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The most famous chess masters of all time

Chess is a unique game: even among individual sports, it is a discipline where strong personalities measure up. Experienced chess masters are often famous for their strength of character - often also for their intelligence and sense of humor. 

There are many anecdotes circulating about chess masters, interesting duels and chess problems. We often ask ourselves who was the greatest chess player of all time. It's hard to say - not least because the rules of the royal game have changed over time. However, we know who the outstanding chess masters were.

World chess champions are often citizens of the Soviet Union - many also have Jewish ancestry. The Hebrews have always emphasized the usefulness of logical thinking, mental exercise and intelligence. Likewise, Russians hold the sport of chess in high regard, but many other nations have imprinted themselves on the royal game

Garri Kimovich Kasparov

In the opinion of many, "Gary" Kasparov, a Russian chess grandmaster of Jewish-Armenian descent, is one of the most famous chess masters. He started playing while still a five-year-old and won the title of grandmaster at the age of sixteen. The Soviet Union placed great emphasis on the sport of chess, wanting to prove that Russians were just as intelligent as their enemies from behind the Iron Curtain - so Kasparov became a national celebrity.

In 1984, at the world championship match, Kasparov met his compatriot, also a great chess player, Anatoly Karpov. Karpov was twelve years older at the time - and five months of struggle and 36 games had left the two chess masters exhausted. Their meeting was deemed inconclusive by FIDE and led to a change in the rules. 

A year later, Kasparov met Karpov again... and became the thirteenth and so far youngest world chess champion. Kasparov retired from chess in 2005, and is occupied with coaching, writing books and politics - but his biography is extremely interesting.

Akiba Rubinstein

Akiba Rubinstein is often regarded as one of Poland's most outstanding chess players. Born near Lomza in 1880, he was originally intended to become a rabbi - but quickly became a professional chess player. In 1906, he became a runner-up in Czarist Russia. Since Poland was not independent for a good part of his life, Rubinstein won the title "Polish chess champion" only once.

His life would have been material for a fascinating movie or TV series, in no way inferior to the "Queen's Gambit" series. Rubinstein struggled with poverty - sometimes he couldn't afford to enter tournaments. Within a year he won five international chess tournaments - but he was constantly plagued by OCD, obsessive neurosis and fear of people. He eventually left Poland (while retaining his Polish citizenship) and moved to Belgium.

Legend has it that he was hiding in a hospital for the mentally ill, where the Germans visited him, suspecting he was simulating. When they asked if he was happy in the hospital, the chess grandmaster replied: "No." "Or maybe you want to move to Germany," he said. "Why not?", replied Rubinstein "In that case you are really crazy," the Nazis acknowledged. Anyway, Rubinstein died in oblivion in Belgium, after years of hiding from the Nazis.

Magnus Carlsen

Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen is a Norwegian chess grandmaster and the 2022 current world chess champion. When he won the title, he was not much older than Kasparov - these two world chess champions, by the way, worked together for a while. Kasparov claimed that Carlsen was "capable, but lazy" - apparently the Norwegian stopped being lazy. At the age of 19, he became No. 1 in the FIDE ratings. 

Carlsen is not only the current world chess champion - he is also the first person to have been simultaneously world champion in classical, rapid and lightning chess. As you can see, his strength is his ambition and ability to react quickly. Carlsen defeated Viswanathan Anand of India, the home of chess, and reached the world title in 2013. He kept it for several years, but has no plans to defend it in 2023. It may turn out that the next world champion will be his rival, Yan Nezhnushchi of Russia. Carlsen himself, however, is not retiring - the young chess grandmaster prefers grand tournaments to championships.

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