It’s a debate of the ages that will undoubtedly go on and on for a long time yet – who is the best chess player? Although contentious, it’s something we have all argued about with other chess enthusiasts.
If you have had this debate, two names have probably cropped up, time and time again – Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen is currently the world’s number one chess player whilst Kasparov is a former world number one.
It’s safe to say that both players are worthy of the title as “the best chess player in the world,” but only one can achieve this status. Yes, Carlsen currently wears the crown, but can it be argued that Kasparov is a better player overall?
Well, today, we are going to discuss just this and more.
As Magnus Carlsen has achieved the highest rating ever in the history of chess, it’s pretty hard to argue against his case as the best there has ever been.
But, both players have rarely played competitively against one another. And, just like the game of chess itself, determining the best player is more complex than it first appears.
Read on as we find out who is the best chess player, once and for all – Garry Kasparov or Magnus Carlsen.
Garry Kasparov Overview
Let’s begin by taking a very brief look at Garry Kasparov’s background in chess.
He became a Grandmaster in 1980 when he was just 17 years old. Another incredible player in a long line of Russian chess prodigies, Kasparov is regarded by many as the best and last of the great Russian Chess machine.
At the age of 21, Kasparov became the world’ best ranked player after performing incredibly at countless chess tournaments.
His biggest win didn’t come until the following year, though, when he won the World Championship. After he qualified during the candidate’s matches, Kasparov beat long-standing champion Anatoly Karpov.
That was 1985. For the next 15 years, until 2000, Kasparov remained the world champion until losing to Vladimir Kramnik. In that game, Kasaprov lost two games playing as black.
Although these were the only two losses in the whole match, they were enough to see him lose his world champion status.
Kasaprov’s best ELO rating stood at 2851, the second-highest ever in chess history. Retiring in 2005, Kasparov was regarded as the best player in the world, and arguably the best of all time, even though he had not been world champion for 5 years.
Magnus Carlsen Overview
Now onto Magnus Carlsen, one of the most incredible players chess has ever seen.
Rather than being from a long line of Russian prodigies, Carlsen was a product of his own chess brilliance.
At only 13 years old, Carlsen became a Grandmaster and at only 18, he broke the ELO rating level of 2800.
By 19, Carlsen was the world number one player. So, as you can see, he reached all of these milestones at a younger age and in a quicker time than Kasparov.
Nevertheless, both Kasparov and Carlsen were 22 when they claimed their first World Championship. Carlsen beat Vishy Anand and has never looked back since.
The Norwegian has been the world’s number one chess player for over 11 years, and has held the title of World Rapid Chess Champion and World Blitz Chess Champion too.
He also holds the highest ELO rating of all time with a peak of 2882. It exceeds Kasparov’s rating by 31 but Carlsen still trails Kasparov in the time spent as world champion. But, there is every chance and likelihood, he will break this record, too.
As for his world breaking 2882 ELO rating, many believe he will break the 2900 threshold at some point, even though this was considered to be impossible in days gone by.
Kasparov Vs Carlsen: Who Would Win?
It’s a scenario many chess fans would love to see – Garry Kasparov coming out of retirement to play Magnus Carslsen once again.
We say once again as records show that both have played against each other twice, even though Kasparov retired when Carlsen was just 14.
But, what if Kasparov came out of retirement and played Carlsen today?
Well, if Kasparov is out of form, as he probably would be after not playing professionally for years, we don’t think he would stand much of a chance against Carlsen.
If Kasaparov were to play today, he would probably achieve a top 10 to 20 player status.
This is taking into consideration his performances after he relinquished his title as world champion in 2000 until his retirement in 2005.
And, we must take into account Carlsen’s young age and Kasparov’s older years. Because of this, Carlsen has a huge advantage. All players have a “prime” and reach this at different ages.
Although Garry Kasparov is only 59 years old, it’s safe to assume his chess prime has been and gone.
Because Carlsen frequently plays competitively, his state of mind will be in a better position to play well, whilst Kasparov may struggle. No amount of practice can bring back a player’s prime, and because Carlsen is still only 31, it can be argued his prime is still ahead of him.
Kasparov Vs Carlsen: Head To Head
Although Kasparov and Carlsen have not played against one another much, it has happened. The first instance was during a rapid chess tournament in Iceland in 2004. Carlsen was only 13 and played extremely well.
During the first game, Kasparov was very fortunate to escape with a draw with Carlsen on white. Although Carlsen floundered for a while, he held a superior position throughout much of the game,
But, the tides turned in the second game as Carlsen was overcome and Kasparov took control of the white.
Fast forward 16 years to 2020 and the two would meet once again. The two players met in competition where Fischer Random Chess was being played. This is essentially a variant of chess made up by Bobby Fischer.
The back row’s pieces are rearranged at random thanks to a computer draw. This is to prevent players from starting with a standard variant and, therefore, requires greater skill.
Although Carlsen is a phenomenal chess player, he is not the best random chess player. Think back to the first world random chess final where he was beaten easily by Wesley So.
However, Kasparov was also beaten badly by Fabiano Caruana during the same year in St. Louis. At the time, Kasparov stated, “I can fight all opponents, but not age.”
This just made the matchup between the young Carlsen and the aging Kasparov that more exciting.
With much anticipation around the game, it soon became apparent that neither player was in top form playing this type of chess.
Kasparov vs Carlsen – who won?
The result? A draw.
Although it was a draw, Kasparov celebrated it like a win as he punched the air. But, we think this had something to do with splitting the prize money of $150,000 between them.
Carlsen, on the other hand, looked heartbroken, as he (and most) expected to win quite easily.
Since that day, Kasparov and Carlsen have not played against each other again. They have never played a regular slow chess game in competition and probably never will.
So, from the stats, Kasparov holds a one point lead in rapid chess, but dig a little deeper, and you will find that it was when Carlsen was only a young boy. Today, the result could be quite different.
Prime Kasparov Vs Prime Carlsen
Times change and both players have played in different eras of chess. As well as a change in time, the game of chess has changed.
To see Kasparov in his prime play against Carlsen in his prime would be a thing of absolute class. Who would win? It’s hard to say but we would put our money on Carlsen.
Magnus Carlsen has played so many precise moves in many chess tournaments and has gained theoretical knowledge, only possible from playing modern-day chess. Kasparov would not know such moves because he is from another era of chess.
So, although Carlsen is considered a stronger player by many, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is the better player.
If Kasparov played in the modern era, he may have gained the same, if not more knowledge and even achieved more wins than Carlsen. But, this is all speculation.
In Summary – Who Is The Best?
Both Kasparov and Carlsen have dominated their opponents over and over and achieved incredible ratings. But, to say one is a better chess player than the other is very difficult to say.
If both had played in their prime during the same era, then we would have a better idea. For now, though, let’s call it a draw.