she’s certainly naturally talented, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that I can see genius in her play. It’s I think more about extreme repetition from when she was young, that she’s able to recreate some remarkable patterns, so I’m going to go with a 7 here for Judit. 

Entertainment: I think one thing that her games never lacked is entertainment. This one is going to be a 9, pretty clearly. She’s somebody who always sought to attack, no matter what, for good and for bad. I think it’s no coincidence that people played their best games against her and that she also managed to really, really crush some of the best players in the world, because she had a very entertaining and uncompromising style. 

Influence: In terms of influence, I would say being the best female chess player of all time she has great influence that she has used, and is still using, very well, so it’s going to be a 9. 

Sanity: In terms of sanity, I have I think no reason not to give her a 10 here. 


Hou Yifan

Hou Yifan I would consider the second strongest female chess player of all time. 

Genius: In terms of genius, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I saw too much genius in Hou Yifan’s play. She’s definitely talented, was very strong at a young age, but I don’t necessarily see that in her play, so she’s going to get a 6 here. 

Entertainment: Hou Yifan has a very entertaining style, uncompromising, a bit similar to Judit in that sense in that she wins great attacking games and also loses a few of them, so she gets an 8 here. 

Influence: In terms of influence I would say it’s a little bit early to say since she’s still fairly young, but she’s going to get a 6 here since there have already been quite a few Chinese players that have followed in her footsteps. 

Sanity: In terms of sanity, again, all my interactions with her have been good, no reason to give anything other than a 10 for her.  

Here are the scores Magnus gave to all the players: 

PlayerCountryGeniusEntertainmentInfluenceSanityTotal
Bobby Fischer789428
Anatoly Karpov868729
Garry Kasparov10910736
Vladimir Kramnik889833
Vishy Anand9781034
Magnus Carlsen887932
Judit Polgar7991035
Hou Yifan6861030

Do you agree with the current World Champion?


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